Tuesday, 08 January 2008, 10:08 GMT
Kurds fume over al-Maliki's weaknesses

Kurdish army guards in Kashan Valley, northern Iraq

By Qassim Khidhir
The Kurdish Globe

Demands, including Peshmerga budget, must be addressed, say Kurds.

Kurdistan Region doesn't consider the Peshmerga army to be a militia, but a very important regular and academic army that guards a region of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region.

The KRG wants to merge the Peshmerga army with the Iraqi army, with the Baghdad government assuming responsibility for the Peshmerga's payroll, which still receives its salary from the regional government.

Sources say Kurdish leaders recently sent a strong message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, criticizing him for not being able to work with the KRG to solve the Kirkuk, oil contract, and Peshmerga issues.

Kurdish leaders say al-Maliki's government is weak, and the only ally it has is the Kurds. Some have said that if al-Maliki does not fulfill Kurdish demands, then Kurds will seek an alternative.

"If al-Maliki doesn't consult with the Kurdistan coalition (KC) and some other Iraqi parties about political, security, and economic decisions, his government can't continue," said Mahmud Osman, a prominent Kurdish lawmaker.

Regarding the message sent by Kurdish leaders to al-Maliki, Osman said if al-Maliki doesn't fulfill Kurdish demands, then Kurdish leaders should make it clear to Maliki that Kurdish decisions are more than just words.

The message came after the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party, led by Jalal Talabani, signed a trilateral memory of understanding with the Iraqi Islamic Party, led by Tareq al-Hashemi.

Last month, a high-ranking Kurdish delegation headed by Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited Baghdad to discuss several controversial issues, including Kirkuk, Peshmerga, oil contracts, and the region's 2008 budget.

In a recent press conference, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani expressed his regret over the visit, which produced no forward movement. "Sadly, the Kurdish delegation returned without achieving any results," Barzani said.

The Kurdistan government says the Iraqi Defense Minister on October 2007 agreed to supply the budget for around 80,000 Peshmerga forces, but al-Maliki has yet to approve the agreement.

Kurdistan Parliament speaker Adnan Mufti attempted to calm Kurdistan's disputes with Baghdad, however, describing them as "normal."

"I believe disputes with the central government will be resolved in 2008 by means of negotiation," said Mufti.

The KRG seeks to allocate an extra sum from the Iraqi Defense Ministry's budget for Peshmerga salaries, currently paid through the regional government's share of the national oil revenue.

Last month, Kurdistan Parliament unanimously approved a Peshmerga forces' Service and Retirement Law submitted by the region's government.

KRG's Peshmerga Minister, Omar Othman, explained that the law was drafted in accordance with the Iraqi Military Service Law. "The Peshmerga forces are entrusted with protecting the region, but at the same time they are part of the Iraqi forces," Othman said.

Peshmerga forces are not only keeping security in Kurdistan, but they are also sustaining security in other parts of Iraq. More than 2,000 Peshmergas are now operating in Diyala province, the stronghold of al-Qaeda, upon the request of the Iraqi government and coalition forces.

The official spokesman for the Peshmerga, Kurdistan's protection forces, said on Thursday that the forces are ready to be sent to Kirkuk to protect the Baiji-Kirkuk road.