Unexpected verdict threatens to drive a rift between Iraqi and Kurdish governments

Kurdish

Iraq IraqOfficials warned Wednesday that an unexpected verdict by Iraq’s high court put doubt on the legal basis of Iraq’s Kurdish-run region’s independent oil policy, threatening to force a political wedge between the two administrations. The legal grounds for the semi-autonomous region’s oil policy were ruled down by Iraq’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, thereby putting the region’s oil contracts, exports, and earnings in jeopardy.

The decision comes at a politically delicate moment in Iraq, where efforts to establish a government have stagnated. “At a time when Iraq is going through a difficult political period, it is unfortunate that the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq has ruled that the Kurdistan Region’s oil and gas law is unconstitutional, causing great concern in the Kurdistan region,” said region President Nechirvan Barzani on Wednesday.

According to him, the verdict “would worsen the disagreements between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over oil and gas concerns.” The presidential candidate of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Kurdish region’s primary ruling party, was prevented from competing for the job by Iraq’s Supreme Court last week. Due to charges of corruption, the court determined that Hoshyar Zebari was ineligible to run. It was a setback for populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, the election’s biggest winner, who promised to quickly form a new government free of Iran-backed groups.

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The prime minister must be a Shiite, the speaker must be a Sunni, and the presidency must be held by a Kurd, according to Iraq’s 2005 constitution. The selection of candidates is frequently hampered by political gridlock. The reason for the verdict this week, which comes after nearly a decade of delays, was not immediately clear. The decision on Tuesday threw uncertainty on the region’s primary source of funding. According to Iraq Oil Report, the region’s oil exports via Turkey totaled $750 million per month in 2021. To pay for salaries and trade obligations, the area also needs on budget transfers from Baghdad.

In a statement, the Kurdish region called the verdict “unjust, unconstitutional,” and “unacceptable.” The absence of a federal oil and gas legislation has long been used by the area to support its independent energy strategy. The Iraqi constitution states that regions and provinces can have certain oil autonomy, but that the details should be written out in a separate statute. A law like this has never been enacted. In 2012, Baghdad initiated a lawsuit against the region’s claims. After the judge demanded that then-Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi sign off on continuing the legal battle, the lawsuit was postponed in September 2019.

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