Can Baghdad and Erbil Make a New Beginning?
- Iraqi Kurdistan has been going through its most vulnerable period in its relationship with the central government in Baghdad for the last three decades.
- Iraq’s Constitution sacrifices clarity for consensus, as its authors addressed major disputes in ambiguous terms, hoping that future political processes would resolve them.
- In politics, institutionalization, free market, armed group unification, and wealth distribution, the region developed a model incompatible with societal development and expectations, especially among the youth.
- Despite the possibility that the present crisis may lead to a reorganization of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, the reality of the situation suggests that this won’t happen anytime soon.
- The different views and expectations allow both sides to point to the Constitution as a touchstone for reconciliation; it has also contributed to the present conflict.
In September 2023, the Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister, Masrour Barzani, accompanied by a delegation, visited Baghdad. According to one of his close advisors, he had more than a dozen marathon meetings in a day), to resolve the dispute over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) share of the federal budget. Masrour Barzani and his delegation celebrated their trip after guaranteeing a loan of 700 billion Iraqi dinars (IQD) to cover the salaries of the region’s civil servants for three months.
Barzani also thanked the Kurdish political parties for their support. The visit, the delegation, the urgency, the meetings, the loan, and the marketing afterward are all signs of a new era between Erbil and Baghdad. This paper explores whether Baghdad and Erbil can make a new beginning and reach a sustainable deal.
The State of the Relationship
Like his father, Masrour Barzani was reluctant to visit Baghdad. The negotiation between the two sides continued at a low level among technocrats. The negotiation was wedged. According to insiders, there were calls that the finance ministries in Kurdistan and Baghdad had no power to make new decisions. Any further decision has to be made by the politicians (the elite who steer the government behind the existing structures). However, public pressure, especially from public employees, caused the urgency.
There were no other options but for the Barzani to visit Baghdad. To show unity and strength, he had to overcome differences with his deputy, Qubad Talabani, from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and make up a unity delegation. Besides the prime minister, they met with dozens of politicians from different parties and groups in Baghdad. This is a clear sign of the diverse and polycentric nature of power in Baghdad and, above all, the limited capacity of the prime minister’s office.
When the deal of providing Erbil with a loan was reached, the prime minister preponed his weekly meeting and verified the new agreement before embarking on his trip to the United Nations. According to a former Iraqi MP, a big part of the Baghdad elite sees Kurdistan, especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), as trying to connect to Baghdad only for financial reasons. This makes the Baghdad elites use the economic influence to gain Kurdish support for the current government. Limiting the Baghdad-Erbil relationship to financial support for government participation omits many other essential aspects.
Considering these circumstances, the Bagdad-Erbil relationship seems to have reached its Thucydides moment when the strong [Baghdad] do what they can and the weak [Iraqi Kurdistan] suffer what they must. Iraqi Kurdistan has been going through its most vulnerable period in its relationship with Baghdad for the last three decades. The region is in a dire economic situation and cannot pay the salaries of more than a million public sector employees.
The region stopped exporting its oil six months ago and has difficulty receiving its budget share from Baghdad. Besides, the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court ruled that the 2022 Kurdistan Parliament extension is unconstitutional. Consequently, the region has no functional Parliament and is governed by a caretaker government. Moreover, the two main political parties, PUK and KDP, are experiencing their worst relationship. A high-ranking PUK politician described it as “worse than the 1990s civil war era.”
In contrast, Baghdad is at its most influential period. It deals with the KRG through legal, financial, security, and institutional tools. The KRG elites see their issue with Baghdad as political and constitutional. In response, Baghdad dismisses that and regards the matters as financial and administrative, as PM Sudani told experts in New York, among them Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at the Washington Institute. Bilal says Sudani’s categorization was an attempt to dismiss international intervention between Baghdad and Erbil, especially after the KRG PM’s letter to US President Joe Biden, calling him to intervene.
The two sides have agreed to change the budget provisions for Kurdistan next year. Soran Omer, a Kurdish MP in Baghdad, says the circumstances closely associated with the Parliament’s passage of the oil and gas bill are difficult to anticipate. To avoid any pretext for oil decentralization, particularly for a governorate like Basra, where most of Iraq’s oil is located, the Iraqi government is establishing legislation ensuring that most authority will remain in its hands. They culminated in the interventions of the increasing regional powers, Iran and Turkey.
Kurds in Iraq have had a problematic relationship with the central government since the foundation of the Iraqi government a century ago. This relationship entered a new phase with the emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the 1990s. The latter is a post-Cold War entity that emerged after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. The birth and emergence were not without challenges, some of them trailing the KRG to these days. The post-Cold War unipolar world order, the spread of democratization, and the emergence of human rights contributed directly and indirectly to the KRG’s emergence.
Despite generous US and Western support, the local elites could not overcome their parochial differences and build on them. Soon, the civil war started in 1994, an institutionalized war, and the region struggled to overcome it. It has been fully shaped in government, administration, and social and cultural areas. The war structured the region’s political administration in a 50/50 fashion, where the two main parties divided everything between them. This arrangement is now under threat.
In 2003, the region attempted to legitimize and normalize its de facto status through the new Iraqi Constitution. The attempts were nominally realized, such as federalizing Iraq, recognizing the Peshmerga, and dealing with natural resources management. These areas are at the heart of the Erbil-Baghdad contention these days. The Kurdistan region was a de facto state when Bagdad struggled to emerge in post-Saddam Iraq. The region flourished economically, the society urbanized and educated, house ownership rose, and life quality compared to the past changed dramatically for the better.
In politics, institutionalization, free market, armed group unification, and wealth distribution, the region developed a model incompatible with societal development and expectations, especially among the youth. While many areas revolutionized, many structures remained unchanged, with them the whole power relationship. Conservation of the old power modes in unaltered forms, such as personalization, family, and maintenance of divisions, limited the region’s development.
The ruling elites attempt to contain that through public employment, especially in various security areas. Today, in the region, a transformed society in many ways – education, worldview, lifestyle, expectation, and access – faces fixed, fast-frozen power structures. The result is a double crisis: Neither society can change the power structure nor the ruling elites are able or willing to change the status quo.
Primary Issues of Contention and Disagreement
Before getting to the nature of the relationship, we need to lay out the main areas of contention between Baghdad and Erbil.
First, after the change in the power balance between the two sides, KRG struggles to find a formula to frame the relationship. Their latest statements show that the KDP and PUK are pushing for federalism as the old/ new formula between the two sides. Nechirvan Barzani, KRG president, and Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister, recently stressed federalism to govern Iraq and the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. This is challenging while Baghdad sees Kurdistan exceeding federal rights, and the KRG argues otherwise. According to Article 1 of the Iraqi Constitution, Iraq is “a single federal” state, and the Constitution (the federal regime) guarantees its unity. Kurdistan is a recognized federal region within Iraq, according to Article 117.
The second is financial and budgetary issues, both monetary and fiscal. The economic disputes between Baghdad and Erbil are politicized, i.e., depending on elite agreement, situation, and need. Kurds are required to form the government following every election, and every time this happens, they negotiate the budget shares and are guaranteed to obtain what they want. These political commitments face many difficulties after the establishment of the government and are, at best, only partially kept.
Oil is the third issue. Before the ICC decision, KRG pushed for a federal right to oil. Iraq is sensitive regarding oil, and centralization is the only way currently foreseen by the Baghdad elites. There is a draft Hydrocarbon Law; according to the leaked version, the KRG will be treated as one of the oil-producing provinces, with one member in a committee of 12 and the right to offer suggestions. There have been other attempts to pass the law since 2007, and have yet to succeed. This becomes more sensitive as Basra pushes for more control over its natural resources.
The disputed areas are the fourth issue. Kirkuk is also part of the package between Kurdistan, mainly the KDP, and Baghdad, along with budget and oil. The situation in the city and KDP’s reaction to it was part of the current governing coalition, including the return of the previous KDP party headquarters in the city, which caused the recent turmoil. The deal was not transparent, as the media could not cover all its provisions. The latest protests showed that the city is particular to Iraq and harbors immense complexity.
The fifth issue is the Peshmerga and security sectors. Peshmerga, its size, function, sphere (area of duties), and duties are all subject to the Baghdad-Erbil dispute. Iraq would like to see a reduction in the number of Peshmerga and only be willing to pay a salary of less than 10 percent of the current number. Kurds are complaining that the Peshmerga are not treated the same way as the Iraqi army or even the Popular Mobilization Forces. The latter receives one of the biggest budgetary allocations in the 2023 budget, US$ 2,88 billion.
On the other hand, despite continued pressure from the US and other coalition allies, the KRG cannot reform and unite its political party’s armed forces. Furthermore, the process of integrating Peshmerga into the Iraqi army and shared brigades is currently halted, a source close to the process reveals. To deal with these crises, both sides regularly refer to the Constitution and federal framework. However, this reference to the Constitution, rather than contributing to legalizing and institutionalizing the relationship, has complicated the conflict between the two sides.
Iraq’s Constitution sacrifices clarity for consensus, as its authors addressed major disputes in ambiguous terms, hoping that future political processes would resolve them. The federal supporters won, at least on paper, in 2005. However, the system has proven stagnant, creating space for politics, political actors, and political situations to deal with the issues.
This reliance on politics to solve the issues and on brute forces led some to categorize the Erbil-Baghdad relationship as a power balance relationship, including Dlawer Ala’Aldeen. President of the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil. Regarding vagueness, the power balance is not better than the articles of the Iraqi Constitution. From ancient Greece, we know that a system of multiple interacting states always causes some concern for balance among those states. It usually applies to international relations, where chaos is the main characteristic, rather than domestic federal relations. Based on power balance principles, Baghdad and Erbil see each other’s empowerment as a threat and use military, economic, and legal power to maintain balance.
This view indicates a zero-sum relationship between the two sides. In the last two decades, many tools of international relations have been applied, such as economic pressure, salary and budget cuts, relying on the military and forces, international courts, federal courts, and media war. As there is no power without certain forms of knowledge and vice versa, to establish a sustainable Erbil-Baghdad relationship, the nature of thinking, understanding, and imagining each other plays a significant role.
If the relationship is based on the balance of power, then there is a lack of trust, if not the absence of it. There is a la carte, cheery picking of constitutional articles, and politicization of courts. In these circumstances, stability emerges when one submits to the other and the nature of the relationship changes. However, history has proved that is not sustainable, especially for a country like Iraq, which is ridden with potential crises.
Baghdad and Erbil are not homogeneous entities. The division among the parties and groupings is worse than ever. These many parties and organizations have various opinions and strategies regarding the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. It is vital to map the key players on both sides of the conflict to grasp the circumstances better. Along with the smaller opposition organizations, the KRG is home to the KDP, the PUK, and a newly emerged actor, more than a million public employees. Each player advocates for a different relationship with Baghdad and has distinct interests inside the KRG polity.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
In its three-decade history, the KRG is currently experiencing its weakest phase. Following the termination of the KRG-Turkey Energy Framework Agreement by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the region lost its ability to export nearly 500,000 barrels of oil daily. The oil income was its primary source and the blood of the KRG-Turkey strategic relationship. This has made the region unable to pay the salaries of more than a million employees.
The current KRG administration hoped for a “constructive and stable partnership with Baghdad.” It also marked “a new era for the Kurdistan region, especially in the relationship with the Federal Republic of Iraq.” According to Adel Bakawan,  Director of the French Research Center on Iraq, the current KRG government has been the most transparent cabinet with the federal government in Baghdad.
Reflecting on the discourse of the KRG’s current administration, the regional government tries to build relationships with Baghdad as they are two equal governments within Iraq. This formula is not accepted in Baghdad. One of the primary outcomes of this misunderstanding is a feeling of frustration on both sides. While KRG hopes for “a clear understanding of both parties’ rights and duties,” Baghdad focuses on building a hierarchy of center-periphery relationships.
The hawks in Baghdad claim the balance has changed, and today is not yesterday. Some called this the end of federalism in Iraq. Amanj Rahim, the longest-serving top bureaucrat in the KRG government and member of all KRG-Baghdad delegations, sees Baghdad as “stalling and procrastinating” rather than implementing the Constitution and laws.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
Even though the KDP is the region’s largest and most powerful party, it is divided and factionalized more than ever. There are two significant factions, one led by the present prime minister and the other by Nechervan Barzani, the regional president. The former is more potent than the latter. The dominant faction is more nationalistic, especially in rhetoric and symbolism – a skin-deep nationalistic view that hardly goes beyond personal allegiance.
This framework has impacted the KDP’s relationship with Baghdad and made it less pragmatic. Concerning relations with other parties within the KRG, the dominant faction within the KDP feels the PUK is no longer equal and has been fracturing over the past 10 years. As a result, the KDP sees itself as the Kurdistan Region’s most dominant party and seeks to permanently abolish 50-50 to enable the party to govern the region on its own, once and for all.
The referendum and the tripartite alliance between the Brazani-Sadr and Sunni coalitions are the two political events that influenced Baghdad’s relationship with the KDP. The referendum is evident because it was perceived as an effort to partition Iraq, which led to the KDP being labeled a separatist group. The Barzani-Sadr-Sunni coalition was a KDP attempt to marginalize pro-Iranian groups, which also backfired on the party. Iran exerted significant pressure on the KDP, particularly Barzani. However, the arrangement turned out to be adverse for the KRG. The harm had already been done when Barzani recognized his error.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
On September 27, the PUK held its fifth congress in Sulaymaniyah. As expected, it ended the co-presidency model in the party and appointed the current president, Bafel Talabani, as the only leader. While the party will become more centralized and family-owned, more akin to the KDP, the PUK is weaker than ever. It only lives on its past glories and is proud of its over 20,000 martyrs. The powerful elites within the KDP see the PUK’s dwarfing as an opportunity to change the equal relationship with that party and treat it as a junior partner. PUK finds it hard to stomach this new status and tries to balance the KDP. Therefore, the PUK has further gravitated toward Baghdad.
This is apparent through its discourse and more vividly through the party’s president, Bafel Talabani’s frequent visits to Baghdad. As some observers counted, he traveled to Iraq’s capital 35 times over a year, or more than once every two weeks on average. This is the polar opposite of the current KRG prime minister, who only visited Baghdad four times during that period.
The pivot to Baghdad is not an attempt to balance against the KDP alone. It brings the regional powers, Iran and Turkey, into the situation. Whether the pivot to Bagdad is a strategy or a tactical attempt to balance against the KDP in the KRG is unclear. However, the PUK president feels more at home in Baghdad than Erbil. The PUK is sandwiched between Baghdad and Erbil as a junior partner. According to local journalist Kamal Rauf, this has made the PUK a spoiler in Kurdistan and a big dreamer in Baghdad, but with other natural options. 
The Public Employees or Salary Receivers
Becoming a salaryman or a public employee is a dream of the majority in Iraq and Kurdistan. Being an Iraqi “salaryman” means a lifetime of employment with little effort and a lifelong pension. The security and ease in the public sector contrast with the private sector. Iraqi public servants are off work for more than half of the year, a situation the Parliament tries to regulate through a law.
The salarymen and women are the lucky insiders in a distributional regime that has reached a cul de sac in recent years. As the reality of Kurdistan and Iraq has shown, scholars have argued that this distributional regime has proven fiscally unsustainable, economically distortionary, and, most importantly, ineffective in reducing income inequalities as it has created insider-outsider dynamics and benefited the privileged insiders most of all.
However, the main goal of the system in Kurdistan is to create a patronage that guarantees the survival of the party-government system. Recently, because of delays, cuts, and the government’s inability to pay, this segment of society has emerged as a cohesive group with a single issue, resembling single-issue parties elsewhere. In their push for regular payment, this broad segment of society has created an ad hoc affiliation that no political party can ignore. As financial issues are at the heart of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, this segment is, directly and indirectly, becoming a party in this negotiation.
This group struggles to come up with a coherent view. While their aim is regular payment of salaries, some wish they would be directly paid by the federal government, especially in the education and health sectors. Others cry for less corruption and more regular payments. Many are boycotting work and going on strike. Recently, the Teachers and Employees’ Rights Defense Commission organized a petition to collect signatures, and their representatives met with politicians like Qais al-Khazali. After collecting more than 60,000 signatures, many Iraqi MPs and some Kurdish political parties joined the campaign.
These cleavages are in a tricky situation. Public sector employees are part of the KRG political system and the most beneficial segment of society now looking to Baghdad to maintain their income and lifestyle. While Iraqi elites, especially hawks within the Coordination Framework, are happy to see public employment pressure, they are unwilling to include them in the Iraqi public payroll for political, economic, and legal reasons.
Baghdad’s Kafkaesque World
In Baghdad, the authority figures are diverse, enigmatic, and have multiple responses. This applies to the prime minister’s office, the ministry of finance, the finance committee in the Parliament, various party and group leaders, the “independent” MPs, and above all, the high federal court. The Kurdish representatives are often subjected to endless forms, paperwork, demands, and tasks that prevent them from achieving their goals, creating a sense of frustration and hopelessness. This bureaucratic entrapment derails or frustrates the Kurds. If the Bagdad-Erbil relationship is a power balance form, then using power in every way, including revenge and humiliation, is permissible.
The Supreme Federal Court (SFC)
Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court (SFC) has emerged as an influential actor in the country’s political scene. The court has been actively issuing decisions regarding the unconstitutionality of KRG laws and institutions. On the one hand, the SFC’s decisions regarding Kurdistan show the crisis in the KRG’s courts and their inability to become an apolitical arbitrator within the region’s polity. On the other hand, the SFC is very centrist in its interpretations of the Constitution.
Intriguingly, federalism is seen as a strategy to avoid the country’s division and a way or a threat to divide it. As Qubad Talabani put it in 2005, “We feel that the Kurds conceded to be part of Iraq.” The current Iraqi elites are unhappy with this view and want to end it. Hence, federalism is also under stress. The SFC plays a significant role in reshaping federalism to make it an entity governed from the center and eliminating differences between Kurdistan and Iraq, from the Personal Status Law to oil, institutions, budgets, and other areas; the latest of its decision is considering KRG Parliament extension is unconstitutional.
These all jeopardized another pillar of Iraq’s political system: the Constitution. While the different views and expectations allow both sides to point to the Constitution as a touchstone for reconciliation, it has also contributed to the present conflict. Iraq’s Constitution sacrifices clarity for consensus, as its authors addressed major disputes in ambiguous terms, hoping that future political processes would resolve them. As these processes failed, parties seized on these ambiguities to legitimize their respective positions and, at times, further them through domestic and international legal processes. That takes us back to politics and the balance of power mechanisms.
External Interventions: US, Turkey, and Iran
Because of the election year, rising global issues, and domestic pressures, Washington is trying to keep Iraq and Iran away from the media. This has made the Kurds complain of the US inaction in Iraqi Kurdistan and sit idly by, letting the region fall into Tehran’s orbit. Others call for Washington to re-engage with the Kurdish and Iraqi governments, not as a passive advisor but as an active mediator and guarantor.
Currently, the KDP is frustrated with the US’s inaction and is putting pressure on the KDP. “We are asking where the hell the United States is,” said a Kurdish official. This feeling dates back to the 2017 referendum, when the KDP expected the US to protect Kurdistan. The frustration is mutual, as the current administration feels it cannot work as it wishes with the KRG.
The US frustration was expressed through concern over human rights and freedom of expression in the region. The US focus on this area is a way to message the current KRG elites on freedom of expression. The current US administration is experiencing its lame-duck election campaign year, and their priority in Iraq is to maintain the quietness that has prevailed recently. On the Iraqi side, especially in the Coordination Framework, there is a deliberate ambiguity regarding the US.
The reality on the ground is a truce, if not peace, between the two sides, a reality that could change due to the eruption of war in Gaza. The two sides appear to have reached a win-win formula. The US seeks calmness; the Framework wants to safeguard its government and avoid pressure, especially with Sadr outside and a disenchanted street. The US wishes to maintain ties with Kurdistan and build good relations with Baghdad. When Secretary Blinken met with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Sudani, he urged the Iraqi government to continue cooperating with the KRG to foster its stability and resilience. This policy of low-profiling Iran and Iraq and treating them as dual cases has stressed the US-KRG relationship.
Iran is close to the current ruling elite in Baghdad. Iranian demands and interests are maintained through them, whether it is security or trade. Iran might not push for the KRG’s collapse, as Tehran neither favors a strong Iraq nor instability in Iraqi Kurdistan. Accordingly, Iran might favor a curtailed-power KRG under Baghdad’s control and be unable to act against Iranian interests.
Iraq and Turkey are exchanging political and technical delegations, although oil exports have not yet resumed. The flurry of technical meetings between their officials led some observers to suggest that momentum has revived negotiations to reopen the Iraq-Turkey oil export pipeline. On the political side, during the last ADIPEC conference, Turkish Energy Minister Alpaslan Bayraktar said: “As of today, the pipeline is ready to operate; within this week, we will start the Turkey-Iraq pipeline.” Turkey claimed until recently that the pipelines were unprepared following the Februaryearthquake.
While both parties try to keep the connection alive, there is no resolution. Iraq has not formally asked Turkey to resume the export because it is unwilling to pay the “high” extracting cost to the international oil companies. As they are aware that Iraq has not achieved a deal with the KRG and particularly the global oil companies, observers argue that the Turkish remark may be an effort to place the responsibility for the delay with Iraq, according to Muhammad Hussain  an energy observer from the Iraq Oil Report. Others argue that despite frequent exchanges between the two sides, neither Turkey nor Iraq is in a rush to start exporting oil again, each for different reasons.
While the two nations had a long list of disagreements, as Basra MP Ali Al-Shaddad put it, Turkey’s demands included the following:
- Acceptance of Turkish forces’ presence in Iraqi territory,
- Withdrawal from further international arbitration brought by the Iraqi Oil Ministry against Turkey,
- A permanent price reduction for Turkey,
- Paying US$ 7 for each barrel exported,
- Various payments regarding the pipelines.
It is unclear if Ankara has relented to its demands or not. According to Kurdish expert Burhan Yasin,  Ankara faces a decisive moment in its relations with Iraq and Kurdistan. Turkey has to either turn to Iraq and abandon the 50-year deal with the KRG or maintain it, which looks somewhat unattainable.
The Baghdad-Erbil relationship is at its lowest point right now. Despite the possibility that the present crisis may lead to a reorganization of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, the reality of the situation suggests this won’t happen anytime soon. The new Iraq emerged due to a tactical alliance between Shia and Kurdish groups; the coalition no longer exists, and a new hierarchy is emerging between the two sides for the first time.
Will the Kurds be allowed to negotiate their position, or will they be considered the defeated side and be required to comply with the terms of surrender? The Kurdish elites have yet to accept that they are the weaker party and that the current power dynamics will only last for a while. Even though financial and economic concerns dominate the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, it is more than that in the long run. The two sides’ issues demand reframing and a fresh perspective, which is not expected from the current Baghdad and Erbil elites, who prioritize their interests and use the situation to that end.
Scenario 1: Continuation of the swinging between a short-term fix and tensions Baghdad needs more time to pass numerous laws, among them the Hydrocarbon Law, and establish itself further vis-à-vis Erbil in other areas. Since 2007, Baghdad and Erbil have disagreed on the law. Baghdad appears to favor a centralized regulation and now is the best time to pass it through the Parliament.
Scenario 2: Accepting reality, the KRG changed its focus to Baghdad while Baghdad and the PUK are working together to restrict the KDP. Iran strongly supports this strategy both directly and indirectly. The actions have successfully limited the KDP’s options, especially given Turkey’s desire to grow closer ties with Baghdad. KDP hasn’t changed its mindset yet, in any case.
Scenario 3: Wishing for a situation that, directly or indirectly, alters the power dynamics between the two parties. The KDP adheres to the belief that the country’s existing structure is susceptible to changes within and outside. Based on the region’s history, KDP elites believe such an event is imminent. Therefore, the KDP should be patient and wait in this regard. It may be argued that the current Israeli-Hamas conflict and its potential influence in the broader region is making Baghdad’s elites more cautious. This scenario hovers around the possibility of a KDP-PUK deal. Following the PUK conference and legitimizing the Talabani family’s control over the party, the two ruling families, Barzani and Talabani, will likely agree, particularly after the election at the beginning of next year, to safeguard their interests and deal with Baghdad appropriately.