We support stable, viable Kurdistan, but problems emerge at Kuwait Conference

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the US supports “a stable and viable Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” as the two leaders met in Kuwait at an international conference on funding Iraqi reconstruction, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert informed reporters on Tuesday.

Nauert added that Tillerson had “commended the prime minister for his leadership and for his efforts to improve Baghdad-Erbil relations.”

Given Abadi’s abusive treatment of the Kurdistan Region—from his ban on international flights to slashing income for the Kurdistan Region in his budget—Kurds may well not recognize such a description. Nonetheless, Tillerson’s statement marks a relatively new US public willingness to emphasize to Baghdad the importance of fair treatment for the Kurds.

Sectarianism continues to plague the Iraqi government. US pressure led to the last-minute inclusion of representatives from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the Kuwait conference.

However, the problem of Sunni Arab representation remained. “We were sorely underrepresented,” a spokesman for the council of tribal sheikhs in Salahuddin province complained, as The New York Times reported.

Brookings scholar Ranj Aladdin summarized Baghdad’s dilemma in a tweet: “Officials have to somehow inspire confidence by awkwardly explaining why half the country is either completely in ruins or under collective punishment. And then ask for $88 [billion]”—the sum Baghdad estimates is needed for reconstruction.

Indeed, the Times described the Iraqi Reconstruction Conference as a “failure.” It noted that Iraq “is expected to receive only $4 billion in pledges by Wednesday, when the conference ends.”

Most of that money will come from the Arab Gulf states, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar each promising some $1 billion.

The US is focused on promoting private sector investment in Iraq, but Sami al-Araji, head of Iraq’s National Investment Commission, said there had been no commitments to date, and “I am not expecting any contracts to be signed,” the Times reported.

Nauert, however, took issue with the negative reporting. She said it “mischaracterized the conference as a pledging conference,” and it was not intended as such.

The idea was merely to present investors with “Iraq’s ten-year reconstruction program,” after which they could consider it further “to determine what is best for them.”

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