Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s former vice president and current oil minister in Haider al-Abadi’s government, spotted me aboard a flight from Beirut to Istanbul. He was in a rush, on his way back to Baghdad after the Nov. 27 OPEC meeting in Vienna.
I met up with him Dec. 1 around midnight at his hotel in Istanbul, before his early flight to Baghdad. During our tour d’horizon, he hinted about the upcoming, fateful meeting he would be having with Iraqi Kurds waiting to see him in Baghdad to strike an oil deal.
I have known Abdul-Mahdi for a long time and can attest that there is no other Arab politician in Iraq closer to the Kurds than he is. The warm and close friendship he developed with Jalal Talabani, the former Kurdish president of Iraq, during his exile in Damascus when Saddam Hussein held power, makes him an indispensable Iraqi oil minister in Erbil’s eyes.
“Massoud Barzani told me,” Abdul-Mahdi said, “if they cannot come to terms even with me, they probably never can with anybody else in Baghdad.”
Abdul-Mahdi has always had a strategic mind, accumulating tremendous knowledge and experience of the region since the 1960s. A Francophone and a fluent English speaker, he has been an intellectual heavyweight since the days I knew him in 1970s Beirut.
From what he told me, an oil deal between Baghdad and Erbil seemed close, but he remained cautious. A few hours later, he would be sitting down for tough negotiations with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani; Barzani deputy Qubad Talabani, son of the former Iraqi president; and the KRG’s very competent oil minister, Ashti Hawrami.