Is Maliki Plotting Return to Power with Kurdistan Visit?

“I believe that if Maliki had good intentions, he should have visited Erbil, too,” KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters July 19, expressing his doubts about what Maliki seeks to achieve by his visit. Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and is dominated by the KDP. It remains to be seen, however, whether Maliki is actually seeking closer relations with the PUK-Gorran alliance to effectively weaken the KDP, as some suspect.

Maliki also attempted to exude an air of optimism about settling the ever-deepening disputes between the KRG and Baghdad governments. “There is a lot of hope for resolving the budget dispute between Baghdad and Erbil,” Maliki said during a joint news conference with Mala Bakhtiyar, a senior PUK leader, on July 18. “Since we have a constitution, that means we can resolve all the problems. The budget issue can be addressed on the basis of the constitution.” According to Iraq's budget laws in the past years, the KRG is entitled to around 17% of the country's budget.

While KDP officials and affiliated media took the lead in slamming Maliki's visit, PUK officials have been struggling to defend their largely warm reception of him while denying that the visit had anything to do with Maliki's alleged prime ministerial ambitions or trying to deepen Kurdish discord.

“Maliki wants to see KRG-Baghdad relations improved,” Saadi Pira, a member of the PUK's political bureau, told Al-Monitor. “He was not here to discuss his premiership and gather support for [obtaining] it.”

Pira also downplayed critical statements by the Kurdish prime minister, saying Nechirvan Barzani had met with Maliki during Barzani's last visit to the Iraqi capital. He added that Maliki — as the head of the State of Law Coalition, the largest Shiite bloc in the Iraqi parliament — has an opportunity to again become premier if the Shiite groups approve, so the Kurds should not destroy their ties with him.

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