As Iraq consolidates its control of recaptured land and resources in and around Kirkuk, the KRG is looking increasingly isolated
There's been a lot of diplomatic activity in the Middle East over recent days. But none of it has involved the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as part of a tour of Gulf states, flew to Baghdad to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The Kurdish leadership must have hoped that his next stop was Erbil. The involvement of the US in attempts to defuse the crisis between the KRG and the federal government in Baghdad, in the wake of the forced withdrawal of Peshmerga units from land captured in 2014, would have been welcomed in Erbil. It wasn't to be.
To rub salt in the wounds, Tillerson, during a stop in Riyadh, attended the inaugural meeting of a Saudi-Iraqi coordination council. Also present was Saudi's King Salman and Abadi. The holding of the meeting is a further sign of strengthening ties between Riyadh and Baghdad after years of diplomatic tension. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, during a high-profile visit to the Iraqi capital a day or two earlier, said an agreement had been reached on energy cooperation.
The US is hoping that improved ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will help to counter Iranian influence in the latter. The Saudis have already started to develop relations with Iraqi Shia leaders who are unhappy with Iran's presence in their country.
Iran, too, was involved in diplomatic moves in recent days-again, in ways that won't bring comfort to the KRG. Iran's first vice president and Turkey's prime minister, in a meeting in Ankara, agreed to cooperate closely in economic and security matters.
All the parties involved in these recent diplomatic moves, despite sharp differences between some of them, were unanimous in condemning the Kurds' independence referendum in late September. At least three of the governments, in Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad, are adamant that Iraq should stay united and have vowed to do whatever is necessary to prevent the Kurds establishing an independent state.
The three are in a strong position to pressure the KRG by interrupting or blocking oil exports through Turkey, thus strangling its economy. Right now, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership needs to find ways of persuading Tillerson or some other leader with global influence, to visit Erbil and explore ways of seeking reconciliation-not just with Baghdad but with all the neighbouring capitals.