Speaker’s visit to Kurds divides Iraqi parliament

BAGHDAD (AP) — A leading Iraqi parliamentarian upbraided the legislative body’s leader for meeting with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on Sunday as Baghdad’s politicians voiced their differences over how best to respond to a controversial Kurdish referendum for independence.

Iraqi member of Parliament Humam Hamoudi called Parliament Speaker Salim Jabouri’s meeting with Barzani “disappointing” and “unfortunate” and said Jabouri went to Barzani in a personal capacity, not as Parliament’s representative.

Two days of high level visits by Baghdad politicians to Irbil, the seat of the Kurdish regional government, have failed to resolve the impasse between Baghdad and its Kurdish region, which voted for independence in a non-binding referendum two weeks ago.

Jabouri’s visit, intended to break the deadlock, instead underscored the divisions within the capital over how to respond to the Kurdish vote.

Few if any of Iraq’s national politicians want to see an independent Kurdistan, but there is little consensus beyond that.

Shiite politicians, especially those close to Iran, have urged a hard line against the Kurdish region. They see an opportunity to clip Barzani’s wings, which they see as the biggest obstacle to expanded Iranian influence in north Iraq, said Hadi Meraie, a political analyst and head of the Iraq Observatory for Press Freedoms.

“The Shiite groups consider that Barzani has crossed a red line to threaten Iraq’s unity and by extension Iran’s influence over the region,” said Meraie.

The war on the Islamic State group has drawn the country’s Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Front militias, a main vessel of Iranian influence, deep into Sunni-majority northern Iraq, raising tensions with Kurdish Peshmerga militias also invested in the fight.

Sunnis, including Parliament Speaker Jabouri, and some Shiite politicians prefer to see Iran’s influence contained.