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UK willing to extend helping hand to Erbil-Baghdad negotiations, if requested: UK ambassador to Iraq

The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Iraq expressed his country’s willingness to extend a helping hand, if asked, in ongoing budget negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad that have yet to come to a resolution.

“We stand ready to play any role, if one is requested of us by both sides,” UK ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey told Rudaw’s Muhammad Sheikh Fatih in an interview on Thursday. “We already work closely with both Erbil and Baghdad, and we want to help.”

On December 21, the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved the 2021 budget bill, sending it to parliament for deliberation. More than a month and a half later, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not been able to reach a deal with Baghdad on the Kurdistan Region’s share of the budget.

The KRG’s delegation, led by deputy PM of the Kurdistan Region Qubad Talabani, has visited Baghdad multiple times to come to a deal on the budget, upon which the KRG is dependent on.

“Our only objective in Iraq is to help build a strong, stable, and secure country,” he added. “We completely understand that the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad, and achieving a fair financial settlement is absolutely vital to the stability and security of Iraq.”

Alla Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) bloc in Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw’s Halkawt Aziz on Wednesday that the delegation would likely return to Baghdad this week, hoping to negotiate further before parliament votes on the bill.

Hickey emphasized the importance of implementing the Shingal deal between Erbil and Baghdad.

“The disputed territories from west to east are so important, because at the moment, because there is no agreement between Baghdad and Erbil about these territories, there is an opportunity for Daesh (ISIS) to exist and to thrive in this area,” Hickey said. “Without stability, we will not be able to see the return of IDPs and refugees particularly to Sinjar.”

“We have to implement the agreement – it is so important that all armed groups withdraw not just from the center of Sinjar but from Sinjar district,” he added.

The withdrawal of armed groups is a central tenet of a deal struck in October between the Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which seeks to settle the district’s fraught security by establishing a new armed force recruited from the local population.

Haidar Shasho, commander of the Ezidkhan Protection Force in Shingal incorporated into the Peshmerga forces, told Rudaw English earlier in January that several different armed groups remain in Shingal.

“There are still Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi) units and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliated groups inside Shingal, even though they were supposed to leave,” Shasho said on January 18.

Tahsin al-Khafaji, the spokesperson of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, disputes the assertion that arm groups remain in Shingal.

“There are no armed organizations inside Sinjar under any name, and we will never allow it to be,” he claimed in an interview with Rudaw’s Sangar Abdulrahman later in January, describing claims otherwise as just rumors. Source