Recent Development: In an effort to convince the Iraqi government to begin negotiations over the future of the Kurdish province, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) offered to suspend the results of the independence referendum held last month.
Analysis: The KRG’s current proposal is the first to have an actual chance of being accepted by Baghdad. The offer comes amidst recent Iraqi attempts to probe Kurdish defensive lines near several key areas in Kurdish-held territories, including two important oil fields and border crossings with Turkey. It also follows the postponement of the general elections that were slated to take place next month in the KRG. Both these developments likely explain the timing of the KRG’s current proposal. The Iraqi advances on the ground further increased the pressure on Erbil to start offering more serious concessions to Baghdad, while the postponement of the elections alleviated some of the political pressure on KRG’s President Barzani, whose control of the KRG would have been put in jeopardy by such early elections.
The ball is now in Baghdad’s court. While representing a step forward, the concessions offered by Erbil are still short of what Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi asked for - namely the annulment (rather than the suspension) of the Kurdish referendum results. The recent success of the Iraqi operation to recapture disputed territories from the KRG may encourage Abadi to insist on the annulment of the referendum, a position that in turn is poised to prolong the crisis and delay any serious talks between the rival sides.
Indeed, this scenario should not be underestimated: Abadi has received the support of Turkey and Iran, two countries pushing for the annulment of the referendum and won’t be satisfied by a temporary freeze. Abadi himself stated he would not enter negotiations on the basis of the referendum, as such a move would grant the KRG more leverage in its talks with the central government. In addition, Abadi has more to lose politically if he decides to compromise rather than insisting on his initial conditions for holding talks with Erbil. After all, the Iraqi leader - along with his allies in Washington, who see him as the only option to preserve the US influence in Iraq - have the upcoming 2018 elections in mind and know that compromising could only hurt his chances.