Resolve disagreements through ‘peaceful means,’ outgoing US ambassador urges Iraq, Kurdistan Region

15-05-2022 09:43


Outgoing US Ambassador Matthew Tueller encouraged all groups across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to seek peaceful solutions to their disagreements, rather than using violence.

Speaking to a group of journalists from outlets in the Kurdistan Region, including Peregraf, Tueller said that the problems posed by government formation in Baghdad, tensions between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and between the ruling parties in the Kurdistan Region could be overcome through dialogue and inclusive action.

The United States’ “principles are that elections matter, that political processes should matter, that respect for law, respect for inclusion, and that, ultimately, political differences should be resolved through peaceful means and not to resort to violence,” the ambassador said.

“I think many, many Iraqis would share those views as well,” he added.

Tueller expressed frustration with Iraq’s lengthy government formation process, saying that Washington needs “a government we can work with” and that the “Iraqi people want a government that provides essential services, education, health care, electricity, [and] security.”

Responding to a question from Peregraf about those demands for better services as it applies to the Kurdistan Region, along with ensuring freedom of expression and combatting corruption, Tueller said that the US had recently released its annual human rights report.

“We recognize accomplishments and progress where those exist. But we also draw attention to areas where we feel there is lack of commitment or weakness in the commitment or backsliding,” he said, adding that the US highlights its support for protecting human rights in private conversations with government officials and members of civil society.

Those issues of governance, economic development, and civil rights are particularly potent at the moment because the KRG has repeatedly failed to pay its public servants their monthly salaries on time, with Sulaimaniyah particularly affected.

Matthew Tuller's conversation with journalists in Erbil , May 15, 2022

Exacerbating the problem is an ongoing dispute between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) over how to share and allocate internal income, including taxes and customs duties.

As a result, pensioners and public sector workers have not been paid, leading to strikes and demonstrations in PUK-controlled areas. In the past, demonstrations voicing similar demands in KDP areas were violently put down, with journalists and activists arrested and forced to endure trials that were widely criticized as lacking in due process and fairness.

Asked about whether tensions between the KDP and PUK represented a grave threat to the Kurdistan Region, the veteran diplomat rejected the “more alarmist statements and threats and sense of crisis.”

He said that he had seen worse during the Kurdish Civil War in the 1990s and hoped that “never again” would the Kurdistan Region see that kind of conflict.

“I have trust that the leaders of both parties understand that they have much, much to gain by ultimately finding other ways to cooperate to accommodate each other’s interests,” Tueller said of the KDP and the PUK.

The ambassador also called on the KRG and Iraq’s federal government to enter into dialogue to resolve their differences in light of the Federal Supreme Court ruling in February that declared the KRG’s oil and gas law unconstitutional.

He argued that Baghdad and Erbil should collaborate to pass a hydrocarbons law that works for both sides in accordance with the constitution.

Tueller became ambassador to Iraq in 2019 after stints leading the US embassies in Kuwait and Yemen.

Earlier this year, the US Senate confirmed Alina Romanowski as Tueller’s successor. She will take over next month.