Kurds celebrated their traditional new year, Nowruz, this week, and to mark the occasion, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave them a peace offering of sorts. “I want to congratulate our Kurdish citizens in Kurdish,” he said Tuesday during his weekly news conference in Baghdad. “I don’t speak it, but it is meant to prove that Iraq is one and united.”
That moment was believed to mark the first time a modern Iraqi leader has spoken in Kurdish, which, along with Arabic, is an official language of Iraq. And he accompanied that with a more substantive overture, agreeing to transfer more than $250 million to the Kurdish Regional Government to help pay the salaries Kurdish government workers and security forces.
The remarks coincide with the 15th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The repercussions of that conflict are still being felt in Iraq and the broader Middle East. One legacy of the war is the way Kurds are reshaping the region—often to the consternation of surrounding powers.
Indeed Abadi’s actions represented a departure from months of tensions between Iraq and the KRG that have been years in the making. The strains were exacerbated by last fall’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds, apparently emboldened by their military success against ISIS, and buoyed after having taken possession in 2014 of Kirkuk, the oil-rich region that is among the main areas of dispute between Baghdad and Irbil, called for the vote—despite strong urging from their U.S. allies not to do so. That successful independence referendum was followed by Iraqi forces retaking Kirkuk, resulting in the loss of face for the the Kurds, as well revenue from the oil fields there. This week’s gesture by Abadi should assuage some of the KRG’s monetary concerns. (The KRG is highly dependent on oil revenue.)