BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister has chastised local authorities in the self-ruled northern Kurdish region for allegedly not paying salaries to government employees there even though the north exports oil independently to the international market.
The remarks by Haider al-Abadi reflect the ongoing dispute between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds. The two sides have long been at loggerheads over oil exports and plummeting oil prices have exacerbated the situation, along with Baghdad's move in 2014 to withhold the Kurds' 17 percent in federal budget. For their part, the Kurds seek economic independence as a step toward secession.
"The amount of oil exported from the (Kurdish) region is almost 16 percent of total oil exports in Iraq, so the region gets its share from the (federal) budget," al-Abadi told the state-run TV late Monday.
In the interview, al-Abadi said those funds just disappear. "I can't find this money in any (bank) account inside the region."
"I have a suggestion: hand over the oil and we will pay the salaries," he added, speaking to the Kurdish local authorities.
Last year, Iraqi Kurdish employees got only the first half of September and have not been paid for the last three months of that year. A salary cut between 15 percent and 75 percent was announced for 2016, expect for the Kurdish security force members. The January salaries were paid according to the new scheme, but there is no indication when the employees would get their back pay.
Along with political infighting, alleged corruption and nepotism by local politicians, the austerity measures have fueled public unrest in the region, prompting almost daily protests and boycotts.
Last month, Iraqi Kurdish oil exports through Turkey averaged 601,811 barrels per day, including oil produced from fields in the disputed city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds took over after the withdrawal of Baghdad-run security forces following the June 2014 onslaught by Islamic State militants. The Kurds have long sought to annex the oil-rich city of Kirkuk to their region, but Sunni Arabs and Turkmen are opposed.
To bypass Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds some years ago reached an agreement with Turkey to deposit oil revenues in Turkey's Halk Bank account.
Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.