According to the constitution, Baghdad must pay for the country’s national defence force, including the Peshmerga--the army of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Constitutionally, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) should get 17 percent of Iraq’s national budget.
But Baghdad has refused to pay this budget allocation because of its dispute with Kurdistan over the latter’s oil sales. Baghdad expects the KRG to pay the Peshmerga—around 150,000--from its own oil revenues.
The dispute between Baghdad and the KRG over the budget and oil sales may be a sideshow. More importantly, Kurdistan has separatist ambitions and its Peshmerga forces have a long history of enmity and bloodshed with Iraq’s central government.
The Kurdish movement for independence has been gaining strength over decades and has gathered speed since the US invasion in 2003. And so has the identity of the Peshmerga as a nationalist army for a would-be Kurdish state.
In a showdown with the KRG in 2012, the then Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the Iraqi army could enter Erbil and Sulaimaniya, Kurdistan’s main cities, invoking the constitution that establishes the country as a federal state. The Iraqi army could deploy in Basra in the south just as it could in the northern city of Zakho in Kurdistan, Al-Maliki said.
Kurdish officials were quick to dismiss the threats and deliver a warning to Baghdad. “We will not allow the Iraqi army to approach one inch inside the Kurdistan territories from Al-Khabour to Khanaqin," came the answer from the then deputy Minister of Peshmerga Anwar Haji Osman.