The KRG’s loss of Kirkuk was not just a territorial loss. The KRG also lost two oilfields near Kirkuk that it had claimed in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State swooped across the north of Iraq and the peshmerga seized areas abandoned by the Iraqi army and police.
With the loss of revenue from the Kirkuk oilfields, the KRG has been brought to its knees. It has no option but to negotiate with its neighbors — including Iran. The KRG is currently unable to pay the salaries of employees of its bloated civil service, and it only provides around three hours of electricity a day to residents.
On Dec. 18, protesters took to the streets to demand the resignation of the Kurdish political leadership. Demonstrators also set fire to the offices of the main political parties in the town of Piramagrun in Sulaimaniyah province, shouting, “Thieves!” Riot police intervened and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters.
Despite the apparent progress in terms of the reopening of the border crossings, sources close to the Iranians told Al-Monitor that Iran is not yet ready to fully normalize its relations with Iraqi Kurds — unless the officials who advocated for the referendum are off the political stage. Given Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq, it appears that the Kurds may have no option but to concede on this point, too.