President Barzani’s Interview with Al-Hayat Newspaper | |

The following is the translation of President Barzani’s full interview with the Arabic language Al-Hayat newspaper published on 5 April 2014.

QUESTION: I am surprised by your calmness when the region surrounding the Kurdistan Region is in turmoil?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: We thank God for this stability. This is due to our people’s philosophy, which is tolerance, co-existence, and refraining from revenge. We opened a new page with ourselves and with others. Our Region’s stability is due to our people and our security services.

QUESTION: Is it because the living standard of the people of the Kurdistan Region is better than what it was before?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: It is obviously better, and we aspire to further improve it. We want stability, prosperity, job opportunities, advanced universities and real development.

QUESTION: Over the years, every time I visit Iraq, I feel it is increasingly going toward disintegration?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: It is unfortunate. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, we tried to transfer the Region’s model to the rest of Iraq. We called for tolerance and for lessons to be learned from the past. This did not happen. Unfortunately, many resorted to revenge and counter-retribution. I feel Iraq’s future is in great danger.

QUESTION: A big danger on the unity of Iraq?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course. Iraq is breaking up. We hoped that things were different. But we have to deal with realities and facts. There is great instability. Terrorism is spreading the western parts of the country. There are towns outside the control of the government and terrorists are conducting their activities in a public way.

QUESTION: Has the political process in Iraq failed after Saddam?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: It is on the brink of failure.

QUESTION: Why is it difficult for Iraqi components to reach understanding?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Personal tendencies and lack of belief in democracy and the accepting of others are the reason. Totalitarianism is still prevalent. Rejecting others leads to confrontation and chaos.
QUESTION: Do you think that this totalitarian thinking in Baghdad will be the reason behind Iraq’s breakup?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Yes, it is the main reason. Because of this kind of thinking, the Constitution is not being implemented and Iraq is heading toward breaking up. Also because of this thinking, agreements have not been honored and Iraqi components have been distanced from each other.

QUESTION: A politician told me that Iraq cannot have two strong men, one in Baghdad and the other in Erbil. Do you agree with this?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I believe that real strength should lie with people and with their opinion. An official should draw his strength from people’s trust and from his respect for the constitution and institutions. Our situation in Kurdistan is the result of direct elections. The strong man in Baghdad came as a result of political consensus between political forces. People should have the final say through institutions, be it in Baghdad or in Erbil. Associating the fate of a country or region to one man or his whims is a risk which would return us back to days which cost us dearly.

QUESTION: Do you regret supporting Noori Maliki to become the prime minister?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: You cannot judge a past phase within the current circumstances. With this in mind, I do not regret my support to Mr. Maliki. In addition, I do not want to personalize the matter. Then tragedies started.

QUESTION: Then why isn’t there a normal working relationship between you and Maliki within the framework of the Constitution?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Because there are two interpretations for the Constitution and governance. Maybe he believes that everything should go back to Baghdad for approval. We have a different view. We view Iraq as comprising of two main nationalities, not of one nationality. The Kurdish people have made tremendous sacrifices, which cannot be denied or ignored. Mr. Maliki believes that he is in charge and that everyone should obey him. He is not committed to what the Constitution has for the Kurdistan Region, and he is also not committed to the agreements we have agreed to. This is the reason.

QUESTION: The Iraqi army is now fighting in Anbar Province. Do you not fear that one day the army could punish the Kurdistan Region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I hope that no one in Baghdad considers to use the army to undermine the high status of the Kurdistan Region. We never think about a return to war and killing, and I do not fear any army. What worries me is the thinking about the use of the army to usurp people. This thinking frightens me because it means a return to the tragedies of the past. I hope no one takes this kind of risk. Many rulers, with big armies, tried this but the results are obvious for all to see. Any attempt of this nature is bound to fail.

QUESTION: How do you see what is happening in Anbar?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: At the start, peaceful demonstrations were staged in Anbar, with just calls and requests. People there were suffering from lack of services, from discrimination, and unjust policies. Any citizen has the right to ask for their rights. The government did not respond to their demands and this led to some armed clashes. This violence allowed terrorists to infiltrate into the ranks of some of the demonstrators and they almost took control of the matters.

The problem is that when you try to target terrorists who hide in cities, civilians also get hit. Yes, their demands were just. But you cannot in anyway assist terrorists. It became difficult to distinguish between people demanding their rights on the one hand, and terrorists.

QUESTION: Some believe that these events are a reflection of the Sunni-Shiite strife. Can one deny this strife anymore?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Many people try to deny it or use other names to refer to it. Unfortunately, this conflict is old and new at the same time. The strife exists and there is a need for judicious policies to keep it in check, and not further complicate it. Not so long ago, there were bitter sectarian cleansing campaigns in the Buhris district in Diyala province. Atrocities were committed by both sides, and they should not be covered up.

QUESTION: Do you believe that co-existence cannot be maintained?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Unfortunately, I am inclined to say yes. I reassure you that we will fight to maintain co-existence between Arabs and Kurds so that it does not break up. We will also do everything we can to ensure it does not break up between Shiites and Sunnis. Ignoring the problem will not work. Resolving problems start with acknowledging their existence. Let us leave diplomatic expressions aside. I believe that the historical relationship between Arabs and Kurds should be maintained. It is unfortunate to have people, who in order to gain popularity and succeed in elections, try to stoke tensions with other components. This is a big tragedy. Awareness among people should be increased and they should be warned about those these firebrands.

QUESTION: Do you expect Sunni Arabs to demand their own region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: The Constitution gives them this right. After the fall of Saddam regime, I tried to raise with the Sunni Arabs the idea of having their own region, as I was concerned about a bloody strife between Sunnis and Shiites. And this was possible at the time. They rejected this idea and they were still under the impression that for traditional and historic reason, power should lie in hands of Sunnis. They could not comprehend the magnitude of the change that had occurred. No they demand this. But its realization is complicated and difficult. They demanded but Baghdad rejected.

QUESTION: What if the Iraqi Prime Minister decided to suspend all financial dues to the Kurdistan Region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: He has already made this decision. The US is currently mediating. We will give this mediation a chance. I consider the suspension of Kurdistan Region dues as a declaration of war, and maybe even a crime greater than the chemical bombing of Halabja. We will wait for some time to see the result of this mediation. But the Kurdistan Region will not stand by if this situation continues. We have a plan which we will implement. I hope that the US mediation will bear fruit. We will stay the course to find a solution, but if this situation continues, everything will change.

QUESTION: Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahristani accused the Kurds of stealing Iraq’s oil.

PRESIDENT BARZANI: This is foul language and it should not have come from someone in such a position of responsibility. Mr. Shahristani knows the Kurds and their history. Everything we do as far as energy is concerned is public and is in line with the Constitution. If they choose this language, then this is the response: Kurdistan’s oil has been plundered for one hundred years. If it was not for this oil, the Iraqi state created by the English would not have been able to stand on its feet.

QUESTION: Do you mean Kirkuk’s oil?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Yes, of course, I don’t want to speak in this manner but they should not use unsuitable language in addressing Kurds.

QUESTION: Did you also get angry with Maliki statements after a Kurdish presidential guards officer shot dead a journalist in Baghdad?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: The incident is unfortunate and the crime is condemned. Justice must be served. Whatever the circumstances surrounding this crime, the courts must step in. It is not for the Prime Minister to visit the scene and in front of cameras declare: “I am the guardian of this blood, it will be blood for blood.” These words should not have come from the Prime Minister, the guardian of the blood of all Iraqis. More than 400 university lecturers have been martyred in recent years. Who is the guardian of their blood?

QUESTION: You mean they were murdered?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Yes. More than 400. What about sectarian cleansing, who is their guardian? This is highly dangerous language. If they threaten us and make us also ask these questions: who is the guardian of the blood of 182,000 Kurds killed during the Anfal campaign, 5,000 civilians, mostly women and children, in Halabja? And who is the blood guardian of 8,000 Barzani’s buried in Iraq’s southern deserts. Who is the blood guardian of 12,000 Faili youths who disappeared during Saddam’s time? We did not say “blood for blood”. We said we would open a new page. We did not retaliate. We don’t accept the language of blood and revenge.

QUESTION: Are the upcoming parliamentary elections, due end of this month, expected to lead any significant change?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I hope and wish that the elections take place. They might lead to change and we are in favor of them being held on time. Change is possible if all political forces agree on a certain program.

QUESTION: Is there is a possibility that you might support Maliki to stay on after this election?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Let us wait first for the result of the election and the position of other political sides. I don’t want to turn this issue into a personal one. I respect Maliki and from a personal perspective he was and still is a friend and a brother. We differ on the type of governance and the methods he employs to run the country. The issue is not personal. Even if another person came to power and continued with the same policies, we won’t stop with rejecting him, but everything might change.

QUESTION: There are those who accuse Maliki of forcing other communities/opponents to choose difficult options: either subordination or separation?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I will go into the heart of the dispute. The fact is that the budget and other issues can be resolved if there was political will. The most dangerous thing is that for someone to think about undermining the high status of the Kurdistan Region and forcing it into subordination under a one-man rule in Baghdad. To be frank, this will not happen. This is impossible. We won’t subordinate. We won’t let anyone to undermine the status of the Kurdistan Region and integrity of its citizens. This is the root of the issue. I will summarize my response in one sentence: We won’t be followers. Partners, yes absolutely. Brothers, yes absolutely. Allies, yes absolutely. Followers? We won’t be followers to any one; we will remain partners but won’t accept to be followers.

QUESTION: Is it possible for the situation in Syria to return to what it was before the outbreak of conflict?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I believe the matter is unlikely and extremely difficult. At the same time it is very unfortunate to see so much bloodshed and destruction. I don’t believe a return to the past is possible.

QUESTION: And do you believe Syria will break up?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: The current situation may lead to that.

QUESTION: Do you mean there is a problem of co-existence with Sunni vs Alawis and Kurds vs Arabs?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Syria is currently a divided country. Certain parts of the country are controlled by the government, and other parts by different groups and then there is terrorist groups.

QUESTION: Do you feel the borders have collapsed; ISIL members enter Syria from Iraq, Hizbullah members enter Syrian from Lebanon, in addition to the thousands of foreign fighters who enter Syria?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: This is the reality. Syrian borders have collapsed and warring factions and different communities attempt to control largest possible areas.

QUESTION: Some people believe that this collapsing of borders and ending of co-existence will lead to a situation where every group will try to carve out their own region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: All countries created after the World War I may break up and hence things will return to their natural situation. The only way to save the situation is for these countries to believe in co-existence and democracy and genuine partnership. Otherwise, there will be breakup of countries with diverse peoples. The world has changed and peoples are demanding their rights. No people are prepared to accept oppression and the denial of their rights. Complete partnership or fragmentation.

QUESTION: Have you as the Region offered any military support to the Syrian Kurds?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: We have not offered any military assistance. At the beginning, we invited organizations and personalities for talks. I suggested to them that they work under one umbrella. They formed a high committee. We told them that would support any decision they make as long as they are united. Unfortunately, they have their difference amongst each other now. We have provided them with humanitarian assistance and we will continue to do that. We have not provided any military assistance and we don’t want the Region to face legal implications.

QUESTION: Are there Turkish-Iranian contentions on Kurdistan region territories? Do you face pressures?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Fortunately, I say this with honesty and diligence, we establish balanced and developing relations with Iran and Turkey. There are no pressures from either country, if there were any, we would have rejected it. In the Kurdistan region, we reject pressure from any country, be it far or close.
QUESTION: Even the United States?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Yes, we reject all pressures. The Kurdish people did not suffer all sacrifices to end up living now under any pressure.

QUESTION: Last September you were exposed to a terrorist attack which affected the stability of the Kurdistan Region, where did these terrorists come from?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: We have about 230,000 IDPs from different areas of Iraq. We had strict security procedures which helped the security situation and those procedures were needed by both Kurds and Arabs. Some friends complained about those procedures and so we made reductions and we paid the price. Some terrorists group, including ISIL took advantage of the reduction of some of those security procedures. Some of those terrorists entered Erbil under the pretext of work. The attack was planned and reviewed for about six months and it was carried about by four non-Iraqi terrorists whom we were able to capture and they confessed that they were affiliated with ISIL. The head of the network managed to flee to Syria before being captured.

QUESTION: You are the son of a historic leader of the Kurds, but you have achieved what he couldn’t, is the current leader competing with his father?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I am proud to be the son of Mullah Mustafa who is the symbol of this nation. I was raised under his supervision and I spent my whole life with him, until his death. Meanwhile, I am proud of my own personality and my own path and what I have achieved. Undoubtedly the fact that I am the son of Mullah Mustafa gave me the opportunity, but you have to deserve the opportunity, and I have done everything that is possible within me. And as for the establishment of the Kurdistan Region, the situation was drastically different in the times of my father, both regionally and internationally. I have to state that the current achievements stem from what Mullah Mustafa started.

QUESTION: Would it have been possible to establish the Kurdistan Region if America did not decide to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Let’s go back to the beginning, if the Saddam regime had not invaded Kuwait, then America and the West would not have challenged him. The world then saw the sufferings of the people of Iraq and the sufferings of the Kurds. But the removal of the Saddam regime could not have happened if it weren’t for the American interference. The opposition attempted but it did not succeed, we were not about to surrender, but the flight would have taken years and years.

QUESTION: What is your comment about the victory of Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s party in the last municipal elections?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: First of all, I warmly congratulated him, the people of Turkey renewed their trust in him and he is deserving of that trust. The economic situation in Turkey was a major reason for their victory.
QUESTION: How is the economic situation n the Kurdistan Region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: We face some obstacles now because of some of the decisions that were made in Baghdad, we will now give the American mediation an opportunity, and if it is not to our liking, we will do what we can, without dependency on Baghdad.

QUESTION: Can the Kurdistan Region live by its resources if Baghdad made the decision to completely cease any funding to the Region?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: We are working so that the situation does not reach that level, but if Baghdad continued with this decision, we have an enormous amount of oil, if we began to sell it, the region can do without Baghdad.