The referendum revealed a previously-existing Iraqi plot against the Kurdistan Region that led to devastating losses, but Kurds can still face a positive future if they now put aside political aspirations and are united, Masrour Barzani, national security advisor of the Kurdistan Region, said in an interview with Rudaw's Shaho Amin that aired Wednesday evening.
Explaining the discussions that went on behind the scenes in the lead up to Kurdistan’s independence referendum, Barzani argued that the US alternative proposed at the last minute was not sufficient because it offered no commitment, no firm timeframe, and no way to hold Baghdad to the agreement.
“If someone is not prepared to show a commitment, then one should not take a letter as an alternative,” said Barzani, who is also a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Despite the fallout from the referendum – economic, territorial, and emotional losses – Barzani maintains that holding the vote was the right choice.
“We did not commit a crime,” he said, arguing that whether or not Kurdistan went ahead with the referendum, “Iraq never intended to accept the facts established by Kurds on the ground.”
Regarding the loss of Kirkuk, Barzani said he had not thought it possible that people could be so “depraved” to commit such a betrayal. He said the Iraqi forces only had the courage to march on the Kurdish forces when they realized there was disunity among the Kurds and some were willing to bring the Iraqis behind the Kurdish lines.
Referring to violence and deaths in the disputed areas after October 16, Barzani said “The guilt of all this has to be carried by the Baghdad authority and the group of traitors of October 16,” who permitted Iraqi forces to take Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
However, facing elections in both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region this year, Barzani believes that if Kurds are united, harmonious, and not driven by individual, political needs, then “a promising future awaits us.”
The referendum is still a hot and effective topic in the Kurdistan Region. How was the decision to hold it made?
Holding a referendum is a natural and legitimate right of every nation. This right is also enshrined in the United Nations Charter, which stipulates that every nation has the right to decide its fate. Holding a referendum is a right of a nation against which injustices have been done throughout history, especially from the last century until now. This is our right.
But the question is: when to exercise this right? Let’s not delve into the past too much. But if we start from 2003 onwards, after a new constitution was drafted for Iraq, we were all expecting this constitution to be a basis for coexistence of all the nations in a democratic and federal Iraq. But, contrary to these expectations and what we were trying to achieve, we saw the constitution being violated and the national rights of our people in Kurdistan being denied. This right was not given to our people. There were systematic efforts to reduce the role of the Kurds as a real partner in running Iraq and distance them from positions of power.
Things got to the point where even Kurdistan’s budget was gradually being reduced until it was finally cut completely. There were no efforts in any way, shape, or form to recognize or deal with the Peshmerga forces as an effective part of the Iraqi government’s
[H]olding a referendum is the most democratic and civil way to convey the desires of our people to Iraq and the world
defense system. Moreover, we saw how the Peshmerga forces were being treated in the war on ISIS. Weapons were prevented from reaching the Peshmerga.
Failure to implement Article 140 and violating 55 articles of the constitution made us think of a way to live in a future without having to resort to war, to prevent the recurrence of the calamities and problems which previously happened to our people and nation, and find a way to completely resolve our problems with Baghdad. That is why we thought that we should seek the opinions of our people. This led to the idea of holding a referendum.
And this is not new. Mr. President [Masoud Barzani] called on the parliament in 2014 to form a high committee for referendum and elections. The parliament then approved the request and other parties discussed it too. In light of failure to reach an agreement and the Iraqi government’s lack of readiness to grant inalienable constitutional rights to our people, we thought we had to think of this [referendum].
We had two options: resorting to war, God forbid, and rejected this option, or find another way peacefully. We thought that holding a referendum is the most democratic and civil way to convey the desires of our people to Iraq and the world. The underlying reason behind the referendum was to find out what our people wanted, how they wanted to live in the future with a government that has been violating their rights to date.
Some people and parties say the timing of the referendum was not right. You spoke abroad at pro-referendum rallies and were one of those who strove internally to ensure the process was a success. Do you agree with the idea that the timing was not right? Do you think regional and international reactions would have been different if the referendum was held at a later time?
I think the question of timing is merely an excuse. It was long overdue. The rights of our people were violated throughout all these years. Did anyone come and say the timing for this was not right? No one spoke of the timing of these violations.
Despite all this, we tried hard with neighboring and other world countries like the United States and European countries. We also held discussions with Baghdad several times. Official delegations from the Kurdistan Region held talks with these parties. I was one of the delegates who spoke about this abroad.
US officials said three things. They never said they were against the right to self-determination or holding the referendum. They only
[Fighting ISIS] was a decision made by us, not Baghdad
said they were somehow concerned about its timing for three reasons. Their first reason was the question of the war against ISIS. They thought holding the referendum might negatively affect the war on ISIS. Second, it might affect Prime Minister Abadi in a way he might not win a reelection. Third, the areas that have been broken away from the Kurdistan Region might cause more problems between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Region. It was because of these reasons.
But we thought these reasons were unsatisfactory because we thought they were not the kind of reasons that could make one unable to hold a referendum. What is a referendum? It is a vote in which you consult your own people who will then express their opinion. But we didn’t say at the time that we will make a decision on the basis of its outcome the day after. Rather, we said there would be opportunities for dialogue with the Iraqi government.
We thought the Kurdish leadership should at least have the decision of the nation so that the leadership doesn’t speak about the fate of the nation under the name of a party or a person alone. Rather, we thought they should have the opinion of the nation.
In regard to the three points they mentioned, we think the question of the war on ISIS has nothing to do with the referendum at all. The people of Kurdistan decided to defend themselves when ISIS attacked Kurdistan. It was the hard work and courage of the Peshmerga that prevented ISIS from advancing. The Peshmerga were the heroes of defeating ISIS. It was a decision made by us, not Baghdad.
In essence, ISIS emerged at a time and in a place where there were security, economic, and political vacuums. The reason behind the failure of the political system in Iraq is the Iraqi government that left behind all these weapons for ISIS after Iraqi armed forces failed. These factors strengthened ISIS and enabled it to attack Kurdistan. But the Peshmerga defended themselves and defeated ISIS.
[The US] alternative lacks every sort of guarantees. There is no commitment
If we look at this point this way, we can see that the decision to fight ISIS was ours. The Iraqi government was not the reason behind this decision. Thus, the decision to go ahead with the referendum has no impact on our stance on confronting ISIS now or terrorism in the future. That is why we thought this concern was not accurate.
Why couldn’t you convince the US?
Let me discuss the other two points, if I may? The second concern was about the reelection of the prime minister. We thought we didn’t have much influence on the election of the next prime minister. The party that wins the Iraqi elections is supposed to nominate a candidate for the position of prime minister. In accordance with Iraq’s current electoral system, the Iraqi government has designed a system that is a Shiite-majority. That is, we, the Kurds, and the Sunnis together as a minority cannot become the authority that nominates a candidate for the position of prime minister. It is the Shiites who will nominate the prime minister. This is one of the factors. The party with the most votes will get to nominate a prime minister.
There are two other factors. One of them is the question of religious authority in Najaf, which should approve and decide it. The other factor is not hidden. In fact, Iranian influence on political decision-making in Iraq is very obvious. That is, all these factors weigh in on this matter. They should all agree in order for a prime minister to be elected. Thus, our referendum would have had no impact on who would become Iraq’s next prime minister. That is why we thought of this as a weak point that couldn’t hinder the referendum.
Third, the question of disputed areas: we said if the presence of the Peshmerga in these areas was a problem, we haven’t yet held the referendum, but the Peshmerga are there. Why did the Peshmerga go to these places in the first place? They went there because of the failure of the Iraqi government and the emergence of ISIS. The Peshmerga went to these places in order to prevent the authority of ISIS in these places. They defeated ISIS in some places and liberated places. That is, the Peshmerga went there to protect these places, their people and territories.
I never said the presence of the Peshmerga in these places will become de facto and will be imposed on the future system in Iraq. Similarly, we didn’t say the referendum would determine geographic borders between the Kurdistan Region and the federal
We are always looked at as a minority in the [Iraqi] parliament
government. Rather, we said the referendum was aimed at knowing the desires of the people of Kurdistan, as to how they wanted to live with the Iraqi government in the future. We should resolve the issue of disputed territories in light of the constitution – according to Article 140. We are prepared to find suitable solutions to these places.
This was our response to the third point, which they mentioned as their concern about the timing of the referendum. We thought this was not accurate either because we didn’t say we were going to impose de facto rule, demarcate the borders or settle the fate of these places through the referendum. We didn’t say this. We said this was a national desire to determine future ways of governance. We really thought the argument against the referendum and the idea that its timing was not right was nothing other than an excuse.
These excuses are logical to viewers of this interview. Why didn’t US officials buy them?
I can’t think on their behalf. They surely have their own interests which might not only be viewed from the perspective of the Kurdistan Region. They have other things to consider. They generally look at the world and the entire Middle East. They might have had another agenda or might have thought the question of the referendum would affect their future agenda in some respects, which they might not have wished to discuss with us. There might have been some other reasons. Or, Baghdad might have convinced the US that holding the referendum would be against the interests and stability of the region. But this is baseless and we will see it. It is results of actions that show this, not words.
Was there a consensus between the Kurdish leadership with regard to the referendum, especially between the PUK and KDP?
Not only between the KDP and PUK, this issue was discussed between Mr President with all the political leaders and political parties of the Kurdistan Region. This is despite the fact Gorran and Komal avoided the issue to some extent. But all other political parties who were taking part in the meetings on this issue decided for themselves. Nobody knew that the referendum would be held on September 25 until the meeting that took place on June 7 – a meeting of the political leadership hosted by Mr. President. All the parties made the decision together. All of the parties were eager to be part of this pride – and I believe it is a pride of our national
We did not commit a crime
cause – all parties want to be part of this referendum.
It is a different matter when it comes to its outcome or what was the reaction of the people. But at the beginning, I tell you this with certainty that all parties were in agreement, all were together. There was a clear and public consensus on this issue.
Why was there reluctance in statements made by some of these parties?
Before or after?
After, when the time was getting close to the referendum.
You know what, this depends on the personality of the people. Some people believe in an issue, would support it right from the beginning, and would then shoulder the responsibility for its outcome. There are other people who place themselves away from the center, wait for an opportunity, and if successful, they would then claim the achievement at the expense of other people. But if, God forbid, it failed, they would say I do not care and would distance themselves. There are some other people as well who publicly opposed it. This all depends on the personality of such people.
There is a lot of talk about an alternative to the referendum that had been presented to the Kurdish leadership by some countries. Some have said it was an opportunity that was lost. Did the alternative have the potential to replace the referendum? Did Baghdad support this alternative?
We heard this talk a lot. What is a fact, and here I want to explain this to the audience so that they will understand some of the details on the issue, it is that this was a draft presented by the US Ambassador along with Mr. [Brett] McGurk and others who were in touch with our colleagues. It was to prepare a draft to present it as an alternative. This alternative was exchanged and things were amended until finally, two or three days before the referendum, they brought a draft – not a letter. This is a fact. They said this is a draft to be seen as an alternative. But when you look at it, this alternative lacks every sort of guarantees. There is no commitment in such a way that the United Nations, the United States, or Europe can impose this on the government of Iraq, or to affect the relations between Erbil and Baghdad, or for these parties to defend the agreement. This is one point.
Second point, there were negotiations before, promises made, letters were written and handed down to the Kurdistan Region by the United States itself and Europe, but the staff [working for these countries] had changed, and therefore as a result none of the
Whether or not referendum was held, Iraq never intended to accept the facts established by Kurds on the ground
promises were honored, nor were owned up by anyone, neither did anyone pay the price for [breaking them] except us.
So this time, when the alternative was presented, what does it say? It says ‘you postpone the referendum for a year’, and then ‘this period may be extended,’ and that ‘you should enter negotiations with the government of Mr. Haider al-Abadi within the framework of Iraq. If the government of Iraq did not approach the negotiations with good will, we [the countries that presented the alternative] will then understand this right as a definition, that you have the right to hold a referendum.’
It does not stipulate that it recognizes the achievement, or that it respects the achievements. It doesn't even mention the achievement of a referendum at all. It stipulates that ‘you may have the right to hold referendum after this period.’ Referendum is a natural right. It is in the first chapter of the UN charter. This is the right of every nation.
This means nobody has the right to tell us whether or not we have the right to a referendum. The alternative does not mention any commitments. It stipulates that if the government of Iraq did not approach with goodwill, we will then say that you have the right to hold a referendum after a year or when it extended beyond that timeframe whether within a federal or confederal framework or that it will be independent or will take another shape. There is no commitment.
What is important here is to shed light on the fact that it mentions the goodwill of the government of Iraq, which ‘you should negotiate within the frame of a united Iraq.’
Let’s say that a referendum was not held and talks began. Sometime from now, Mr. Abadi is facing an election himself. This means that the government of Iraq will face elections several months from now, if held. [Abadi] will either win or not. If he loses, then this commitment would have been made with a prime minister who lost the elections. It would not be a binding agreement, but a gentlemen's agreement. This means that Kurds would lose one of their rights again and nobody will be out there to recognize a different thing as an alternative, because the agreement is not binding in the first place.
On the other hand, let’s say that [Abadi] was elected to a second term. He would come and say ‘as the prime minister, I will use all my efforts to implement the terms of the agreement, but this is not within my powers as prime minister since you talk about changing
[Kirkuk] is the biggest treason ever committed in modern Kurdish history
borders, talk about the political system in Iraq, and talk about independence and confederation system. Whatever it is, it is not within the power of prime minister, this issue has to be referred to the parliament. The parliament has to take a decision. If the parliament agrees, that is great, if not, I have already expressed my goodwill. But it did not yield any results because the parliament did not approve it.’
We all know the principle of consensus has long gone in the parliament. It has been replaced by majority versus minority. We are always looked at as a minority in the parliament and decisions passed with a majority are not in the interest of the people of Kurdistan. So the parliament may not have approved the agreement. Mr. Abadi would have then said that ‘I showed my goodwill.’
The United States would have said he expressed his goodwill but the parliament did not approve it, that ‘this is a democratic process and therefore we cannot do anything more than that.’ Or they would have said that the constitution have to be amended or replaced. The constitution stipulates that if three provinces veto any of the changes to the constitution then the changes will be null. We all know that there are several Iraqi provinces who oppose it would have then vetoed it. Under such a scenario, Mr. Prime Minister would have expressed his goodwill. But neither in the parliament, nor in the constitution would this right of Kurds would have been achieved. So this should not be looked at as an alternative.
Some people want to use this as an excuse to strengthen their current political stance, or to blame everything on the referendum, something that is baseless. But this was not binding in any shape or form, nor was it signed, nor was it a letter. It was a draft that discussed these things and because of these reasons, we requested back then that in place of the things that you wrote down, just say that ‘we support holding a referendum if during a period of one, two years or a different time frame they [Iraq] were not ready to honour the agreement.’
If someone is not prepared to show a commitment, then one should not take a letter as an alternative.
One hundred days on from the referendum, I ask you which one was the right decision – referendum or accepting that letter?
Definitely holding the referendum, because first of all, we did not commit a crime. Our nation has expressed its opinion, has stated what it wants, but did not act on it. If Kurds were to make a decision against the interests of all other countries and that of Iraq, that
A national court, should have decided the fate of such people who committed treason
‘we will unilaterally decide about independence and we are not ready to negotiate with any side regarding its outcome,’ then Kurds could have been blamed. But we did nothing, we just expressed our will. We just said that we have this aspiration and our aspiration is based on an essential negotiation with the government of Iraq to solve the problems and challenges. So the government of Iraq did not want to take this path. Otherwise, I do not believe there has ever been any better alternative to the referendum, not now or in the future.
I want to ask you about the meeting before October 16 in Dukan. It was published in the media with great interest. I want you to explain the details and facts of the meeting. Why did Kirkuk events happen following that meeting?
We said and expressed our intentions both before and after the referendum – that we want to hold a referendum so that we can then negotiate with Baghdad. Baghdad in essence did not want to negotiate with the Region. It did not want to do this in the first place. Or else, what was the referendum? When I visited Baghdad and talked to Mr. Abadi, he said ‘why don’t you hold a public vote, not under the name referendum, but a public vote that will lack legal power.’ I did not know they were so much against the issue.
But there were two essential things: they showed that they did not want us to enter negotiations in any shape or form that would allow us not only to perceive the current achievements, but also to take further steps. They were indeed against the current achievements that we enjoyed.
I will come back to your question later. But in Mosul, when the fight for Mosul happened, we tried a lot to reach an agreement between us and the government of Iraq and the ethnic and religious components within the administration of Nineveh province, under the supervision of the United States as part of the Coalition, to have a political agreement alongside the military plan to solve the problems and challenges after the defeat of ISIS. None of them were ready to step forward with regard to this point raised by us. They all insisted that there should be a military operation, but none of them was concerned about a political agreement. This was like raising a red flag that indicated the intention of the Iraqi government for the future of the area. This is point number one.
Second is postponing the Hawija war. Hawija war could have successfully been carried out after Tikrit. Why did they postpone it? We expressed our concerns to all our friends then. We said that we are fearful that Hawija was postponed to the last stage, in such a way that all Iraqi forces – following the liberation of all areas and the defeat of ISIS – would be deployed to these areas using Hawija
The achievements of Mr. President [Barzani] have made the president a national symbol
as an excuse, but their destination was Kirkuk and the disputed areas. And this is what happened.
In essence, whether or not referendum was held, Iraq never intended to accept the facts established by Kurds on the ground. We tried our best to express our opinion in a peaceful and democratic way, but unfortunately Iraq resorted to the use of force, weapons, and military force to take the area back from the Kurds.
The referendum revealed the plan. It may have also forced Iraq to execute the plan earlier than planned. On this basis, when the referendum was held, they used it as an excuse and the forces were already deployed to the areas using the Hawija excuse. Unfortunately, there were other groups, even the Hashd al-Shaabi forces were brought in and deployed to some Kurdistani areas under the justification of fighting ISIS. These were all like time bombs that were due to explode just about any day. There was this threat.
We tried our best to avoid engaging in a war, to talk to the government of Iraq and other countries over what can we do to prevent a war between Peshmerga and the government of Iraq. That is why a meeting was held in Dukan on October 15 between the PUK and KDP leadership. Some talked there. I do not mention names. But some of the people from their [PUK] side mentioned that they talked to Iraq, the United States, and the United Kingdom to form a base as a coordination committee – as is the case in Erbil and other places – between the Coalition, the government of Iraq, and the Kurdish forces at K-1 base. If we agreed to that, then the Republican Brigade who were previously were brigades of [former Iraqi President] Mam Jalal [Talabani] in Baghdad, would be brought to some of the places in Kirkuk. But there was never any mention of Kirkuk be handed over to the government of Iraq militarily. Even in relation to this issue, we asked them ‘did you make a deal or this is a suggestion?’ They said ‘no, this is a suggestion.’
Certainly Iraqi President Fuad Masum was at the meeting, as well as the other colleague, Mr. Bafel [Talabani] – though I did not want to mention his name – and other people. Mr. Bafel, even though he did not have any senior official position within his party, he was the one who held talks with these parties in place of the PUK, together with some of his relatives. And then when these things happened, we were of the view that Kirkuk does not belong to one single party alone. It does not belong to the PUK, nor the KDP, or any other political party alone. We all have to take part in making a decision in this regard. We suggested talking to other parties as well.
Five points reached at the meeting were published in the media. This was the content of the agreement between the KDP and PUK on October 15.
But that night, these people visited Rashad, Tuz Khurmatu, and these areas where they met with some leadership of the Hashd al-
We will all commit to whatever government system the next parliament will vote on
Shaabi, the government of Iraq, and some Iranian officials. They had a plan in place beforehand as to how to hand over Kirkuk to these that were moving into Kirkuk.
The other people of the PUK who had their forces at the frontline together with other forces of the Kurdistan Region, those who may have affiliation with the KDP, were stationed at their defense lines. [These elements of the PUK], unfortunately all of a sudden put in place a program that brought the government of Iraq and the Hashd al-Shaabi behind the defense lines and moved them into Kirkuk.
Indeed, one cannot minimize this issue. It is the biggest treason ever committed in modern Kurdish history. It was this treason that sold out the territory of Kurdistan, that handed over Kirkuk. It invited the forces of Iraq so that they can attack from behind, one that first and foremost made the PUK Peshmerga – who were in defense – to fall victim. This also created a situation that affected the entire front. The Peshmerga forces that were ordered to withdraw step-by-step made the front lose its battle capability. Each front affected the other front, and therefore unfortunately found itself in a difficult position, in such a way that we could not put up the necessary defense against the Iraqi attack. What is surprising indeed is that we may have calculated everything, but…
I was going to ask you this, how did you not sense these side movements?
We in fact sensed this. We also knew that talks were taking place. There were talks between this number of people from the PUK and the Iraqi government. But we never believed that the Peshmerga force of Kurdistan, especially those forces of the PUK, would listen to these people. We thought that they will endure, fight, and prevent any attack. A number of brave PUK commanders remained in their defense lines, fought and were martyred – I do not mean these people.
Unfortunately sometimes things are misinterpreted. When PUK is mentioned we do not mean the PUK. We do not mean those revolutionary PUK people who defended, those whose national and revolutionary spirit prevailed. They did not side with this big treason committed by some people not for the interest of their political party, but for their limited personal interests. They did this for material gains, to steal and sell Kirkuk oil, to take the oil here and there. Indeed, they were the ones who turned this issue to affect the overall situation of the Kurdistan Region.
If the Iraqi government did not have this agreement with these people, it would not have had the courage to attack the Peshmerga. We have heard it back and we also heard this from our friends, we also knew that the [Iraqi] government could not do this. The
National unity and unanimity is a guarantor to our success
Peshmerga had such a high reputation that the Iraqi government did not want to, nor did it have the courage to attack the Peshmerga. But when it realized that there are such low people among the Kurds who could betray their friends, their brothers, their country, to sell their land, and to bring about a gap from where the Iraqi government can pass through to lines behind the Peshmerga, this made the Iraqi government deploy forces and have the courage to make advances.
In Pirde, Qaraqosh mountain, Makhmur, Zummar, and Tel Skof, all Iraqi attacks were defeated by the Peshmerga. Why was not there the same defense in Kirkuk?
Just like I mentioned, we expected that when the defense line was put in place, as it is clear to comrades who have military knowledge that fronts can count on one another. When a front is defeated, or falls – especially if treason is committed – remember that treason is not just a failure, treason is when you expose your brother’s back, bring the enemy behind the lines. When this happened, then the Peshmerga was forced to think about how to regroup to defend what it can defend, the Peshmerga sensed the treason when it was happening. Otherwise, nobody in their right mind ever thought this would happen. I did not believe at the time, I still do not believe that there could be people this much depraved. This is one.
Second, the weapons that the Coalition, especially the United States, gave to Iraq fell into the hands of the Hashd al-Shaabi, and for these forces to attack the Peshmerga, a force that was described as brave and a partner several days before that, to be attacked by American weapons and be martyred with Abrams tanks – these things were not expected.
Nobody believed the world would be indifferent. It was not expected the people of Kurdistan would keep silent against this big treason, either. If someone committed treason, they do it, this shows how depraved they are…
What did you expect from the people?
People, like a national court, should have decided the fate of such people who committed treason against the people and the
Unfortunately now the disputed territories are the occupied territories
The issue of the presidency came under the spotlight after October 16. I want to hear your understanding of the issue?
The issue of presidency has a little background. If we go back in time to the year 2013, when the term of the presidency was close to expiring, then I was with Mr. President. We were in Paris. At the time, Mr. Imad Ahmad [from the PUK] and Dr. Fuad were with us. We had an appointment with the French president. There, this issue was discussed over the phone [with the PUK], that there is a matter and at the time KDP and PUK delegations were discussing this matter.
There is a fact that must be stated clearly here. There was a big rivalry between PUK and Gorran in Sulaimani. The PUK was fearful that it may not win in the elections. It was making just about any effort to postpone the elections, but did not want to own up to the idea that the elections were postponed at the request of the PUK. They wanted to make a deal with the KDP to postpone the elections and within that frame to extend the presidency issue for two years.
They are now unfortunately talking about this issue as though they gifted this to the KDP, or Mr. President, that they extended it for two years. God knows that they themselves wanted to postpone the elections. This should not be regarded as a gift, because Mr. President did not want the presidency be extended for him in the first place. He also said at the time ‘I do not want it. I do not want my term be extended, nor the election law be changed. Let elections be held, and then, whoever won the confidence of the people, shall assume the seat of the presidency.’
Even when the deal was made between the KDP and PUK for the presidency to be extended for two years and elections postponed, and when the decision was sent to Mr. President from the parliament, he did not sign it, but sent it back to the parliament. Then it became a law since if it is sent back to the parliament and the parliament did not oppose it, it will become a law. This extended the presidency for two years at the time.
The second time [it was extended] was when we entered the ISIS war. When the ISIS war happened, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Kurdistan Region, Mr. President was at the forefront of the war. He was reorganizing the Peshmerga force. He was in the fight against ISIS. He was supervising the front against ISIS. Then the Shura Council decided the presidency can continue until elections held. There was nobody else and elections were not held, either. Neither was there a person to assume the presidency position. It was possible to leave the position vacant. It was a challenge. It was a challenge over the survival of the Kurdistan Region
If they are united, I am certain Kurds will be stronger than if they each negotiate with Baghdad separately
against a brutal attack by the terrorists. Mr. President acted like a Peshmerga. He defended the land and the country at the frontline together with the Peshmerga. I witnessed this myself many times. He did his duty.
Mr. President did not need the position, nor did he need the seat. But those who were eager to take his seat always made this excuse, because they wanted to take the seat themselves. They wanted to take that seat. That is why they did what they did. Otherwise, the history of Mr. President, the struggle of Mr. President, the past of Mr. President, the achievements of Mr. President have made the president a national symbol. It is not like a government position for him to assume power for four, eight, twelve years, and then when post is over, then his role will be diminished. The role of Mr. President will not be over with this, as it did not begin with this. He is a president made by history. We need him, as opposed to him needing a seat.
When it was again time to extend the term of the presidency for a second time, Mr. President said ‘I am not ready in any shape or form for the presidency be extended, or the law be amended.’ But this happened that the presidency term and the referendum coincided. But the president did not allow this, because he made a promise to himself and the people that he will give up his powers in a peaceful way, that he is ready until the next elections – we will all commit to whatever government system the next parliament will vote on.
The referendum of the people of the Kurdistan Region raised national feelings and the will of the people of Kurdistan to their peak. The people of Kurdistan gathered around an issue, headed towards independence. Regional and international conditions now require that Kurds be united. What are the plans that will ensure Kurds continue and prevent a setback when it comes to this strategic right, one that the Kurds have sacrificed a lot, for a long time to achieve?
We all believe that national unity and unanimity is a guarantor to our success. I have already said this: in order to be independent, we should belong to ourselves, not other parties. We shouldn’t submit to others or sell cities or this country for our own vested interests. There was unity, but this led to disunity. There was unity in politics, Peshmerga endeavors, and defense of the country. The Peshmerga fought ISIS all these years united. They were martyred on the same frontlines together, regardless of their political beliefs. There was this kind of unity which was lost after the treason that was committed on October 16.
But this shouldn’t become an obstacle. Educated people, and I think most people in Kurdistan have the understanding and awareness to get past this stage, should defend the question of unity and unanimity among political parties. And I hope politicians can understand that they can achieve more through unity and unanimity. They can defend this experience and achievement. I hope we realize all our aims in the future.
Now the Arabization process has entered into serious stages in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu and other areas. What effect will the lack of a consensus among the parties in the Kurdistan Region have on the process?
Unfortunately now the disputed territories are the occupied territories because the Iraqi government neither wanted to implement Article 140 nor allowed us to run the territories together. They came and wanted to run these places militarily. There was a fight and people died. They assaulted and abused the people. They burned houses and displaced people. The guilt of all this has to be carried by the Baghdad authority and the group of traitors of October 16, because this will leave an extremely negative effect on these
A government which is trusted by people is much stronger than one formed by political agreement
territories. It is unacceptable. As we have stated before, we are willing to resolve the issues between the KRG and Iraq according to the constitution and principles. However, these territories have been invaded and the Arabization process is underway.
Assigning a new governor in Kirkuk has become a point of dispute among the parties, even between PUK and KDP. How would you resolve this?
Look, a city has been taken by force, so how would you approve of that situation when you are the victim? To us, Kirkuk is an occupied city and we would not approve of the ‘reality’ Iraq wants to impose. The Kurds have become displaced. They demolish the houses of the Kurdish citizens on a daily basis. They assault them.
Now if they act as if none of this has happened and elect a new governor, we would not approve of that reality, something which goes against the interest of our people. There is an elected governor in Kirkuk, who has been stripped of legitimacy. If they bring another under force, how would they have legitimacy?
There are a few events coming up this year – negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad, elections in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. What do you think will be the future for Kurds within Iraq?
If you look at the Iraqi government, it has skillfully caused crisis in the past and has used it as pretext to meddle in the affairs of the Kurdistan Region. The economic crisis and security issues and other issues, after attacking the Kurdistan Region and upsetting the state, are part of the same plan to cause trouble and deepen the crises. These are the plans of the Iraqi government.
But look what they did. They took advantage of some naïve politicians in the Kurdistan Region. Once again, they hold the KRG and Kurdish people responsible for the crises. However, the main culprit is the Iraqi government. They benefited from naïve people who would dance to their tunes. Iraq will not be able to solve all this. Other previous regimes were not able to rule the country peacefully, by attacking, eliminating, marginalizing, and not recognizing people’s rights. Now we think if the Kurds decide unanimously in the upcoming elections, they can have a more effective role in determining the future of the Iraqi government politics.
Do you agree that in the May 12, 2018 elections, all Kurdistani parties should take part on one list?
I personally say, if all the parties come together, if they are united, I am certain Kurds will be stronger than if they each negotiate with Baghdad separately.
Is it possible for the Kurdistan Region elections to be held in April, or a month before Iraqi elections?
Why not. In fact, it is necessary because we have wanted to show that the Kurdistan Region is in the forefront of building democracy. Elections are one of the principles of democracy. Why wouldn’t we want to take part in the elections? Maybe it is because a party does not want to participate for a reason, or does not feel capable or trust its capabilities to participate. This is normal. But as a right and necessity, we think Kurds show their true value, that they are committed to the principles of democracy and elections. This will also solve the issue of some groups who demand a transitional government. Each party will know its status. A government which is
As one nation, we have to be united and harmonious
trusted by people is much stronger than one formed by political agreement reached by a few parties.
What is the assurance that after October 16 the international community guarantees the Kurdistan Region as an entity?
Now all the parties we speak with want a stronger Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Now we want Iraq to follow the constitution. If they had not overridden the rights of our people, we would not have proceeded with the referendum. But this was not the case. Therefore, we were obliged. We need certainty from the international community to protect the right of our people which would protect us from the offensive of the Iraqi regime and neighbors. The countries have said that the Kurdistan Region has been a successful example and it should continue. They would also support it. So it is up to us. As one nation, we have to be united and harmonious. We think about the general interest of our people, not as an individual or a party. If we do so, I think a promising future awaits us.
Now what steps have you taken towards an understanding between the KRG parties?
There are a lot of efforts. There is a discussion between the leadership of all the parties. I think everyone has realized that they cannot succeed alone. We have to stay united. I hope that the parties who want the well-being of the country and the people are willing to forget about their individual interests. Hopefully, as I mentioned, the parties will come together in one political entity and will act in agreement. Then there will be a promising future.
What is your predication for the future of the political crisis?
I think this is temporary. It will pass. The political and economic crises are all related. But if there is an effective political handling of the issues, the economic situation may also improve. This will in turn help the political process succeed in the Kurdistan Region.