Expressing no regrets over Kurdistan’s independence referendum, despite the hardships the region is now experiencing, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party Muhammad Haji Mahmoud tells Rudaw that the current weaknesses perceived in the Kurdistan Region are confined to the politicians and political party. The Kurdish nation remains strong, he insists.
Rudaw: What do you make of current situations in the Kurdistan Region? Did you ever expect this to be the aftermath of the referendum?
Mohammed Haji Mahmud
: I am not that pessimistic and I don’t think the situation of the Kurdistan Region is bad. The Kurds have retained their status in international politics. Like the past, they have force and capacity. However, internal party divisions have led to a disintegration of relations and a bad administration in the Kurdistan Region.
Our rival is not the kind of hero to feel like we are in bad condition. Our rival is Iraq, which is sectarian and divided and is suffering from many different problems. Currently, Iraq is waiting for assistance from the US, Iran, Turkey, EU, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah party. The Kurds appear as weak because of internal divisions and old hatreds toward one another.
Do you think the events of October 16 revived these internal disagreements and divisions?
In fact, it is the October 12 events, rather than events of October 16.
Why do you think so?
Because all the places were handed over to Iraq on October 12, except Kirkuk city. Along the fighting fronts, areas of Sabha Nisan
[Now] parties and officials go to Baghdad separately and speak on behalf of the Kurds
near Hamrin, Daquq, Tuz Khurmatu, Miriam Bag were handed over on 12, 13 and 14 of October.
In the joint meeting between the KDP and PUK on October 14, was the KDP aware that these places had already been handed over?
I believe the KDP was aware of this. The KDP had joint forces there. It was there. Do you think it was unaware of what was going on? The excuse was that there was going to be a heavy war if these forces refused to withdraw and it was presumed that the Peshmerga might not be able to fight. But we were able to fight the ISIS war.
Anyway, October 16 was the end of the story. You saw that Kirkuk was invaded. Some parties congratulated each other. This means you have national problems and are not united. The current situation is such that parties and officials go to Baghdad separately and speak on behalf of the Kurds.
Worse than this is that they are now visiting Najaf rather than Baghdad. Recently, five parties went to Najaf; it was said the five main parties had gone there. But in reality, it was the five small parties meeting with a small mullah, because Ayatollah Sistani was not prepared to see them. This delegation had gone to the Imam Ali shrine and begged to be seen by a mullah – belittling yourself to the extent of begging from a mullah.
The situation of the Kurds is that bad that they should go and beg and kiss Abadi’s hands. They also constantly speak about the airports. Annually, 100,000 people use these airports and these people are rich, authorities, traders and smugglers. The KRG had to stop flights from Erbil and Sulaimani to Baghdad, Najaf and Basra after Baghdad stopped international flights. One should think like this, rather than accepting everything. I think it is the parties and officials who are weak in the face of Baghdad, rather than the Kurdish nation.
You lost one of your sons in Kirkuk. He was one of the tens of Peshmerga fighters who lost their lives there. How do you see the future of Kirkuk?
Kirkuk is always a Kurdistani city. It’s been more than 50 years we are sacrificing for Kirkuk. Kirkuk is not the mountains of Bamo, Shinarwe and Balambo to surrender and retake it later. We know why Kirkuk is sensitive. It is not only Iraq and us that claim the city. Even Turkey, the US, UK, Iran and all Arab countries claim ownership of this city. The UK had earlier reached an agreement with
People don’t want Kurdistan without Kirkuk
Abadi on Kirkuk oil and had told him they would sign the contract after the Iraqi army goes back to Kirkuk. Proving that Kirkuk is a Kurdistani city doesn’t require any proof. Kirkuk was previously the capital of Sharazur. The question is not about oil. People don’t want Kurdistan without Kirkuk. I think those who did this to Kirkuk are uncomfortable now.
A PUK military leader said they could recapture Kirkuk in 10 hours. But even if this is the case, can we protect it?
The question is not about retaking and protecting it. The logical thing was that they shouldn’t have allowed this to happen. I know too that we can recapture it within a short amount of time. But the question is whether international conditions will allow this, how do you prepare people for this from a psychological perspective, and whether the people still have confidence in these parties.
Why do you think Barzani is silent?
I am not a spokesperson for Barzani. For more than two years, these parties thought Barzani was the source of all these problems, arguing that the world would be a better place if Barzani resigns. I think Barzani has chosen to be silent so that the parties solve their problems by themselves. They informed the US, EU, UK and Iraq about him. I would be silent too if I were in his place. Now that Barzani has resigned and is silent, what have these parties achieved? The situation is in disarray.
There are some people who say that Barzani still has the ultimate power and is making all the important decisions behind the scenes. What do you make of this?
He is the leader of a party with the biggest bloc in the Kurdistan parliament – a party that Baghdad respects too. It is the parties that have made up the parliament. He might make decisions as leader of the party, but he is not president of the region. Look at al-Maliki – he is not the prime minister in Baghdad, but has 91 parliamentary seats and can do anything he wants in Iraq.
Is the high council of the political parties still effective?
The situation of the Kurds is bad enough that Iraq appears to be good compared to Kurdistan
The council has not met for five months. There is no one else to convene the parties during the five months since Barzani has stepped down. I call on Mr Masoud [Barzani] to convene the parties.
The result of the referendum has been frozen. When will it be acted upon? What are the Kurds waiting for?
The referendum was not held by the government, parties or president of the region so that it can be frozen or revoked. This is only to make the problems to be forgotten for a while. If a referendum is held to revoke the previous one, it should be held in Kirkuk, Zumar, and all the other areas and 93 percent of the people should vote again. Is this doable? This has now gone into the history books – the Kurds went to ballot boxes on September 25, 2017 and 92 percent of them said they wanted to separate from Iraq.
You always say Iraq is a disintegrated state, but we don’t see it this way. The US, EU, Iran, Russia and NATO are in daily contact with Iraq. Kuwait held a conference for the reconstruction of Iraq and Germany is training its army again. Why do you show Iraq to be that weak?
Kuwait couldn’t raise much money for Iraq. Iraq has many problems and its economic conditions are bad. The situation of the Kurds is bad enough that Iraq appears to be good compared to Kurdistan.
The people of Kirkuk are angry with the political parties. Do you think they will vote?
The Kurds as a whole should boycott Iraqi elections
I don’t think they are angry will all the parties and they don’t see them all as the same. They know what and how that happened. There is pressure on Kirkuk from other nations. I think they will participate and will vote, but the question is who they will vote for.
The KDP will boycott elections in Kirkuk. What do you make of this?
The Kurds as a whole should boycott Iraqi elections. But it is inappropriate to participate in elections in Mosul but not in Kirkuk. But in every case, the Kurds will not benefit.
How many seats do you thinks the Kurds will win in Kirkuk?
I think it is better not to disappoint people from now on. But I know the Kurds will win very few. We won one seat in Diyala and that seat is in danger now.
Kurdistan parliamentary elections are coming up too. The Americans and Iranians have conducted two separate polls that indicate all the parties will win less votes except the Islamic Group (Komal) and Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU). What do you make of this?
In regard to Iraqi parliamentary elections, the number of seats for all the provinces of Kurdistan is determined. It is the same seats
If there was only one good thing done in the history of the Kurds, that would be the referendum
whether all the Kurds or 20 people go to vote. We can say they have given us a quota. It’s been 27 years people are voting for these parties. With respect to Mr Barham [Salih] and Mr Shaswar [Abdulwahid], they will take the seats of Gorran and PUK, but will have less effect on KDP votes.
Some attribute the bad situation of the Kurdistan Region to the referendum. You were one of those who encouraged people to participate in the referendum. What is your current opinion about the referendum?
I think if there was only one good thing done in the history of the Kurds, that would be the referendum. It was not done in the past and will not be done. Holding the referendum was a historic and important step for those who voted, the people of Kurdistan, and president of the Kurdistan Region. No party was publicly against it. On the voting day, the leaders currently criticizing the referendum were in a hurry to appear by the ballot boxes. I would still work for and vote for the referendum no matter how many more times it is held. They would still attack Kirkuk whether or not the referendum was going to be held. Rudaw archives witness the many times I said the Hawija operation was delayed in an attempt to attack Kirkuk.