Dr. Beriwan Khailany is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi Parliament. Photo by author.
Dr. Beriwan Khailany, an MP from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi parliament, recently spoke to Rudaw English about the state of relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad. She emphasized the need for the Kurdistan Region to “work for a negotiated agreement” with Baghdad and solve the remaining issues between them. The Kurdish MP also discussed a simmering political disagreement in the Kurdistan Region itself and stressed that the split between the different political parties is undermining the region and its ability to solve many of its present problems. Here is an edited transcript of the interview:
Rudaw: What is the current state of relations between Baghdad and Erbil?
Dr. Beriwan Khailany: We are still partners and nothing has changed and in accordance with the quota system we retain our posts and positions. That's one thing. But there are still many issues between us and Baghdad which have yet to be resolved. However, we have to work on some legislations, such as the national budget and the KRG share of 17 percent which has been cut off since 2014, and other important legislations. The issue of KRG share of the national budget has been linked with the issue of exporting oil by the KRG through the Kurdistan pipeline to Ceyhan Port in Turkey, which has affected our Peshmerga salaries. Resolving these issues won’t be easy.
You have said before that Kurdistan needs to solve its problems with Baghdad before thinking about independence. What are the main problems?
The main issue we need to solve is the implementation of Article 140. That's very important. If we come to an agreement with Baghdad on that then it means we'll have resolved the Kirkuk problem, along with many other problems concerning Kurds in these border areas with Iraqi provinces with major Arab populations. Kirkuk is the main black spot on the independence issue for Baghdad. We say to Baghdad that a referendum should solve the ultimate status of that province. If enough people in Kirkuk vote to be part of Kurdistan then Kirkuk will become part of Kurdistan, the decision is not for either Erbil or Baghdad to make but rather the people in that area itself. A successful referendum in Kirkuk will mean a successful implementation of Article 140. Now, it is about time to determine what people in these areas want: do they want to be part of Kurdistan or not? The referendum will answer this question. We also have to plan for what will come after Daesh (Islamic State/ISIS) is defeated and what the area will look like following their defeat. We cannot just get rid of them without planning for the future of these areas.
Baghdad warned the Peshmerga against advancing any closer to Mosul following their successful offensive early last month. Why are they so sensitive about these Peshmerga advances against ISIS, their common enemy?
The Peshmerga want to protect Kurdistan's border and keep ISIS away from it. They don't have any intention to stay in any part of Mosul. Baghdad still fears that they will stay on, in spite of the fact that Kurdish forces only want to stay in territories whose status has yet to be resolved in terms of Article 140. President Barzani has tried to reassure Baghdad that all we want to do in Nineveh is support Iraqi forces against Daesh, we don't want to occupy any areas. Nevertheless, Baghdad fears the Peshmerga will never withdraw from these areas they fought to free. Presently, the Peshmerga cannot realistically withdraw since Daesh is still in those areas. So if you control some areas you have to protect them until Daesh is gone. Once Daesh is gone then there can be an agreement with Iraq on the border lines, which again will have to be solved through the implementation of Article 140.
How does the Iraqi government feel about President Barzani's promise to hold an independence referendum before the end of 2016?
During Prime Minister Barzani’s last visit to Baghdad he mentioned holding the referendum on independence and Baghdad didn't refuse the idea, which is the people's right to go for the process of referendum. So we consider that as a first step for starting the project. A referendum doesn't mean independence right away, it means getting the opinion of the people in the region. After these opinions are made clear by the referendum then we'll again discuss this subject with Baghdad and reach a conclusive agreement. But there are still other problems to solve. It's important we have the right atmosphere before seeking full independence, which can be achieved through defeating the present terrorist threat and returning displaced people in Kurdistan to their own areas. Those areas will have to be secured, stabilized and rebuilt first.Achieving this will put us on track to successfully achieving our independence.
How are divisions between the KDP and PUK? How is the recent split within the PUK itself affecting Erbil's aim to implement the independence referendum before the end of this year?
It affects a lot. The PUK and the government went on two separate trips to Baghdad in recent weeks.
Before Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani's latest visit to Baghdad a PUK delegation went to Baghdad and talked about certain issues which concerns all of Kurdistan – such as the budget, the oil issue and Article 140 – even though none of the delegation members have positions in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Also, the PUK's agenda is not the same as the government's agenda. As the two main parties in Kurdistan the KDP and PUK have to reach some agreement for the benefit of this region. After the PUK's leader Mam Jalal Talabani became sick things never went in the right direction for the PUK because, as Barham Salih and Kosrat Rasul Ali would say, decisions are being made separately. Also, their agreement with Gorran was made without even discussing it with the KDP. They unilaterally announced their deal with Gorran and started to say they are the main Kurdish representatives in Baghdad, which isn't true. This isn't good for the Kurdish people. We should be talking about the same issues together, since we represent the same region in the Iraqi parliament. Instead of the PUK and Gorran bragging about having the majority of seats in that parliament as Kurds, we should use all our strength to advance the interests of our region, not just the interests of different parties. The PUK and Gorran are concentrating on internal issues such as the post of Kurdistan president, while the KDP wants to face the more immediate problems – such as confronting Daesh together and solving our problems with Baghdad. They want to focus on internal issues in Kurdistan. Also, they disagreed on how to choose who should be president. They wanted parliament to decide while the KDP said the people should decide on that. The major parties held a series of meetings for several months to come to an agreement on this issue, but all their attempts to date have failed.