By Hevidar Ahmed and Nasir Niheli
In an interview with Rudaw, Adil Barwari, one of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s longtime advisors, said the Iraqi leader wanted the disputed province of Kirkuk to go to the Kurds but did not move forward with Kirkuk and other issues out of fear that he would be alienated by the Arab world. The embattled prime minister — who is fighting for his political career as he seeks a third term — trusts only a handful of advisors, one of whom is his relative, Barwari said. He is not respected by Iran and should not have let US troops withdraw in 2011, Barwari said.
Rudaw: How was Maliki’s relationship with the Kurds during the creation of the new Iraq?
Adil Barwari: Back then, his respect for the Kurds and (Kurdistan Region President Massoud) Barzani superseded those of many others. Maliki spent a long time in Erbil and earned his master’s degree at Salahaddin University in Erbil. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) supported Maliki and continued to back him when he returned to Baghdad. He and I also had a great friendship and he put me in charge of committees, giving me full authority. Maliki’s Dawa party even signed an alliance with the KDP in 2005 because he had just been elected head of party that year. He was a modest leader in his party. The Kurds and Maliki’s Dawa party were key participants in drafting Iraq’s constitution.
Rudaw: So when did Maliki’s opposition to the Kurds begin exactly?
The fact is that there was a serious power struggle between Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
Adil Barwari: In 2007 and 2008, relations between the KDP and Dawa party started to grow cold. This was the same year that Maliki became Iraq’s prime minister.
Rudaw: What were the reasons for this?
Adil Barwari: From the time of interim of government, the Kurds held many important posts in Iraq such as the foreign ministry, the deputy prime minister, chief of staff of the defense ministry, chief of the armed forces and head of intelligence. But as soon as Maliki became prime minister he started interfering in government posts and was keen to take over the interior ministry. Because he was the commander of all armed forces he had the power to meddle in everything. Also, back then the Kurds had a lot of power in Iraq but Maliki began to impose his will on all positions and brought all the posts — especially the intelligence posts — under his power.
Rudaw: Who was pushing him to make these moves: Iran or a domestic Iraqi party?
Adil Barwari: The fact is that there was a serious power struggle between Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). In the beginning, the Kurds weren’t his target. After he became prime minister he mostly tried to assert his party against ISCI. He managed to push all Shiite groups aside, including the Sadrists, and promoted those were who close to him.
Rudaw: When did you work with him as an advisor?
Adil Barwari: After the end of his first term as prime minister in 2010, and at the start of his second term, the KDP again assigned me to the post. Maliki and I had a great relationship. He told me that he would do anything for me if I agreed to work with him as an advisor. I told him that I wouldn’t do so without the Kurdish leadership’s consent.
Kurdish leaders, including the MPs in Baghdad, eventually agreed because I had a lot of influence with Maliki, especially in the defense and security committees. I returned to Baghdad and became the prime minister’s advisor for Kurdistan Region affairs. But at the end of 2010 the alliance between the KDP and Dawa party collapsed. Maliki was the main cause.
I would do what you [Kurds] want, but I don’t dare to because the entire Arab world would turn against me.
Rudaw: What was Maliki’s attitude about Article 140 of the constitution?
Adil Barwari: Here I would have to defend Maliki because Maliki and I used to meet frequently on this issue. I told him that implementing article was a golden opportunity for him and would make him look good among Kurds around the world. I told him that no one else — the Turks, Iranians, Saddam or the monarchy — had addressed the issue of the disputed territories before, and this was his chance. He said, “I would do what you [Kurds] want, but I don’t dare to because the entire Arab world would turn against me.” He said that he would rather give Kirkuk to the Kurds than the Sunnis, because back then we had many fights and arguments with the Sunnis over Article 140.
Rudaw: So was it President Barzani’s statements (criticizing) him that made Maliki act against the Kurds?
Adil Barwari: Barzani’s statements at the time were all correct and in the interest of the Kurds. Barzani is the president of Kurdistan and he represented Kurdish rights. Barzani spoke out against him when he saw that Maliki wasn’t serious about Article 140. In 2007, the Shiites and Sunnis signed a deal that stated that if the article wasn’t implemented by 2007, then it would be voted on in parliament and (Article 140) would be considered dead.
Rudaw: Why was Maliki acting that way? Was he trying to stay in power longer?
Adil Barwari: Yes, and when he became prime minister he had more votes than (ISCI leader and former Iraqi Vice-President) Adel Abdul-Mahdi. But then he started focusing only on his position. He lured people with money and posts. Another thing that worked in his favor was that he had authority over drafting the cabinet charter. This gave him a lot of power.
Rudaw: How many advisors did Maliki have and did he listen to them all?
Adil Barwari: He had more than 50 advisors but just two or three were closest to him. For example there were Ali Mousawi and Taqriq Najm, who is a relative of his and a veteran member of his party, and without whom Maliki wouldn’t do anything. He wouldn’t sit down much with the rest of the advisors and whenever he did, he would only consider what he liked to hear. For now, Maliki mostly listens to, and believes in, himself.
Rudaw: What is the secret behind America’s support for Maliki up to now?
Barzani spoke out against him when he saw that Maliki wasn’t serious about Article 140.
Adil Barwari: Well, basically Maliki and his party aren’t held in high esteem in Iran. You know that Iran once expelled the Dawa party, and even now many of the Dawa party meetings take place in London. All Shiite parties are run by religious figures, but Maliki’s party isn’t like that.
Rudaw: Is Maliki right in what he is doing?
Adil Barwari: No, he is not, and anyone else in his place would have resigned because he is responsible for the security of all of Iraq. Now you see that he has lost six provinces, plus his attitude towards the Kurds. I warned Maliki many times that all of Iraq’s previous leaders and kings who acted against the Kurds failed in the end.
Rudaw: What did he say to that?
Adil Barwari: He would say, “You are right,” but he would also say, “But what will I say to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to 300 million Arabs?” However, it turned out that all of it was a trick. He was trying to look like he was appeasing the Kurds, but in fact was working to get a foothold in the Arab world.
Rudaw: Are the Kurds facing threats from Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq today?
Adil Barwari: No, they aren’t. But it’s a fact that Maliki was trying to take over the Kurdish areas when he established the Dijla, Jazira and Badiyah forces, bringing them to Kirkuk and the border areas with Kurdistan while discharging Kurdish army officers. He wanted to weaken the Kurdistan Region and attack but he couldn’t. He tried to bring some Kurdish military leaders to his side and drive a wedge between the Kurds as well.
Rudaw: Do you think the Kurds will keep the territories they recently took over?
Adil Barwari: Yes, and I think that even if America returns to Iraq, they won’t allow Maliki to roll in his tanks. I don’t think he can retake those areas with the forces he currently has, and America is protecting Iraq’s airspace including Kurdistan’s. America is now in Iraq with 700 soldiers and advisors and they are here to rebuild the democracy they had initially talked about but lost. Back then, many people asked Obama and Maliki to not withdraw American forces from Iraq as it would dismantle the democratic system, but they didn’t listen to anyone. Now both Obama and Maliki are paying the price for that mistake.
He would say, “You are right,” but he would also say, “But what will I say to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to 300 million Arabs?”
Rudaw: Do you expect the situation to calm down and return to how it was?
Adil Barwari: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups with them aren’t all bandits. They have statesmen, politicians and the Sunnis behind them. They are taken seriously. Another one of Maliki’s mistakes was that he didn’t see to the demands of the Kurdistan Region or Sunni areas.