In an interview from the exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani gave a candid interview to Rudaw and Kurdistan24. During the nearly half-hour long question-and-answer session Barzani discussed internal and external problems facing the Kurdistan Region, as well as a referendum on independence, calling on Kurdish parties to engage in serious work and fewer words. Barzani said the reality is that Baghdad and Erbil have been unable to be good partners, adding that the Iraqi constitution has effectively been ditched for a while because it has not been committed to and worked on. He also answered questions regarding Kurds in Syria and Turkey, both places that have problems which he currently doesn't see the Kurdistan Regional Government being able to assist with.
Rudaw: You met with many high-ranking officials in Davos. Did they reassure you that they will continue to support the Kurdistan Region after the Mosul offensive?
Barzani: We saw many of the attending leaders. It certainly was a good opportunity for us to tell them about our opinions in the Kurdistan Region and listen to their opinions too. Fortunately, they showed a lot of respect for the endeavors and sacrifices of the Peshmerga and the resilience of our nation, and we are proud of this. They all showed commitment to continue their support and relations with the Kurdistan Region now and in the future.
In this forum, the debates are mostly going to be about the economic issues of the world. The Kurdistan Region is currently going through an economic crisis. How can they help Kurdistan financially?
They can help us in building a strong economic system and fulfill our reforms policy in the Kurdistan Region. It is, however, difficult for them to give us cash. This is not that easy. There is, however, a possibility that they can contribute financially in some matters, namely in the case of refugees and some other projects which can benefit the people of Kurdistan. But the most important thing is that they are ready to come and help us build a robust economic infrastructure in the Kurdistan Region.
they are ready to come and help us build a robust economic infrastructure in the Kurdistan Region
The Islamic State (ISIS) was defeated in Sinjar and Kobani. Is the international community now convinced that they should provide more support to the Peshmerga to ensure that ISIS doesn’t reemerge in the region?
This is an important question. We talked a lot about this subject with all these officials. It is a big mistake to think that defeating ISIS in Mosul will be the end of ISIS. ISIS will not be defeated that easily. It is true that they have faced many defeats on the ground, and will face even greater ones. They will, however, resort to other means of terror. There is a possibility that another organization, worse than ISIS, will emerge under a different guise. The question of terror will not end with a victory on a battlefield. It is a long war which requires concerted efforts.
The Kurdistan Region is currently plagued with a financial crisis. Can we regard 2016 as a success for Erbil in terms of Kurdish diplomacy, given the many visits the region had from world leaders and the accomplishments of the Peshmerga on the war against ISIS?
It certainly was a very successful year for the Kurdistan Region in terms of political and military achievements. And we hope that the financial crisis ends this year.
Will the threat posed by ISIS not continue in the Kurdistan Region and the world with ISIS still remaining in Syria? As the Kurdistan Region, can you help defeat ISIS in Syria?
Defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a necessity. This danger will continue if they remain somewhere and regroup. That is why it is extremely important to defeat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, although the conditions of these two countries are different. The situations in Syria cannot be compared with those in Iraq. We are ready to deliver assistance, if we could. But this is not really our duty. There are other people in Syria who should do this.
Defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a necessity. This danger will continue if they remain somewhere and regroup
You supported the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in launching the Mosul offensive. But he has not yet made any positive moves towards the Kurdistan Region as regards its budget share. How can this be resolved?
Out military coordination and cooperation is very good now. But there haven’t been any developments in other areas, and I don’t want to go into details about this.
There hasn’t been much talk about the Kurdish independence recently. When will practical steps be taken? Will the referendum be held this year?
The best thing is to engage in serious work and fewer words. More words with no work done on this, is not useful. We will be trying to do our utmost. It is, however, not practical to set a date for such big thing like this. We will try to finish this as soon as possible though.
Some countries, especially European ones, say that they will not oppose Kurdish independence, even if they do not publicly endorse it. What do they say to you?
I discussed this subject with Baghdad on my visit to there. Reaching an understanding with Baghdad on this will pave the way to many other countries to recognize us. That is why we will continue until we exhaust the path of dialogue with Baghdad to reach a positive result, so we don’t have to take other steps. But we will certainly take other steps if we lose hope in this (dialogue with Baghdad). We will not give up on this process. We can be good neighbors with the future Iraq. We were, however, unable to be good partners. This is the reality and those who do not recognize this, do not want to see the truth.
What is the stance of the Western countries on the Kurdish independence? As a Rudaw correspondent, I have asked this question in many conferences held by world leaders, but they prevaricate on this issue. And some of them say that they support it, but they do not want to do it publicly. What do they tell you?
They tell us the same thing.
Regarding the northern part of Kurdistan, you had said earlier that the peace process in Turkey will not settle. The leaders of the Kurdish political parties there have been arrested. Does Turkey need to adopt a softer policy?
I called on many past occasions for the war to stop. War and its consequences are bad. A year of dialogue is better than an hour of fighting. I am worried about the current situations there. Unfortunately, the timing is not apt for the peace process to resume. We will, however, do our best to help the process resume whenever we see an opportunity. Alas, many bad things have happened in Turkey.
A year of dialogue is better than an hour of fighting
What do you expect from the new Trump administration, especially given that you had earlier talked to the Vice President Mike Pence?
Fortunately, many of the officials assuming high positions in Trump administration are acquainted and friends with me and the Kurdistan Region, and the Vice President talked to me on the phone, reiterating his friendship and support. They might support us even more.
How do you see the future of western Kurdistan and that of Syria, especially now with the Astana talks getting under way soon which the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has asked to participate?
The KRG will not take part, and has not been invited. We wanted to help the inclusion of Kurdish parties in these talks. In general, I am pessimistic about the situations in Syria which has become very complicated. Unfortunately, I do not see a bright future for Syria, especially for the Kurds.
What do you think should be done?
This is a difficult question. Two great powers like Russia and the United States are unable to resolve this. It’s become very complicated, and takes time.
Prior to coming to Davos, you as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) held your leadership meeting, and sought a solution to Kurdistan’s internal problems. You also declared that you wanted to reach an agreement with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Are you trying to reach an agreement with the PUK alone, or other four parties too?
Reaching an agreement with the PUK is surely very important and will affect other parties. But the KDP will not return to what was known as the five-party meetings. I no longer accept this notion, nor will the KDP participate in these five-party meetings any more. The meetings should be broader. At least, the parties involved in running the government and have seats in the parliament should take part, and others should be consulted. I am personally OK if all of them participate in the meetings. But the five-party meetings are over.
five-party meetings are over.
Some say that these crises will be solved earlier if party leaders themselves meet. What do you make of this?
The political parties have created this crisis. I don’t know whether or not they can resolve it. But surely they have created the crisis themselves. Let the party leaders meet. Who has prevented them from doing so? Politburos are led by party leaders, and they always meet. But I do not support the idea that party leaders should meet. Party leaderships should do this together. If this is about personalities, why would they talk about dictatorship? What does this mean?
Why have the Kurdistan Region’s internal problems taken so long to be resolved? People are seeking solutions. Why are these problems not being resolved?
I also ask as to why these problems are not being resolved. Why do they not step forward? I invited them to move forward many times to settle these crises. But they don’t meet, and are not ready to reach an agreement. The conditions seem to be a bit better now. They seem to be more willing now to meet and resolve the crises. The conditions are more appropriate now. I also ask, why do they not step forward? I issued an initiative and opened all doors. Otherwise, we might have other agendas. Some political parties do not even seem to have leaders. Who are these leaders who should meet and settle these problems? We have to first look to see who these leaders are.
The political parties have created this crisis. I don’t know whether or not they can resolve it
Why haven’t you visited Tehran yet?
I will go when the conditions are right.
How do you see the future of western Kurdistan following the Aleppo liberation? Do you think they will lose many things due to their disagreements?
The disagreements among the political parties of western Kurdistan have had many negative implications. Unfortunately, a very strange terror has appeared in western Kurdistan towards the Kurds who do not side with the ruling parties there. The Aleppo thing was an agreement whose specifics I don’t know. There are many things going on behind the scenes which we don’t know. But I reiterate that I am not optimistic about the future of western Kurdistan.
Sometimes, in these international events, one might expect a rights organization to say something negative about the conditions of human rights in the Kurdistan Region, but as it had turned out, they had commended Kurdistan’s track record of human rights instead. Has this happened here in Davos?
We regard the Red Cross as the most recognized and most honest organization. Its president came to Kurdistan a week ago. They are extremely grateful and are satisfied with the behavior of the Kurdistan Region. They have also highly approved the conduct of the Kurdistan Region’s security and police establishments. We value their testimony. Others are sometimes partial and sometimes deliberately issue reports. But the organization we take to be most important is the Red Cross whose stance on the Kurdistan Region is extremely positive. They are very satisfied with Kurdistan.
Unfortunately, a very strange terror has appeared in western Kurdistan towards the Kurds who do not side with the ruling parties there
Peoples’ living conditions in the Kurdistan Region are bad, and people look up to you for hope and solution. What do you have to tell them upon your return?
I have done what I could, and will do what I can. But I don’t have magical powers. Expectations should be within reason. I would have done many things if I could. This is what I could do. Expecting that sweeping changes will happen in everything on my return? Our people should be a bit more realistic.
The Kurdistan Region has been successful in its diplomacy with the world. Most world countries, especially European ones, now receive you as a State President. There are some Iraqi parties which seek to destroy this successful diplomacy. Have they been successful in doing so?
Unfortunately, not only some Iraqi Arab parties, even some Kurds are engaged in these bad efforts. But thank God, they have not been successful and they will not.
In his visit to Tehran, the former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said that the Peshmerga forces should leave the territories they had liberated. What do you make of his words?
Let Maliki speak for himself. The Peshmerga will not pull out from these areas by Maliki’s words, nor can anyone force the Peshmerga to withdraw from the places where they are supposed to be. The borders are clear, and we have an agreement on this. We have coordination with the Prime Minister Abadi, the Iraqi army and the US. Let people say what they want to say.
Let Maliki speak for himself. The Peshmerga will not pull out from these areas by Maliki’s words
Regarding the future of Mosul, is there any agreement which parties have reneged on?
My position was that we had both the military and post-liberation planning for Mosul. But other parties rushed. The agreement was for Erbil and Baghdad to form a high commission to control early on any emerging unintended incidents, preventing them from being escalated. The Peshmerga and the Iraqi army have been fully committed to this agreement. The plan is unfolding very well. Five minutes before coming here, news came that the town of Tel Kaif has been liberated too.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) wants to stay in Shingal, while the KRG and the US want them out of there. You had already declared that there should not be fraternal wars among Kurds. How can this problem be settled?
The Peshmerga was sent to Kobani when it needed support, and the whole world knows that the Peshmerga didn’t let the city to fall. They withdrew from there when they finished the job. The PKK should do the same. In addition, the people of Shingal will decide themselves, and we have created conditions for them to make a choice. We and every other party should respect their decision. We will not in any way allow the PKK to impose their will on the people of Shingal.
We will not in any way allow the PKK to impose their will on the people of Shingal
There is a fear that a party wants to impose the will of the majority on the Iraqi people and the Kurds have often been deprived of their rights, while the country has a constitution to safeguard these rights. What is your take on this?
Unfortunately, there are some people who neither read the constitution nor remember it. The Iraqi constitution stipulates that the integrity of the country relies on commitment to the constitution. This constitution has been ditched for a while. They don’t commit to it and they don’t work on its basis. The most dangerous thing is the endeavors aimed at bringing about the majority rule. In this case, we will never win in the parliament in voting matters, as we are a minority. We participated on the basis on agreement, and did our best to have Kurdish matters settled on the basis of agreement not on the basis of the majority votes in the parliament. They have now resorted to the parliament majority votes, and even some Kurds side with them. This is never acceptable to us. There are no excuses for us to participate in this parliament. We will consult other parties. It is not acceptable to settle matters relevant to the Kurdistan Region on the basis of majority votes in the parliament.
Due to its fluctuating prices and subsequent impact on the economy, experts believe that Iraq and the Kurdistan Region should no longer rely solely on oil as their source of revenue. Why hasn’t Kurdistan capitalized on other sources of income?
This is true, and I have the same opinion. The KRG should from now focus more on agriculture and tourism. These are two very important sources of income. There are no guarantees that oil flows will continue. This crisis somehow showed the people that they have to rely on themselves. The agriculture sector has been thriving in villages. In the past, people were immigrating from villages to cities to become employees. This big number of employees exists nowhere in the world. This is one of the very big mistakes. This can help people develop a belief in themselves. People can rely on themselves for a living. For example, nowadays villagers have better living conditions than the ones living in cities. This was an experience. Nothing is completely bad, and nothing is completely good.