ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - An influential Shiite leader has criticized the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming independence referendum while praising the past “joint struggle” between Kurds and Shiite when fighting the former Baathist regime. He also dismissed claims that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cut Erbil’s 17-percent budget share in early 2014.
Hadi al-Amiri, the secretary general of the Badr Organization, an influential military wing within the multi-partied Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary units (PMUs) discussed a range of Erbil-Baghdad disputes issues with Rudaw on Sunday, including the fight against ISIS, the referendum, and the future of the PMUs.
Amiri said the source of the Erbil-Baghdad dispute is oil. He urged “dialogue” as the only means to resolving the both sides’ outstanding issues.
“One of the profound issues between Erbil and Baghdad is oil,” Amiri said “if there is goodwill, a resolution could be reached.”
“Let me speak with conscience. Problems between Erbil and Baghdad initially emerged on the question of the foreign companies’ gross payments in oil sector,” he explained, adding that Erbil and Baghdad should have met in the first place in order for the problems to be resolved.
Amiri believes “delaying, suspending and neglecting the problems worsened the situation as they have made the relations between Erbil and Baghdad more complicated.”
Therefore both sides are “responsible.”
Amiri believes “compromise between each other is not a shame. But it is when doing so with foreigners.”
“There is not another way to resolve the problems, but dialogue,” he insisted
Amiri praised past relations between Kurds and Shiites in Iraq.
“Our relations with our brothers in Kurdistan are old,” said the Badr leader. “Joint struggle was the relationship of our participation in one fighting front on which we together struggled and did jihad against the former regime that had imposed its hegemony over the Iraqi nation through oppression.”
The Shiite leader believes dialogue is the better option instead of the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on September 25.
“I am saying this frankly, the referendum will complicate the situation…” Amiri said bluntly. “There is no solution because we asked for the referendum not to be held, but finding consensus and solutions. But the brothers [Kurds] immediately stepped towards the referendum. If they go ahead for it, then this means they do not seek resolutions.”
He emphasized that because Kurds were instrumental in writing the current Iraqi constitution, they cannot just walk away from it.
“The constitution was drafted with a massive participation of Kurds. Neither Shiites nor Kurds are allowed to criticize the constitution. The Sunnis participated in a low level believing after the fall of the regime, they would appear weak in the new process and some of them did not take part, having [their own] internal problems. But Shiites and Kurds had a strong participation in drafting the constitution. So, they cannot criticize. We wrote in the constitution ‘a one and united Iraq’ and emphasized on that in the first article.”
Amiri says Kurds have always told other groups in their meetings to commit the constitution.
“Our main joint question is a united Iraq, a federal and democratic Iraq. We agreed upon this. And now you are trying to head towards independence,” he said.
“I believe in the constitution and believe the Region has a system governing itself. But when you are telling me ‘separation,’ I am stopping here, because it is the violation of the constitution. I am not against the establishment of region, but a region on the basis of ethnicity — and this is an outright stance.”
When asked, Amiri said he doesn’t believe the referendum will directly produce violence unless it results in sectarian and ethnic strife.
“No,” he responded. “I have not said so. I am saying we [will] bear weapons if the region’s system is built on the basis of sectarianism and ethnicity.”
“Let me ask you a question if we establish sectarian and ethnic regions — meaning Kurdish and Arab regions — where will the Kurdish region’s border be, and where will Arab border be? We will not reach a deal in this way. We will become hostile and that hostility will deepen to the point of turning to arms.”
He said his stance would similarly apply for any establishment of a Sunni region in Iraq. Amiri clarified that he is against a “centralized system” and believes in “administrative regions.”
Commenting on the Hashd al-Shaabi’s role in the fight against ISIS, Amiri believes the PMUs’ involvement is important to prevent material and lives damages and to speed up the liberation.
Upon the order of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Hashd did not take part in the Mosul offensive, but Amiri believes not participating in the fight was “detrimental” to the city and also to Iraqis forces in the fight.
He was asked how they would respond to a call from Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shiite cleric, to incorporate the Hashd into the Iraqi Army.
“These questions are not vested in us. There are religious references. We respect different opinions. But today, decisions are at the hands of people,” he explained. “The nation is the supreme reference. All of our political brothers are with the Hashd to stay as an institution under the command of the general commander of the armed forces. Let us have the Hashd, and the Army, Federal Police and Counter-Terrorism, but not dismantle [Hashd].”
The Badr leader said they have “never” asked for air cover during battles from the US-led coalition in the fight against ISIS that began in June 2014.
“We have even conducted all the fights without the help of the international coalition,” he explained. “It was only with the support of the Iraqi fighter jets — the heroes who assisted us very well in all the fights.”
Amiri claimed although they were against it, the Hashd did not interfere with the deal recently brokered between Lebanese Hezbollah and the Syrian army to move the ISIS militants from Lebanon-Syria border to the Syria-Iraq border.
“Though we criticized it, this question is related with Syria. We do not interfere,” he said.
He also denied that during former Iraqi PM Maliki’s tenure the Kurdistan Region’s 17-percent share of budget share was slashed.
“This is untrue. Maliki has not cut the budget of the Kurdistan Region,” he said, while asked who did so, he replied: “He did not cut the budget. Through the [reign] of the last Iraqi government, Maliki, would give the Region its 17-percent share. This is misleading. This is a misleading of the Kurdish nation.”