ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – President Masoud Barzani on Tuesday dismissed claims that US Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk had asked him to postpone the September 30 KRG parliamentary election. He also rejected claims in a Saudi newspaper saying his net worth is $48 billion, calling it “fake news.”
Speaking at the 8th congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Youth Union in Erbil on Tuesday, Barzani addressed several topics including last September’s independence referendum, Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary election, the Iraqi constitution, and Kurdistan's parliamentary election.
It is his first significant public speech since his term expired as Kurdistan Region president in October.
“There is some propaganda that I hear that Brett McGurk has allegedly come to me and demanded the postponement of the election. This is in fact baseless,” Barzani insisted. McGurk in fact told him “it is an internal matter and you decide on it,” he said.
“Even if he or another side says this, we decide what we do. Should we see ourselves as being so inferior as to wait for someone to advise us what to do and what not to do? I do not accept that from anyone,” he said.
Several Kurdish parties have called for the election
to be postponed until the new Iraqi government is formed and several outstanding political issues in the Region are settled.
Barzani also used the speech to address allegations concerning his wealth. Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan online newspaper apologized to Barzani on Sunday for publishing “false” news about his net worth.
“There has been some fake news that my personal wealth is $48 billion, but I’ve got to tell you that it is unfortunately not true, otherwise it would have changed lots of things,” he said.
Barzani’s actual net worth has not been made public.
The Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum on September 25, 2017, which saw 93 percent vote ‘Yes’ to separation from Iraq. Baghdad responded by placing an embargo on the Region’s airports and sending troops to take control on the disputed territories, including the oilfields of Kirkuk, on October 16.
Neighboring states closed their border crossings with the Kurdistan Region while several western allies suspended trade and military support.
Barzani, who had championed the referendum, chose to not extend his term.
“After 2003, we tried a lot to build a new Iraq and become partners, and I personally would sometimes stay in Baghdad for two months just to create this atmosphere,” Barzani said on Tuesday. “But it turned out day after day they refused us not just the partnership but even citizenship.”
Barzani insisted there were no plans to unilaterally declare independence immediately after the referendum. He accused Baghdad of using the result as an excuse to curtail the Region’s powers.
“The referendum was manipulated by many to practice their long standing grudges against us, to repeat another Anfal, but the brave Peshmerga of Kurdistan once again proved that they do not let Kurdistan fall under any occupiers,” he said.
He insisted Kurds “never violated the Iraqi constitution” by holding their referendum, saying he would “challenge any law, constitutional expert on this.”
Independence “is a God given right” and “other people and regimes who were more powerful than us and had the know-how took this right from us. They do not give it to us. God has given it to us,” he said.
“Those who think we have forgotten – they dream,” he added.
Barzani said he is happy Erbil-Baghdad relations are improving – but insisted they cannot return to business as usual.
“Now, our relations have normalized with Baghdad, it is very good and we are trying to strengthen it as much as we can. Relations have improved with neighboring and foreign countries,” he said.
“But, after all the martyrs and sacrifices, we do not accept subordination.”
Barzani stressed it is in the shared security interests of Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their differences.
“For the security of the region, the Middle East and even the world, it is better for them to think carefully. With the use of force, they cannot cleanse Kurds and cannot force them to bow. So the best solution is to resolve issues through understanding and peacefully, otherwise they will not rest, nor will we,” he said.
Iraqi parliamentary election
Iraq held its parliamentary election on May 12. But after allegations of fraud and a failure of the big Shiite blocs to build a governing alliance, Iraq is still without a new administration months later.
The divisions have offered the Kurdish parties an opportunity to influence the shape and spirit of the next government.
On Tuesday, Barzani said it is “important to get the Kurdish house in order” to take full advantage of the situation.
He was referring to a possible joint negotiation agenda between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for government formation talks with the Iraqi parties.
Barzani said the election results showed the KDP is far from a spent force, securing 25 seats in the Iraqi parliament. It remains the biggest Kurdish party.
The KDP has three core demands in order to join any government in Baghdad, “a genuine partnership in governance, consensus in the parliament, and balance in the government apparatus,” Barzani said.
“The three have been turned upside down and undoubtedly if the constitution had been implemented these problems would not have arisen,” he added.
Updated at 3:59 p.m.