ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Elections will be held in the Kurdistan Region as scheduled on September 30, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told his weekly press conference on Tuesday. He also said the economy and relations with the Region’s neighbors are improving.
“We stressed in this meeting on the topic of Kurdistan’s elections that elections need to be held on their scheduled date. We hope it is an election that can be held peacefully and in an organized manner,” Barzani told reporters.
Brett McGurk, the US president’s special envoy, was reported to have urged President Masoud Barzani to postpone the election during a private meeting last week.
“There is no such thing. They haven’t discussed such stuff with us,” PM Barzani told reporters.
“What has been discussed is whether elections are held or not. Yes they will be held on time. No talk of postponing elections by Mr. Brett McGurk with us has happened.”
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) officials have claimed that all Kurdish parties want the election postponed, but lack the courage to say so.
“No political party in Kurdistan has asked that elections be postponed. If I speak as the KDP, we from the Kurdistan Democratic Party emphasize that elections need to be held at their scheduled time,” Barzani said.
The KRG prime minister also spoke about the economy, forecasting gradual improvements. He also said the issue of unpaid salaries has been resolved and investments increased.
“We spent four difficult years. I want to say we were in a very dark tunnel. Now we see the light at its end. We are yet to fully get out of it,” Barzani cautioned.
Relations with Baghdad, government formation
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.
The KDP and PUK are negotiating a possible joint programme for government formation talks.
“It is very important for the people of Kurdistan for all the parties to jointly participate [in the Iraqi government],” Barzani said.
However, serious talks on the formation of the Iraqi government are yet to take place, he said.
Once a new Iraqi government has been formed, Erbil and Baghdad can begin to properly address their differences.
“We both wasted a lot of time and didn’t solve the issues. The primary condition for political stability in this country is to handle the issues and resolve them,” said Barzani.
He highlighted the importance of the Iraqi constitution for addressing these issues.
“Our topic isn’t conditions. This isn’t how we talk to Baghdad. We speak as such, that we live in a country named Iraq, and there is a constitution for which 80 percent of people have voted. This constitution has provided a roadmap for the resolution of issues if we want political stability,” Barzani added.
Barzani denied there are tensions with Baghdad over the contract the KRG signed with Russian oil giant Rosneft.
“What we have done with Rosneft is a commercial matter. Our contracts are within the framework of Iraqi constitution,” Barzani said.
“What we are discussing with Baghdad now is the oil of Kirkuk, which Baghdad can’t practically export. We have told them that we are ready to help them to export it to Ceyhan, and the revenue is for Iraq of course,” Barzani said.
Deloitte, the world’s biggest auditing company, has been drafted in to audit the KRG’s oil industry, he reiterated. The KRG will share the results of the audit with Baghdad, he added.
Iran sanctions, relations with Turkey
New US sanctions against Iran came into force on Tuesday designed to pressure Tehran on its nuclear programme and involvement in regional conflicts.
Barzani said his administration needs more information from Washington and Baghdad about what goods and services are prohibited. They have requested a visit from a US delegation to set out the new policy.
“The topic of sanctions, for us in the Kurdistan Region, is not clear as of now. I think it isn’t clear for them either. Surely the steps of the Kurdistan Region would be within the framework of Iraq,” the PM added.
“It has to become clear to us, and we have the right as Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to know, and of course we don’t aim to break sanctions on Iran,” Barzani said.
KRG relations with neighboring countries are returning to normal, said Barzani, who expects to visit Turkey again soon. Relations broke down between Erbil and Ankara following the Kurdistan independence referendum last September.
Barzani said Ankara’s concerns must be taken into account when addressing the reopening of Turkish airspace to Sulaimani International Airport.
Turkey has refused to lift its ban on flights to and from Sulaimani, imposed last September, citing security concerns. It accuses the PUK administration in Sulaimani of fostering ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for greater political and cultural rights in Turkey.
“I as the prime minister have asked for the issues to be resolved,” Barzani said.