Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Qubad Talabani speaking at the annual Kurdistan Oil and Gas conference in London this week. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq has failed, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Qubad Talabani told the BBC, saying that the process of independence has begun. He is one of the Kurdish leaders who have discussed the issue of Kurdish statehood aspirations internationally this week.
“Iraq has failed as a state. It has failed to govern. It has failed to be a fair governor for all,” Talabani said on the BBC program HARDtalk on Thursday.
“Iraq has failed when one third of a country is in the hands of a terrorist organization. Another major portion of the country has been excluded its financial dues by the federal government. And today we have a situation in the country where polarization is the norm. The situation in Iraq hasn’t improved over the years.”
Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council Masrour Barzani had similar words when speaking about post-ISIS security and governance at the Wilson Center in Washington on Thursday. He described the rise of terrorism, ISIS specifically, as a byproduct of a much bigger problem rooted in political failure.
“Wounds are still very fresh,” he said of the atrocities committed by ISIS, adding that the world cannot expect Iraqis to trust each other again. The country cannot go back to what it was before the terrorist group swept through in 2014. The only way to win peace is to bring people together through realistic political settlements.
To prevent a repeat of atrocities against our people, said Barzani, we need to reach an agreement between Erbil and Baghdad through peaceful dialogue. He noted that Kurdistan’s weakness is “lack of sovereignty.”
He said it was time to fix the historic unjust treatment of Kurds by fixing the mistakes made under the Sykes-Picot agreement that drew the lines on the map separating Kurds into four different countries one hundred years ago.
Talabani echoed this sentiment, telling the BBC, “It’s an historic injustice that today the Kurds don’t have a state of their own.”
Talabani’s and Barzani’s visits to the UK and the US came the same week Baghdad passed its 2017 budget bill – a bill that was received with controversy in the Kurdistan Region.
The two appear to be on a mission to tell the world that sticking with Iraq is no longer a practical option for Kurdistan following years of unsuccessful efforts to resolve disputes between the two.
Opinion is, however, divided both in and outside Kurdistan on the timing for declaring a Kurdish state given the region is struggling to overcome its financial crisis and the main political parties in the region appear to be as divided as ever.
Baghdad cut Kurdistan’s budget share over two years ago, precipitating an economic crisis in the region forcing the Kurdish government to impose austerity measures which have led to widespread demonstrations and strikes by government employees in some provinces.
While many Kurds have pinned hopes on a sympathetic administration of US president-elect Donald Trump, the current American government is sticking with the standard line of supporting a “democratic, unified Iraq. We think that’s the future of the country.”
Elizabeth Trudeau, US State Department spokesperson, made the comments in a press briefing on Thursday.
She added that the US government had seen progress on the issue of national reconciliation in Iraq. “We have seen efforts made across sectarian lines. We’re not saying the work is done. I don’t think for any of us in any of the countries, including my own, work is ever done on this. But we do recognize when progress has been made.”
Some Kurds are also seeing progress, though perhaps towards a goal of sovereignty rather than national reconciliation.
“Independence is a process and it starts with a discussion,” said Talabani. “And that discussion has begun.”