BRUSSELS, Belgium – President Masoud Barzani has asked European nations to remain neutral on the issue of Kurdistan’s planned referendum on independence if they cannot outright support the vote.
If countries, for any diplomatic reasons cannot support the referendum publicly, then Barzani asked them to "at least not be hostile."
Barzani was speaking to a gathering of European lawmakers with a very clear message: "If you do not support us, do not support Baghdad either."
Earlier in the day, a visiting high-level Kurdish referendum committee delegation headed by Barzani held a series of meetings, including with the Belgian deputy prime minister and the defense ministry, discussing the Kurdistan Region's September 25 referendum vote on independence.
Barzani said the referendum is the best chance "to correct the wrong that was done against the Kurdish nation," after the first world war by some European countries.
"We too have the right to be independent and free," said Barzani, who has been a Peshmerga since his childhood, and for the new generation "to live a happy life" without a need to experience the suffering and killings of previous generations as a result of Iraqi, regional, and international policies.
Barzani said that no country has "clearly opposed" the referendum, noting that it would be “undemocratic” for any country to do so.
The Kurdish president said they are not waiting for foreign countries to give their blessing to the referendum, nor are expecting a show of support from other countries for the referendum as "a Christmas gift."
Barzani also requested the European parliament to send representatives to monitor the referendum process.
When is the ‘right time’ for self-determination?
“Regarding the credibility of this decision, if you want the Baghdad parliament to make this decision, it is a fact that they will never make this decision. And we don’t need the Baghdad parliament to make this decision, either,” Barzani said when asked whether or not Erbil would seek a go ahead from the Iraqi parliament, adding that the mindset in Baghdad has not changed. He accused the Iraqi leadership of having "the same culture" of genocide as practiced by past Iraqi governments.
Responding to questions about the timing of the vote, Barzani demanded, "You tell us, when is the right time?"
Those who oppose the timing have failed to provide "the right time" for a vote on the right of Kurdistan to self-determination, he challenged.
He repeated the fact that the experience with Baghdad since its foundation some 100 years ago, despite the Kurds trying very hard to become “true partners," has "unfortunately failed," both before the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003 and afterwards when the new Iraq was founded.
"We have reached a stage that we lost hope in [Iraq]," Barzani said, adding that there are only two options: "either we lead to a bloody war, or we can find another way to... become good neighbours."
He said contrary to the perception that the referendum may lead to "instability," not holding the referendum would lead to a "bloody war."
The Kurdistan Region has been very clear that the referendum is for independence, Barzani explained, though it may take time during which time Erbil will hold negotiations with Baghdad. He gave the example of negotiations following Britain's vote to leave the European Union that are expected to take at least two years.
"Referendum is for independence," Barzani said. "But after the referendum, we start dialogue with Baghdad and other parties. We want to do this through dialogue. But the dialogue would be about how we agree on independence.”
He noted that the issues of borders, water, and oil would be among those being discussed.
Commenting on the Turkish view that holding the referendum is a "grave mistake," Barzani said "Our view is that it is the right decision."
Mosul post-ISIS: Worst may be yet to come
President Barzani said that he had been calling for a political plan regarding the liberation of Mosul for two years before the launch of Mosul offensive, but that only a military plan was set between Erbil, Baghdad, and the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
He said that even with the military defeat of ISIS, the causes of the creation of ISIS in Iraq have not lessened, fearing that the worst is yet to come.
He also touched upon the fact that the trilateral agreement reached before the Mosul offensive was violated by the mainly-Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
"I am fearful that this breach may cause big problems," Barzani said, adding that the Peshmerga have respected the agreement, but the Hashd forces have not.
On Kurdish politics: No Kurd is against the referendum
Asked about potential opposition to the referendum by parties inside Kurdistan, including Gorran (Change Movement), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Barzani referred to the Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim sitting to his right, a member of the PUK. As for Gorran, he said that they did not want to be part of the delegation, otherwise they would have been invited.
"I cannot convince myself that a Kurd is against it," he said, about the Kurdish people's aspirations for independence wherever they are, not just Iraqi Kurds, adding with his next breath that this vote would be confined to Iraqi Kurdistan.
He repeated the official line of his party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to explain why his party closed down the now-paralyzed parliament and about tensions afterwards between the KDP and Gorran.
He accused Gorran of trying to undermine the national security of the Kurdistan Region in 2015 when Erbil was at war against ISIS. He added that Gorran did not abide by the power-sharing agreement that led to creating the Kurdish government after the 2013 general elections.
He also claimed that Gorran did not play even a small part in the war against ISIS.
Asked about his term in office, which expired about four years ago, but has been twice extended, once by the Kurdish parliament, and another by a controversial court ruling, he said that he is not to be blamed.
"I do not change the rules, and I do not stand [again] for elections," Barzani said, adding that he could not be irresponsible and leave a power vacuum, which is what would have happened if he left the presidential position in 2013.
He said that the Kurdish parties failed to reach a consensus to find someone who could replace him or to hold elections.
Asked about the Yezidis and Christians and their right to self-determination, he said that his government respects their rights and will support whatever the people decide for themselves.