KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has told the people of Kirkuk including Arabs and Turkmen that they want Kirkuk to be an example of coexistence where everyone will enjoy their full rights under a future independent Kurdistan. He said the oil-rich province will have a “special status” if they vote for an independent Kurdistan on September 25.
President Barzani made the remarks on Tuesday when he visited the city together with Vice President Kosrat Rasul and was welcomed by the Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim. President Barzani chose Kirkuk to become the first city he visited in the Kurdistan Region beyond the capital of Erbil since decision to hold the vote was announced in June.
He emphasized the fact that they will respect the decision of the people in Kirkuk and elsewhere whichever way they decide. He however warned that they will not allow anyone to prevent the people there from participating in Kurdistan’s referendum less than two weeks from now.
Barzani said that the Kurdish intentions to make the new Iraq to work for all of its components were “genuine” but that it did not go as they hoped. He said he considered “Baghdad as my capital” only once in his lifetime, but that feeling was short lived.
The Iraqi government has opposed the independence referendum saying it is in violation of the Iraqi constitution, and also some Arab and Turkmen parties in Kirkuk have expressed their opposition.
Addressing the people of Kirkuk alongside Rasul and Karim, Barzani reminded the diverse attendees that the nation of Kurdistan chose to take the path of reconciliation and forgiveness when they captured three regiments of the Iraqi army after the first Gulf War in 1991. He said despite the fact the Iraqi army was involved in acts of genocide against the Kurdish nation, the Kurdish people and its Peshmerga decided to provide them with food and water and set them free.
“That is what we are proud of, and we have to protect that approach and value,” Barzani said of their decision to let the Iraqi soldiers go home.
“The preferred objective of the Kurdistan nation has always been peace, and we never opted for war. War has never been our option but it was imposed on us,” he added, speaking of when the Kurdish Peshmerga had waged war against the former Iraqi regimes.
He emphasized they want Kirkuk to be an example of tolerance where its “beauty” is with its various components living together.
“Kirkuk should always stay as an example for religious, national and sectarian coexistence,” Barzani said briefly in Kurdish, before switching to speaking Arabic to deliver his speech.
Barzani reassured the people of Kirkuk with all its components that they will write the future constitution of the independent Kurdistan and that “all will enjoy their full rights and privileges.”
“There should not be one single section in the constitutions that allows even minimal discrimination,” Barzani said.
He said an independent Kurdistan will be “a civic state where there would be equality and justice and a federal government,” Barzani said, promising that Kirkuk would have a “special status” in the future Kurdistan.
“There may be Arabs living in these areas, they should enjoy all their rights and privileges, and the same for others,” the president said as he also named other various religious and national components.
Despite that fact that the people of Kurdistan have no doubts over the Kurdistani identity of Kirkuk, Barzani said they will respect the will of the people of Kirkuk as he stressed that it is true for everyone to have the options of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when the head to the polls.
He emphasized however that the vote will take pace in Kirkuk and elsewhere without taking into consideration opposition to it.
“Nobody will determine the fate of Kirkuk except for the people of Kirkuk. But at the same time, it is not possible to allow anyone to stop the people of Kirkuk from exercising their right to self-determination,” Barzani warned.
He added that they respect the verdict of the people of Kirkuk and elsewhere, and therefore he said other sides should respect their verdict, too.
He said when the Kurds agreed to Article 140 that concerns the fate of the disputed or Kurdistani areas such as Kirkuk “it was not that we had doubts about its [Kirkuk] identity,” but that there was “genuine intention” by the Kurdish government to resolve the issue through “legal and constitutional” means. A decade on since the deadline passed for Article 140, Barzani said they think now that the Iraqi side included the article in the Iraqi constitution “to deceive” the Kurds, otherwise they would have implemented it then.
Barzani: I felt Baghdad as my capital only once
President Barzani said that the new Iraq that was established following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 had provided a “golden opportunity” to found a country that they all hoped for. But he said to his disappointment the things did no go as they wished.
He recounted an example after the invasion where he said he truly felt that he belongs to the Iraqi nation.
“I remember when the [Iraqi] Governing Council was formed, and the provisional law was passed, when it was my turn to talk, I said with conviction: ‘This is the first time in my life that I feel I belong to that nation, and I feel Baghdad is my capital.’ But in fact the subsequent stages did not allow that feeling to last,” Barzani said about his time when he was a member of the then US-installed Iraqi Governing Council.
He said the Kurds then felt that they are “not welcomed” in Iraq.
“We do not face a democratic, federal state” in Iraq, Barzani noted, “but we face a religious and sectarian state that is against of what we had agreed to.”
All Iraqi governments that have come to power since 2003 have been ruled by a Shiite Arab Prime Minister and controlled by a Shiite Arab majority.
“It is not possible to allow for the Arab identity to be imposed on the Kurdish and Turkmen identity, or vice versa,” Barzani said about the current situation of Iraq, and also of the future Kurdish independent state.
He said the road ahead has left Iraq with only two options: one that leads to war, while the other to a lasting peace.
“We should either continue on a perceived unity that is not in existence, one that is like a barrel of a bomb that may explode at any moment, or we should seek a different framework,” for the relations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Region, Barzani warned as he said that the new framework should not be the existing federal system.
Barzani has said on different occasions that the new relationship would be that of “two good neighbors.”
He said following the vote, the Kurdish government will have “serious talks” with the Iraqi government on the border, as well on the natural resources such as oil and water.
“The referendum is not to redraw borders ... be it in Kirkuk or elsewhere,” Barzani said. He explained later that what is called the green line
to separate the Iraqi government from the Kurdish-controlled areas before 2003 is not acceptable to them.
Barzani said they have recently heard some “childish threats” that there will be troubles ahead because of the Kurdish referendum. He called on such people, without naming any one party, to reconsider their decisions.
“We advise those people who make such fiery remarks to think twice, [to think about] what had their predecessors gained from war except for destruction?” Barzani asked.
Barzani: Kurdistan has the right to self-defense
Barzani made his speech on the same day as the Iraqi parliament voted against the Kurdish referendum
calling it a “threat" against the unity of Iraq. It also allowed the Iraqi government to take “all measures” to prevent the vote going ahead in the Kurdistan Region and in disputed areas. The Kurdish parties interpreted the decision of the Iraqi parliament as giving the authority to the Iraqi Prime Minister who is also the commander-in-chief to use military means against Erbil.
Barzani said that they do not have any intentions to go to war, but warned that if attacked, they will have the right to self-defense.
“We never think about firing one single shot, and it is not acceptable to fire one single shot. But if someone thinks that they can threaten, and to then act on their threats, then I should not expect we will stay standstill. We will then have the right to self-defense,” Barzani told the crowd in Kirkuk.
Barzani explained that they are ready to make sacrifices if that is what it takes.
“When the cause requires sacrifices, we sacrifice, and when it requires taking one more step, we should not be reluctant to do so,” the Kurdish president noted.
He received question from Arabs, Turkmen and the Kurds who attended the event. Asked by an Arab tribal leader to postpone the vote Barzani said the vote will go ahead at its stated time, and that he struggles to understand what a delayed vote would achieve.