ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that KRG “know” that there is a hand behind days of violent events whose aim is to cause “chaos” in the Kurdistan Region, promising the government will use the power of law to prevent the situation from worsening.
While he respects the joint decision by Gorran and Komal to withdraw from his government, he believes the two parties did so for a “political game", PM Barzani said at his first press conference since returning to Erbil following a meeting in Germany.
On the issue of talks with the Iraqi government, the PM said that Erbil is now “fully prepared to form joint administration” of the border crossings and the Kurdish airports, as he urged Baghdad to end the flight ban at the turn of the new year.
The people of Kurdistan have the right to protest to make their demands heard, Barzani maintained, saying they “understand” the demands raised by the anti-government protests that affected many cities in the provinces of Sulaimani and Halabja.
Two people were killed and at least 300 have been injured since protesting began on Monday.
“We express our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during these events. We also hope for a quick recovery to the injured,” Barzani said.
Thousands of people took to the streets in most of the cities of the two provinces demanding an end to wide-spread corruption, better basic services, and the full payment of often delayed or reduced public sector-salaries.
The PM said the people have the “just right to protest,” in the Kurdistan Region, a democratic value respected by the KRG. He warned, however, the “course of protests” has been manipulated by some to cause violence.
“We know there is a hand behind the events,” Barzani said.
The PM did not accuse by name of inciting violence, but added that the violent attacks against the public and private offices occurred just as the Iraqi forces started to build up military forces in Makhmur, near Erbil.
“We know there is incitement. We know there are people who support it so there will be more riots in the Kurdistan Region. Certainly the security forces of the Kurdistan Region and the people of Kurdistan generally are against this,” the PM said.
“Protesting is the just right of everyone,” he repeated, “But the course [of the protests] has changed from making demands to burning offices and making problems. As the KRG, we have the legal duty to limit this chaos; the KRG is serious about containing the chaos and to put an end to it.”
He urged the people and the Kurdish parties to determine their future through elections.
The PM asked the Kurdish parliament on Monday to set a date for the general elections within three months.
He said the people should realize that the KRG’s revenues “have been slashed by half” since the loss of the oil-fields in Kirkuk in mid-October.
The KRG also maintains that is also unable to pay the state salaries in full or on time because of the continued Iraqi budget cuts since early-2014.
However, Barzani has said that they are still able to pay the salaries.
Unity is the key to pass hardship
Barzani said the Kurdistan Region is facing a “serious threat” caused by various sources including the Iraqi military buildup near Makhmur. He said he cannot stress it enough that Erbil needs unity to survive the current “difficult situation.”
“If we ourselves are not in unity, and are not in cooperation with one another to survive, then nobody will win in this situation. No political party. The people of Kurdistan should realize that the plot that is facing the Kurdistan Region is far bigger than felt,” he pleaded.
PM respects, slams Gorran-Komal decision to withdraw from KRG
Kurdistan’s second-largest party, Gorran, and the smaller Islamic Group (Komal) jointly announced to withdraw from the KRG on Wednesday. They said they had lost “hope” that the KRG would fight corruption, or is ready to take steps to improve the lives of the people. The two parties have called for an interim government to be formed.
PM Barzani said that he learned about the joint statement from the media. Kurdistan, he said, needs unity as compared to acts like withdrawing from the coalition government.
“We cannot force unity on anyone,” he noted.
Gorran ministers were suspended from the government in October 2015 after tensions ran high between it and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) following deadly protests in Sulaimani province, a fact noted by Barzani who is also the KDP’s deputy head.
“With regards to Komal, I personally do not understand it why...It is very unfortunate. I believe that they should have called for a meeting of the Kurdistan Regional Government to explain their reasons for their withdrawal. They should have had some level of conversation with us before they made their decision,” Barzani said of the Islamic party that controlled the posts of two ministries, Agriculture and Environment.
“We respect their decision. But given the fact that we are asking for elections three months from now, we do not indeed see there exists any justification” for them to withdraw from the KRG, Barzani added.
He questioned why both Gorran and Komal waited for four years, only to announce three months before the elections were scheduled, that other parties of the coalition government are not serious about reform.
These parties made this decision to play a “political game,” he added.
The KRG asked the Kurdistan Region’s parliament on Monday to set a date for the general elections within three months. The parliamentary and presidential elections were set for November 1, but then postponed because of the tensions between the Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Elections are the right method for the people to make their voices heard, and for the political parties to sort out their differences, Barzani said.
The current term of the KRG was extended for eight months in late-October.
Barzani said they reject the idea to dissolve the current cabinet and enter into talks to form an intern one since the KRG itself is now “interim” three months prior to elections.
The two parties have asked for free and fair elections where the focus to clean the voter list must be a priority, without which the results of the elections will be determined.
Barzani said the KRG is fully prepared to help the election commission to remove the names of the dead from the voter list, and that his KDP has the same position.
He, however, charged that those who talk about the voter list are looking for “excuses” to postpone the vote.
KRG ‘fully prepared’ to form joint administration at border crossings
The Iraqi government imposed a flight ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region just days after the Baghdad-opposed Kurdish vote on independence that saw nearly 93 percent of the people choosing to leave Iraq.
Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday said that they remain strict with their main demand for the KRG to hand over the international entry points in the Kurdistan Region including the airports to the federal authorities, and for the KRG to withdraw to areas under its control before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
PM Barzani, who returned from his Berlin visit where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel to push for Erbil-Baghdad talks, repeated that his government is ready to enter dialogue with the Government of Iraq on the basis of the Iraqi constitution.
Erbil is now ready to allow for joint administration at border crossings, he said.
“The Kurdistan Region is fully prepared from this day to form that joint administration at the airports, the border crossings, and solve that problem, according to the Iraqi constitution,” Barzani said.
He urged the government of Iraq to end the punitive measures against the Kurdistan Region with the beginning of the new year, saying that Erbil has already respected all rulings of the Iraqi Federal Court with regard to the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum.
With regard to the Baghdad’s repeated remarks that it is ready to pay the KRG’s public employees, Barzani said they are prepared to hand over their updated list of the people who are on the KRG’s payroll so that the federal government can audit it.
He expressed doubt over Baghdad meaning what it says.
PM Abadi on Tuesday said an audit is underway of the KRG’s working force, adding that they may start to make payments to certain groups such as teachers as they are audited.
Asked by a journalist from an Arabic TV station as to why the PM, unlike the majority of Kurdish leaders does not speak Arabic, Barzani said it is because he does not know it well.
“I cannot speak it fluently. I know it is a weak point, a fact that I am very unhappy about. I understand and read the language very well,” he said in response.
“As for speaking, God willing it will be resolved too,” he said in Kurdish, made a short pause, and then switched to Arabic followed by laughter to say he will improve his Arabic skills “for the interest of Iraq, and the unity of Iraq.”
Last updated at 6:10 p.m.