Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Nechirvan Barzani briefing reporters on Sunday in Erbil. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Relations between Erbil and the central government of Iraq have greatly improved in recent months, said Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on Sunday, adding that both sides have full military cooperation, and that the passing of the federal budget last week could be the start of resolving other outstanding disputes between the two capitals.
“We both have a common enemy which is ISIS and we have very good cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to face this threat,” PM Barzani told reporters.
“I thank Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi for taking seriously our concerns about the budget,” Barzani added. “The budget may not answer all our needs and ambitions, but it is a great step towards resolving other outstanding issues.”
Barzani said that his ministers have worked with their Iraqi counterparts to lift all checkpoints between the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq “which will be great for trade, tourism and the economy.”
The prime minister said the Kurdistan Region successfully weathered four difficult years and he was confident the region has good years ahead. “Now I see light at the end of the tunnel, but it takes time.”
On the question of Turkish air strikes inside the KRG, Barzani said he was saddened by the death of innocent civilians in the area, particularly the death of two villagers in Shiladze on Saturday which led to angry demonstrations against a Turkish army base.
“It was unfortunate what happened in Shiladze and I express my condolences to the families of the martyred,” Barzani said. “But once again, I insist that official KRG policy is that our territories must not be used against our neighbors. The cause of these incidents is that groups use KRG land to create trouble for our neighbors and we do not accept that at all.”
The KRG prime minister said he understood people’s concerns in those areas, but he denounced efforts to derail the protests.
“We understand people’s right to protests, but when efforts are made to derail the protests and use it for other purposes it is unacceptable,” he warned. “We will study this and make sure such incidents won’t be repeated.”
Barzani blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as the main cause of the cross-border Turkish air strikes.
“Unfortunately a number of civilians have been killed in Turkish air strikes recently,” he said. “But where has this happened? In areas where there is the PKK. We have to address the root cause of these strikes and it’s the PKK presence. If they aren’t there, there will be no excuse for airstrikes.”
Barzani said that he and the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had spoken on the phone following the incident to discuss the matter.
“We work with Turkey and will do our best to make sure this does not happen again,” Barzani said.
Meanwhile he urged the PKK to keep its fight out of the Kurdistan Region and be considerate of the KRG and its people.
“Some groups without taking into account our people’s peace and security, use our territories for attacks against others,” said the prime minister. “Where in the world would anyone accept this kind of act? They come here, train and attack others and the KRG and its people are paying the price.”
“They have to stop this act and we are serious about this,” Barzani said.
On reports that ISIS is making a comeback in parts of Iraq and Syria, Barzani said that it was in the best interest of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region if US and other coalition forces stayed in the area until the group’s last breath.
“As long as ISIS is there which it is and is real, we as KRG believe that US troops should stay,” he argued. “That’s our stance and it’s good for us, all including Iraq. What stopped the ISIS expansion was the coalition support, chief among them the US.”
The prime minister denied reports that US soldiers pulling out of Syria had relocated to the Kurdistan Region.
On the domestic front, Barzani said negotiations were ongoing between political parties for the formation of a new government.
“Forming a government doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “But there are serious talks between KDP, Gorran and PUK and Tuesday a new round of talks will resume. The process has started and they will continue until there is a government.”