WASHINGTON DC – The suffering of Kurds has been ignored by the world because Kurdistan is not a sovereign state, the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani said, arguing that now is the time to rectify this.
In a passionate speech addressing the United States at a conference in Washington, Barzani said the One Iraq Policy has been tried time and again, but failed at every stage, and argued that an independent Kurdistan would be a strategic ally for the US.
The US has not suffered a single casualty in Kurdistan since the foundation of the regional government in 1991, he said, in sharp contrast with Iraq where the US army has lost thousands of troops since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The Kurdistan Region has tackled many challenges and internal differences as it founded its government and parliament to prove to the world they can govern themselves and that “we can be better than the rest of the region.”
He argued for independence based on the fact that sovereign states are protected under international law, whereas peoples like the Kurds face threats of war and genocide when they remain part of a forced union.
“One thing to me that is very important to remind you of is all these atrocities that the people had been through, all these chemical bombardments and the infamous Anfal operations, we did not see a UN resolution, we did not see a strong international community, reaction to come to our assistance, simply because it was interpreted as an internal affair of a sovereign state, and it was too difficult just to change that. But when Saddam invaded Kuwait, invaded a sovereign state, the United States of America led an international coalition to liberate Kuwait, and drive Saddam forces out of Kuwait,” he said.
As many as 182,000 people lost their lives or disappeared as the result of the Kurdish genocide, Anfal, in the late 1980s. Thousands of villages were also emptied of their population and destroyed. Another 5,000 were killed in the Halabja chemical attack in March 1988.
Barzani said the Kurds cannot live any longer in uncertainty, always waiting for the next war.
“The question is: for how long are our people going to be afraid of not having a secure future? Or to have guarantees that are protected by the international law and the international community?” he asked.
The time has come for independence referendum
Erbil and Washington disagree on the timing of the referendum which is set for September 25. The US wants the referendum to be postponed at least until after the Iraqi general election in the spring of 2018.
“When is the right time?” Barzani asked. “There is never a right time, unless we make it right... And we think the time has come” for the people of Kurdistan to decide to not “be less than any other nation.”
He added that he does not understand the rationale behind postponing the referendum, calling such demands “excuses.”
“When we were subjected to Anfal operations and chemical bombardments, why nobody said it is not the right time to kill innocent people? Why nobody then said it is the right time for the Kurds to be treated equally than any other nation?”
He said no matter how hard Kurdish voters try, they cannot change the fact that Iraq will always be run by Shiites. In the best scenario, he said, Kurds can get no more than 63 seats out the 300 plus seats of the Iraqi parliament.
Highlighting the argument that the referendum may cause tensions between Erbil and Baghdad, or with neighbouring countries, Barzani said this angle omits the problems that would be caused if no vote is held.
“Many people may not look at this carefully, but they are talking about the risks and the problems that the referendum may bring in. But they never talk about the risks and the problems that without a referendum we have been through, and there will be there from now and on.”
Another argument made against the referendum, Barzani said, is that it may distract the Kurds from their fight against ISIS militants in Iraq.
He said the extremist group came to existence because “corrupt and incompetent” Iraqi leaders were put in charge of the country, and their failure indirectly resulted in the emergence of the group.
Yet, in 2014, he said, the Kurdistan Region was the only place from where the US could lead the war against ISIS while Iraq and Syria were in disarray, and Turkey was in opposition.
He said the Kurdistan Region “will continue to fight terrorism” despite the referendum.
Any tensions that exist between Iraq and Kurdistan are not due to the referendum, but rather are over areas that came under Peshmerga control after the Iraqi army “failed to protect” them. he said.
Kurdistan pushed to seek referendum
Barzani said the Kurds committed to building the Iraq that the world wanted after the 2003 war, a country where the Kurds could be equal partners. But this Iraq did not materialize, despite billions of dollar spent.
“It is not us that are seeking secession. It is them that have pushed us to look for a brighter future for our people,” Barzani said of Baghdad. He accused the Iraqi central government of not respecting the rights of the people of Kurdistan.
One major issue of great concern to the Kurdistan government is the disputed areas that come under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, including multi-ethnic, oil-rich Kirkuk, claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Article 140 calls for normalization of these areas, followed by a referendum on whether or not those regions want to be part of the Kurdistan Region.
The constitution set 2007 as the deadline for the full implementation of Article 140.
Barzani said that the Iraqi government did not implement the article, not because it was unable to, but because did not like the outcome of such a referendum.
The planned referendum on independence set for September 25 and will take place in the entire Kurdistan Region, as well as the disputed, or Kurdistani, areas that are home to Arabs, Turkmen, Christians, Yezidis, and Kurds.
Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim, a Kurd, who also attended the conference in Washington, said that Kirkuk is ready for the referendum
, a vote that he thinks will be pro-independence.
“Kurdistan will be a country for all. It has been a country for all,” Barzani said, noting that 1.8 million displaced Iraqis chose to seek shelter in the Kurdistan Region because they felt “safer” there.
The KRG will respect the will of the people in the disputed areas, whichever way they vote, he said.