ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan presidency and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki engaged in a volatile exchange of words, each accusing the other of violating the Iraqi constitution.
Maliki said the use of force may be necessary to “deter” the policies of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and his efforts to establish a greater Kurdistan. Barzani responded saying Maliki should have taken his own life for having driven Iraq into a sectarian war.
Barzani speaks and acts as he wishes in the face of the “weak government” of Iraq, Maliki told the Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper in an interview published on Monday. “If it is necessary, he should be deterred by force.”
The Kurdish presidency responded with a statement declaring that they give no importance to the remarks of Maliki, the source of all Iraq’s problems including sectarian conflict and struggling economy.
“It is a surprise that somebody who became a plague over the people of Iraq, the source of failures and misfortunes and the rise of terror, still does not feel shame and speaks,” read the statement published by the spokesperson for the Kurdistan Region Presidency.
“Someone like him who brought Iraq to chaos should have taken his life, or at least he should have hidden himself from the sight of the Iraqi people,” it continued.
Relations between the Kurdistan Region and Maliki have been fraught for years. Erbil blames Maliki for cutting the Region’s budget, a major factor in the ongoing financial crisis.
Maliki has been frequently critical of Barzani.
In his recent interview, he said Barzani “is no longer a legitimate president” because his term has expired in accordance with the laws of the Kurdistan Region. Maliki described Barzani as a tribal leader, saying “He is ruling Kurdistan based on the approach of the past Kurdish tribal leaders and the chieftains.”
Maliki accused Barzani of making statements about holding an independence referendum for “domestic use” and to deviate from the differences between his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its ally the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
The Kurdish president speaks and acts he wishes, “violating every red line” in both Kurdistan and Iraq, Maliki claimed.
“Barzani is not of the type that should be given such freedom. He should be faced with the facts and the realities. If necessary, he should be deterred by force,” Maliki told the Arabic newspaper.
The Kurdish presidency warned Maliki against making such threats.
“This man has used threatening language against the people of Kurdistan in his interview. We hereby tell him that here is the field – test yourself. In the past, stronger and more reckless enemies tested themselves, but finally knelt in the face of the will of Kurdistan’s nation and faced disgraceful fates,” the Kurdish statement declared.
The two main ruling parties in Kurdistan, the PUK and the KDP announced earlier this year that they intend to hold a referendum on independence, widely expected to take place in the fall. Senior Kurdish officials have since said that disputed areas, including the oil-rich and multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, claimed both by Baghdad and Erbil, would be included in the referendum.
The referendum is confined to Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish officials say, with no plans to extend it to other parts of Kurdistan in neighbouring countries where Kurds live – Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
Maliki challenged that, claiming that Barzani is preparing for a greater, united Kurdistan.
“Barzani wants one day, when the conditions are right, to form the Greater Kurdistan state and separate parts of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey,” Maliki claimed. “However, the facts on the ground with regard to the surroundings do not allow such a move. It is the right of the states – at least in public – to not support this move, except for Israel. He depends on Israel, in every aspect of his politics and behaviour.”
“Kurdistan has become a magnet for all Israeli companies and intelligence agencies,” he said in a separate part of the interview.
“As for Kirkuk, it does not have the right to have a referendum on separation, or self-determination,” Maliki said. “There is no word such as the right to self-determination in our constitution. The Kurds practiced their self-determination through this constitution, and voted on it.”
The Kurdish presidency said that Kurds are united on holding the referendum, apart from some Kurds who are aligned with Maliki.
“Independence for Kurdistan is a right of the nation of Kurdistan. He is in no way in a position to talk about this. He should know well that all the people and parties of Kurdistan are united and have the same stance on the question of independence. If the lack of willpower on the part of some Kurds makes him happy, he should be certain that his position and that of the Kurds affiliated with him will consequently be in the dustbin of history.”
The Kurdistan Region has been suffering a financial crisis, partly brought on by Baghdad withholding the Region’s budget share under Maliki’s direction in mid-2014. Maliki has also made comments unwelcomed by Kurds about the Region and its Peshmerga forces who have been fighting ISIS for nearly three years.
Maliki is head of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa party, head of the State of the Law coalition, and a prominent member of the ruling Shiite National Alliance. He told the Lebanese paper that among all the different components of Iraq, the Shiites are the most united, apart from the faction headed by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which is outside of the Shiite alliance.
He said he is not planning to return to power as the prime minister of the country. He would rather remain in the Iraqi politics calling for the government of the majority.
Kurdish parties have refused such calls for majority rule, deeming it against the foundations of the new Iraq established after the US invasion in 2003.
Maliki also claimed that he is the one who founded the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi. He said he was behind the law passed by the Iraqi parliament last year that recognized the armed force so that it could not be dissolved by current or future prime ministers without an act from parliament.
The former prime minister also alleged that there is a conspiracy by domestic and foreign powers to postpone the general election in Iraq scheduled for next year so that an interim government would assume power that is not “Islamic.” He gave the example of the Iraqi interim government that ruled after 2003, headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite politician.
As for the Sunnis, most of whom had opposed his government before 2014, Maliki said that they are fragmented because they lack a “united political or religious leadership.” Instead, some are backed by Turkey and other by the Arab Gulf countries.
Personally, he said, he supports those Sunnis who have no foreign links and have “national and strategic” plans for Iraq.