“No turning back’’
Interviewing the Prime Minister
Kurds were accustomed to calling Nechirvan Barzani the “Prime Minister”, but now they have changed this and are calling him “Kaka Nechir” which means “Brother Nechirvan” and they see the achievements of his term in the constructions around the city, economic development, oil sector, growth and security.
Barzani says, “They simply call me by my name, which I prefer to “Prime Minister”. This proves they love me and it is a great honor to deliver part of these services and all these developments have been the result of joint efforts by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [ PUK] and the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP].”
In Erbil, the Kurdish capital that is full of Iraqis from all over the country as well as foreigners, life is quite different from the rest of Iraq.
In his first media interview since his third round position as Prime Minister, he says, “we think of developing our capital in Baghdad the same way we think of Erbil, and we feel sorry about what is happening now in other parts of Iraq in terms of instability and economy”.
When we came to Erbil via its new airport, we felt we are in a different country. Are you heading towards independence as a state?
We were independent before 2003. We had our own government and institutions, and even the currency we were using was different from the one used in the other parts of Iraq. But after the fall of the regime, we returned to Baghdad willingly based on following the constitution that more than 80% of the Iraqis voted for. We rebuilt Iraq on three basic principles: sharing, cooperation and participation in political decisions. Since then we have done all we could to protect unity of Iraq.
We rebuild a new Iraq, and we are part of this rebuilding. We are not out of the current. Let me give you an example: when the security situation in Baghdad worsened, we sent our security forces and Peshmargas to provide security to Baghdad. I can boldly say we did all we could to protect Iraq’s unity.
How did you reach this achievement in development and construction?
What we see in Kurdistan today is the result of the freedom we have. We be- lieve that the Iraqi nation has been through tremendous sufferings and they deserve better standards of living. Today Kurdistan Region, as part of Iraq, has witnessed significant developments, but there are many things we still need to do. The important thing in Iraq is that politicians should have a clear view towards how to serve the citizens all over Iraq. And we have willingly decided to be part of this democratic Iraq based on the constitution.
In brief, what are the factors behind the crises between Baghdad and Erbil?
Which crises, there are always crises? I mean the recent crises? You know, the crisis emerges from the way things are thought through in Baghdad. We said we started rebuilding Iraq according to the three principles I mentioned. Unfortunately these principles are breached on a daily basis in Baghdad. Our question towards Baghdad is whether we are part of the rule and decision-making process or not? But unfortunately the policy of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and officials in Baghdad is not a policy of understanding, but rather the policy of control and dominance, which is not acceptable for us, and it is not constitutional. We haven’t built the new Iraq on this principle and we have not agreed that a dictator should leave and another one should replace him. Our problem is with the government’s way of thinking in Baghdad in terms of dealing with Kurdistan Region.
We want Baghdad to treat us like partners, and we want to become part of rebuilding a democratic Iraq. The lack of trust has deepened the crisis. I will be frank here, there is no hope for building a civil country if Baghdad supports militarizing the Iraqi street. The Iraqi nation has suffered tremendously from oppression and militarization. Isn’t it a financial issue? There is no financial issue. And if there is such an issue, it should not be a crisis between Baghdad and Kurdistan Region, since Iraq is a wealthy country and the federal government can solve these issues.
You mean the issue is not related to the federal budget and what about the US$ 4 billion payment to the oil companies working in the region?
Of course not! Never has this been the case.
The budget law, which I call the law of ‘punishing Kurdistan’, is irrational. It makes no sense for there to be a ‘punishing law’ when we are trying to rebuild Iraq. How can we work towards the progress of this country as partners when a law like this exists? The law is aggressive in its tone; with warnings that if Kurdistan does not do this, or that act, there will be consequential actions following up. For instance, in regards to the communication cables, the law reads if Kurdistan Region does not perform specific tasks, the federal government has the right to cut off the cables from Kurdistan. What kind of partnership does this construe when Iraq treats Kurdistan in such a rough manner?
When it comes to the issue of oil companies working in the Region, I will be frank. First, we are committed to the principle that oil is the properly of the Iraqi nation, and up to now we have exported 76 million barrels of oil, the revenue of which was returned to Iraq’s treasury. This means we did not take the revenue for ourselves. It is true that oil is exported from the region, but the revenues were for all.
These are simple misunderstandings among the public, and Baghdad must solve this problem. It has the responsibility of paying for the fees of these companies that export oil in a transparent and proper way. Let me ask you this, what is Baghdad’s policy? They simply do not want to pay the fees to oil companies in an attempt to collapse the Region’s oil policy, and to announce that Kurdistan’s oil policy has failed. This is aimed at undermining the Kurdistan region, and to show that we do not have a way to export oil.
What about the pipeline connecting Kurdistan Region to Turkey?
What currently exists is the pipeline connecting Kurdistan to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. We currently have this.
You mentioned economic independence of Kurdistan Region. What do you mean by this?
As I said, the region’s budget share law is one that punishes Kurds. We want our budget to be transparent and free from any threats, but we want our rightfully deserved share like any other federal governments in the world. But Baghdad does not treat it this way. Despite the fact that we are a federal region in the Iraqi constitution, and Iraq is defined as a federal country in the constitution, Baghdad treats us in the same way it treats a small province in the other parts of the country. This is a constitutional issue and we request the Iraqi government to treat us on a federal basis rather than a strong centralized basis, in a way that controls everything. We want to change this perspective of Baghdad based on which we are treated.
But this issue existed in addition to other issues and crises in the establishment of the previous government before Maliki. Why not address the current issues similarly to President Mas- soud Barzani, or what is called “Erbil Agreement”?
The political instability in Iraq has been our priority from the very beginning. The concerns about Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s policies are not only from Kurds. Sunni and Shiite Arabs share the same concerns. The key issue is that Maliki has failed to act as the Prime Minister of all of Iraq, and focus on all parts of the country.
Do you think Maliki’s policies urge you towards independence and division from Iraq?
We chose to stay in Iraq. It was our choice, and it will always remain to be our choice. We are not Arabs, we are Kurds and we have our own culture, language and history, which is different from that of the Arab nation. We are the Kurdish nation, but we have willingly chosen to stay within the united Iraq.
We believe it is in our favor to stay in a united Iraq, and the constitution (if followed) is in our benefit. I don’t think Maliki is urging us towards separation. If his actions were to encourage us towards separation; then how can we explain the situation in terms of Sunnis? The fact is, Maliki does not act like the Prime Minister of Iraq, and Kurds despite this are not thinking of separating.
Iraq is a wealthy country, and Kurds want to get their rights as set out in the Iraqi constitution. Absolutely nothing undermines it projects and policies, except this totalitarian thinking of the Iraqi Prime Minister, which is to marginalize those who are not with him.
One MP from the State of Law, leaded by Maliki, called on Kurds to separate?
Iraq is not for one specific person or group. Iraq belongs to everyone. The same way they see themselves as responsible for Iraq, we similarly think that we are also responsible. In fact, we are keener on the security, political stabilization and development in the country. They speak about Iraq’s unity in words, but we have proved that we care through actions.
The Iraqi President is Kurdish, but unfortunately he is not in Baghdad now, and we hope he returns home safe. He has done his best to unite Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds on one table – with everyone as equals. His absence has made political parties disperse.
through Ali Adeeb, one of his senior officials has announced to the media that Kurdistan Region wants to trespass its authorities?
This is not true at all, and erroneous. What we want is, what legally and rightfully given to us in the constitution. If they are hinting at the oil issue, we have dealt with this, keeping in mind that the oil belongs to all Iraqis according to the constitution. I will change the topic. Let’s say Kirkuk: It is part of Kurdistan and this is historically and geographically known. They have been pumping oil out of Kurdistan during the past years and used its revenues to buy arms to use them against Kurds and Iraqis. Our wounds are much deeper than what Ali Adeeb and others like him can expect and feel. Our wounds cannot be cured by slogans and talking about democracy.
We know very well that these old and fabricated slogans have no roots in reality. The result of our determination to stay on this land comes at the cost of more than 182 thousand martyrs. For the same reason 5000 of our villages were destroyed with the aim of eradicating our existence on the map. Chemical weapon was used against our nation.
Kurds expected that these will end in the new Iraq, rather than hearing such statements, especially from Ali Adeeb, who fought against the previous regime arm in arm with Peshmargas.
Hence the political leaders in Baghdad should think and work based on understanding the sufferings of the Kurds. We expected that Baghdad supports the case regarding the existence of mass graves and massacre of Kurds. Victims of Anfal, chemical bombings and thousands others should be compensated.
Oil issue has not become a crisis. We want to export 250 thousand bpd. In one year we can export 1 million bpd without Kirkuk. This is in the benefit of all Iraq, not only Kurds. I can’t understand why Baghdad thinks our policy is against them.
There are some government officials talking about Article 140 as if it has expired?
Article 140 is a constitutional article. And the constitution is still valid. Let’s ask, do we need life in the new Iraq? Do we need po- litical stability, security and welfare for the Iraqis? Let’s go back to Article 140. As all of us know this is a constitutional article for solving Kirkuk’s issue, but it has not been solved. The important thing is the end of the problem rather than those statements that create more crises for Iraq. The solution of this issue is only through dialogue and showing flexibility. We are ready to be flexible. Let’s imagine this is an issue within a family. It cannot be solved through the logic of strong and weak, and no party should impose himself as powerful and the other party as week. In the current way the issue will never solve, but we rather need to head towards dialogue.
Kirkuk is a symbol of brotherhood and coexistence and has stayed unresolved. We have to treat every issue as they develop without delay so that we don’t further complicate the issue. The responsibility of this goes back to the prime minister. What is he waiting for? Is he waiting to be militarily more powerful and invade Kurdistan Region? The conflict is strong and he has not been able to do so. Hence we only have on way, dialogue and negotiation to solve the issues and bring about justice.
Do you think Baghdad treats Kurdistan based on the logic of “Strong and Weak”?
Yes, this is a sentiment shared by many people. I think Sunnis are concerned about their future because of what has happened to them in the past, and the Shiites are similarly concerned. The Kurds however, they are worried because of their past, concerned because of their present and anxious about their future. This is a big problem. Otherwise, what is the Iraqi Prime Minister waiting for? We all know what the problems are, and we talk about them, around them but we simply have not settled them. Iraq will not stabilize itself until a real concept of ‘sharing’ among its components is achieved.
Is Kirkuk the core of all the issues and crises?
Of course not! The issue of Kirkuk has been enlarged, and this was still the case when US forces were present. It is often claimed that Kirkuk’s territorial claims are made by Kurds only because of its oil, but the truth is, we can have oil. We can export 1 million bpd, as well as gas without Kirkuk. For us, Kirkuk is about the identity of the new Iraq, it is a sign of acknowledging Kurdish suffering, and getting rid of all our problems – enshrining and achieving justice in Iraq.
There is much doubt among people in the Kurdish street due to the crisis between Baghdad and Kurdistan region, which has affected the economic situation in Kurdistan. Is there a fear that Baghdad would attack the Region?
I do not believe the concern is about this. This is my personal view, but the behavior and attitude of Maliki has been construed in such a way in the Kurdish street that it instills fear all over Iraq. We all have to find a way to co-exist, and look at the situation from a realistic perspective instead of just hoping that things will sort themselves out.
When in statements they talk about the unity of Iraq, its land and nation, they need to look at the reality of its land. For instance, what happened in the elections? Shiites voted for Shiites, Sunnis for Sunni and Kurds for Kurds. This is the reality of Iraq whether we like it or not. We need to think in a way that will help this country stay united geographically.
Ten years after the US-Iraq war, do you think Iraqis deserve what has been achieved?
Sadly, no. Iraq is a very rich country in terms of natural resources. Any student, Iraqi or non-Iraqi used to dream about studying in the Medicine College of Baghdad University due to the high academic level and achievements within the Iraqi universities were known. Education, health and services were developed in all aspects. Isn’t it sad that Iraqis are now deprived of this beautiful heritage, and feel jealous of other countries that have fewer natural resources than us?
After ten years of changing the regime, what has the Baghdadi politicians given to the Iraqi nation? Despite the great wealth of the country, their services and security is poorly. Not long ago there was an explosion, and it was reported on mainstream media – how could this be allowed to happen a decade later? There is no development in terms of security, politics, economy and services. How can a country be run this way, that’s something to consider.
Has Baghdad learned anything from the Kurdistani experience? Or do you think there are efforts to destroy your experience and achievements?
It is obvious there is a great level of jealousy towards the developments in the region by Baghdadi officials. We hope that Iraq becomes like Kurdistan. What we wish for Erbil, we wished for our capital Baghdad as well. No one can destroy our achievements or experiences. We have passed a long struggle, and we will not go back. Baghdad has no choice but to accept a peaceful life with tolerance towards others.
Do you support the demonstrations in the Northern and Western Iraq?
Peaceful demonstration is a constitutional right. From this perspective we support them and their demands are constitutional. Going back to the beginning of the demonstrations, and considering that it was based on the request of the resigned minister Rafi al Issawi to have dialogues to solve the issues, but Nuri al Maliki refused it. We hope that the demonstration will stay peaceful.
How can solutions to the current issues be found?
Iraq needs real dialogue among all the parties not based on wishes. Finding co-existence solutions will satisfy all parties.
This is the third government you have established in Kurdistan. Do you think the current one has more burden than the previous ones?
Definitely. There are changes. Life needs have changed. When we established the fifth cabinet, our main task was to provide security and stability. After this, other things popped us. In this stage, we thank God that we passed with the efforts of the security forces, and our nation.
We have not solved electricity issue completely, but services have developed significantly. Life and demands have continuously changed, and will continue to change. The people’s demands increase as their standards of things become higher. Political situation has changed too, and the Kurdistani Parliament is more active than before. The opposition is even stronger, democracy has grown and governmental institutions have developed. We are developing but of course there are still deficiencies.
Wasn’t there an opposition in the fifth cabinet?
There was, but it was basic. But after what happened to the PUK, it became divided and as a result a powerful opposition came to existence. You mentioned PUK. Do you think your strategic agreement will end if they participate in the election separately?
We (the KDP) will participate separately as well. But we will definitely continue with our strategic agreement with the PUK. There may be changes in the techniques that each of us follow with separate lists, but this would not affect what we have between ourselves, which is the strategic agreement.
Has the absence of President Talabani affected Kurdistan’s situations?
Absolutely. His Excellency President Talabani has collected a deep experience and skills through his political activities and has had many political achievements. Therefore we think that his absence has had a negative impact on Iraq. His presence alone created balance among the parties. There is a vacuum created in the political arena in his absence. We hope he returns with good health.
Will PUK nominate another person for the Presidency since it is their electoral achievement?
We are hoping for the return of President Talabani, hence no one has been assigned for this position.
You were in Turkey recently. Did you talk about the peace issue between PKK and Turkey? Have you had an involvement in the peace process in Turkey?
We have discussed this on numerous occasions in Turkey, which included issues that pertained to the interest of our nation – mutual relations, regional issues and Syria’s situation were also discussed. In regards to PKK, we have been active in the peace process, and had a role in finding a political solution between the Turkish government and the PKK without interfering in the internal issues within Turkey.
Peace has become a issue in Turkey, and it should be solved within the Turkish state. We have tried and we have talked with both the Turkish government and the PKK. We hope a political solution is reached.
Do you look positively into the outcome of the peaceful efforts?
There is no doubt that a strong will exists between both sides – determined to solve the issues. There are definitely enemies to this effort. Solving these issues can not be done in one day. Even though the path to peace is often difficult, the initial steps have been taken – this is the beginning towards tolerance and peace. The issue is complex, but the changes that have taken place now should not be underestimated. The role of Turkey’s Prime Minister has been very positive and is worth appreciation. The same way, Abdullah Ocalan’s initiative is important and Ankara should not underestimate it either. The important thing is that Turkey believes in the fact that this is a political solution in need of a political solution. We had made efforts, and we hope the results are satisfying to both the Turkish and Kurdish nations.
We noticed that Syrian refugees, whether Kurds or Arabs, work in hotels, restaurants and other places in Kurdistan cities and are free?
The Syrians are our brothers, Arabs or Kurds. The Syrian nation and the Syrian government have helped us when we were in need of help. Today it is our duty to help the Syrian people, and offer them whatever we can. What we see in the incidents in Syria hurt us deeply, and I hope these sufferings end very soon.
What do you expect to see in Syria?
The situation in Syria is very complicated. There are two power frontiers. One is striving to stay in power and the other is fighting to overthrow it, and change the regime. We think the solution should be solved politically.
Do you think the Syrian regime will stay?
We don’t think overthrowing the Syrian regime is easy. Considering the situation – army, security forces, Baathist Regime, diplomatic parties, Alawais and part of the Sunnis being with the regime – the answer is not clear. In a nutshell, 25% with the regime, 15% against it, and the rest have not decided what to do, whether to join one frontier or the other. Till now the solution is in the hands of the regime, and it should politically solve the problem for the sake of preserving the Syrian nation.
KRG Prime Minister says Baghdad still rules the country with iron fist.