Iraqi Kurdistan president refuses to meet Obama in protest over terror list
Massoud Barzani will not meet US president until Kurdistan region's two main parties are removed from blacklist, says official
Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is a former guerilla leader in the Kurdish resistance against Saddam Hussein. Photograph: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty
The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, will refuse to meet the US president, Barack Obama, until America removes the Kurdistan region's two main political parties from its terrorist blacklist, a senior official has said.
Falah Mustafa, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) department of foreign relations, told the US embassy in Irbil that until the classification of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was changed, Barzani would not take up the invitation to visit Obama.
The KDP and PUK have been on the US blacklist since 2001. Barzani – the current KDP chief and a former guerrilla leader in the Kurdish resistance against Saddam Hussein – did not make a scheduled visit to Washington on 27 January and speculation has grown about his motives.
Mustafa told the Guardian that he personally had been pressing for a change in classification of the KDP and PUK, describing their terrorist categorisation as "unfair, unjust and psychologically damaging to the people of the region".
"The moment the invitation was sent [in January] I spoke to the [American] ambassador personally and said that the president would not visit the US until this was sorted out," Mustafa said from his office in Irbil.
"I wrote to them last year and the year before and we were promised at the highest levels that this issue would be sorted out. [It has not] and that is the only reason that President Barzani is not visiting the US … He will not go until it is sorted out."
Mustafa said Iraq's Kurds were one of the only groups in the Middle East to appreciate the sacrifices made by US troops in overthrowing Saddam in 2003. The US and British invasion of Iraq and subsequent overthrow of Saddam gave the Kurds the degree of autonomy that they have today.
"America did not receive a single casualty here in this region dominated by the PUK and KDP, which they consider terrorists. The question that needs to be asked of the American government and Congress is how can you allow this to continue? It is wrong, it is unfair and it has to be remedied," Mustafa said.
"We were the only group in Iraq that shed blood for the sake of [the country's] liberation. Our peshmerga [Kurdish militia] fought side by side with the American special forces to liberate the northern front … and we are the only people throughout Iraq to tell America thank you," he added.
America is popular by Middle East standards in Iraqi Kurdistan, where it is not unusual to see American flags draped across the back seats of cars and US dollars are widely accepted as an alternative to the Iraqi dinar.
Over the past decade the KRG has secured increasing autonomy from the south, while foreign money has flooded in from thousands of US, British and Turkish companies.
The US embassy in Irbil said the Consular Affairs Bureau (CAB) in Washington handled all visa-related inquiries. The CAB did not respond to requests for comment.