President Barzani: People of Kurdistan will one day declare independence
The president of Kurdistan said Wednesday that Kurds will hold a referendum on independence from Iraq when the war against the Islamic State extremists is ended.
“I cannot say if it will be in the next year, or when, but certainly the independent Kurdistan is coming,” said President Massoud Barzani, who is visited Washington for a series of closed-door meetings with Obama administration. This is his third trip to Washington.
At an event hosted by the Atlantic Council and the U.S. Institute of Peace, Barzani said his people want the independence to be realized peacefully, adding that Kurds have “delayed” holding a referendum because they are manning the front lines of the war against the Islamic State.
“It will take place when the security situation is resolved,” Mr. Barzani said.
His remarks Wednesday came against a backdrop of uncertainty over how the rest of the world — let alone Baghdad — might respond if the Kurdistan Regional Government moves to break away from Iraq.
White House officials say President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden told President Barzani during a meeting this week that the U.S. remains committed to a united, federal system in Iraq.
While Barzani said KRG relations with Baghdad have warmed since the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to power last year, he pointed to ongoing tensions over Iraq’s oil revenues. Under current agreements, Baghdad is supposed to share 17 percent of the budget with the KRG, President Barzani said.
“Well, we have not received 17 percent yet,” he said.
An independent Kurdish state would also cause problems for Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of whom have sizable Kurdish minorities.
While roughly five million Kurds live within KRG territory in Iraq, they make up roughly 10 percent of the populations of Iran and Syria, and nearly 18 percent of Turkey.
The notion of Kurdish independence has long been sensitive. But lead- ers like President Barzani seem increasingly emboldened since Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are taking a lead role in the U.S.-backed war against the Islamic State terrorists. The al Qaeda-inspired group declared a caliphate on the edge of KRG territory last year.
Barzani sought Wednesday to portray the Islamic State group as being on the path of defeat in Iraq as a result of the aggressive ground operations already undertaken by the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga have “destroyed the myth of the IS” and taken back some 20,000 square miles of territory from the terrorists," he said. Some 1,200 Kurdish fighters have been killed and roughly 7,000 wounded in the fighting.
President Barzani said the Peshmerga need more weapons to “end the fight sooner.” But he declined to second previous criticisms by the Kurdish leaders that the Obama administration has refused to allow U.S. weapons transported directly to the KRG.
In February, the KRG’s permanent representative in Washington slammed the administration’s policy of requiring such weapons, like heavy machine guns, to pass through Baghdad for inspection before being passed on to the KRG.
“We’re at the front line, we’re at the heart of the conflict, we are the most effective force in the conflict,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman said at the time. “Why do our weapons have to go to Baghdad?”