London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will press ahead with a referendum on declaring independence from Iraq, the autonomous region’s top diplomat said on Saturday, as fears continue to grow of the break-up of the country.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa, said that the recent call for a referendum by the KRG’s leader had been discussed with US officials on a recent visit to Washington.
He said: “The US administration understands how the province suffers in its relations with Baghdad. The US also understands the decision by the president [of the KRG] Massoud Barzani, on the issue of holding a public referendum on the province’s right to self-determination.”
“Statements issued by the White House on this issue are just general opinions and called for the unity of Iraq and the Kurds’ participation forcefully and effectively in the political process . . . We had planned for this visit before June 9 when Iraqi forces withdrew in the face of armed groups which controlled the governorate of Nineveh. After these events we had to make the visit because it came in time to explain our stance to the US.” he added.
As well as moving ahead with plans for a referendum, Mustafa also said that the KRG was aiming for “radical change” in Baghdad, and wanted to see fundamental changes in Iraqi politics following the fall of Mosul and much of northern and western Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its allies, following the collapse of Iraqi military forces stationed in the region.
The militant group declared an “Islamic state” on the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria at the end of June, and declared its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi a new caliph, leading to widespread condemnation from mainstream Muslim clerics across the world.
So far, Baghdad has struggled to retake lost territory, despite assistance from US and Iranian military advisors and after acquiring new combat jets for its air force.
Mustafa also said that Iraq’s Kurds would not support a third term for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, who has been struggling to form a new government since parliamentary elections in April, blaming him for the country’s ongoing crisis.
He said: “Kurds will not participate in any government to be led by Maliki because of his hostile behavior toward our people. Because of his practices, Iraq is heading toward disintegration and fragmentation, and owing to his marginalization of the Kurds and Sunnis and a big segment of Shi’ites, Iraq has reached the serious crisis it is experiencing today.”
The official also hit out at the prime minister’s approach to Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have taken control of some of the territory along the KRG’s borders abandoned by the Iraqi security forces in the face of ISIS’s advance, including the disputed city of Kirkuk.
“They were not provided with weapons and training and were not paid the salaries which should have taken place according to the Iraqi constitution,” he said. “These forces are the ones that filled in behind Maliki’s military forces who abandoned their defense and combat missions, leaving behind [their] weapons. This behavior was about to expose the province and our people to danger but for the wisdom of our leadership and the bravery of the Peshmerga forces.”