London, Asharq Al-Awsat- President of the Kurdistan Region Masud Barzani has said there is a limit to patience, in reference to the pending issues between the Arbil government and the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which include the issues of Kirkuk, the disputed areas, the oil and gas law, and the oil resources issue.
Barzani renewed his warning against violation of the Iraqi constitution, affirming: “When we agreed to remain within Iraq and contribute to the political process, we did that with the view that we will have a constitution … This constitution defined the identity of Iraq, which is a federal Iraq.”
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in London, where he arrived in the course of a European tour, Barzani said that the time when one person could rule Iraq had gone. However, he noted that the strength of the Kurds lies in staying within a federal Iraq. He said he would prefer death rather than exist with a dictatorial Iraq. Barzani noted that the Americans are extending assistance to central and southern Iraq but not to the Kurds. He said that the Kurdistan region existed before the Americans came to Iraq and it will continue to exist after they leave.
Regarding the establishment of a Kurdish state, Barzani said, “This is a legitimate ambition, but we deal with matters according to the existing realities.” He affirmed that the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP], which he heads, does not exploit the problems facing its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, but is cooperating to solve them. Barzani affirmed, “We will be a true and faithful ally in their crisis under all circumstances.”
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the nature and results of your European tour?
[Barzani] The tour is taking place at the invitation of Italy, Germany, and Britain. The purpose is to explain the situation in Iraq, in general, and in the Kurdistan Region, in particular, and to encourage them to invest in Iraq and in the Region, because the security situation is good and because the Region is the secure gate to all Iraq. We explained the developments of the situation and the future prospects. The tour is political, economic, and diplomatic.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Although several European countries, Turkey, and Iran opened consulates in the Kurdistan Region, why the Arab states have not done the same?
[Barzani] This is a good question, but I pose this question, through the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, to the Arab states. Why do they not open consulates in Arbil? The reason is not security. Everyone knows that the security situation in the Region is stable. Perhaps they have not reached a conviction yet, although during my recent visits to Kuwait and Qatar, we achieved much progress in the relations and in the understanding with the two states.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you considering hosting the Arab summit conference if Iraq decides to hold it on its territory as part of its protocol rights?
[Barzani] I cannot send invitations to host the Arab summit, but I can say that the Kurdistan Region would be very delighted to have this conference held in Arbil and to provide all the needs for its success, including the security, comfort, dialogue atmosphere, and everything the conference will demand. However, others and not I must send the invitations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You call the government in Baghdad “federal” and it insists on calling itself “central.” How do you explain that?
[Barzani] We must understand that everything we accepted was because of the Constitution. When we accepted to remain within Iraq and contribute to the political process, we did that with the view that we will have a constitution. There was a referendum on this constitution, which defined the identity of Iraq as a federal country. The government is a federal government. If the central government means a single person ruling Iraq, this time has gone. If the purpose is to strengthen the role of the federal government with its constitutional institutions, decisions, and laws, we welcome that.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that there are violations of the Constitution?
[Barzani] Of course. Major and serious violations of the Constitution have taken place. We have differences with the federal government. We formed committees to study the issues and we hope that we would achieve results.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How will you deal with the constitutional amendments demanded by the prime minister of the federal government?
[Barzani] Any constitutional amendment must be made based on the mechanism provided in the Constitution. No amendments to the Constitution can be made contrary to the mechanisms in it. We will not oppose any amendment that takes place according to the mechanism in the Constitution. But if this takes place contrary to this mechanism, this would torpedo the Constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are pending issues between you and the government in Baghdad, such as the oil law, the Kirkuk issue, and Article 140 [of the Constitution].
[Barzani] We have tolerated a great deal because we cared about the interest of Iraq. We gave more time and chances to the officials, and lately we formed five committees to discuss these issues. We hope that the committees would achieve results on all these basic issues, which are the partnership, the security and the army, the oil and gas, Article 140, and foreign policy. We will exert efforts to energize these committees to give us a clear picture on the situation and the future prospects and the possibility of reaching a common understanding about these issues. Then, the other issues would become very simple. Let us wait and see what these committees will achieve.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the limits of your patience?
[Barzani] Of course, there is a limit to patience (laughing). These issues must be resolved. Again, I say the Constitution is our arbiter. We reject temperamental decisions and accept any decision consistent with the Constitution, whether in our favor or not. Our relations are governed by this Constitution, and we will not accept any other decision or view.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you imagine Kurdistan Region without Kirkuk?
[Barzani] Kirkuk has been the cause of all the problems that the Kurds had with the Iraqi governments. Now we want a solution to the problem, and we do not want to make the problem worse. It is possible to solve this problem according to Article 140 of the Constitution. This is the best solution to the Kirkuk issue. We stress the importance of applying Article 140 to end this problem for good. There can be no stability in Iraq without a solution to the Kirkuk problem.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about the proposal to divide the authority in Kirkuk and about another proposal to regard Kirkuk as an independent region?
[Barzani] We totally reject these circumventions of Article 140. Article 140 of the Constitution says: normalization, census, and referendum. The Kirkuk Governorate people are the ones to decide. If they decide that they want to be part of the Kurdistan Region, we must respect their opinion and choice. If they decide to join another region and if the Kirkuk people decide that their governorate should be independent, we will respect their decision. But, Article 140 must be implemented.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you know what the federal or central government wants from the Kurds?
[Barzani] It seems to me that some officials in Baghdad believe that the Kurdistan Region should be a governorate subordinate to Baghdad and that no institutions like the parliament and the ministries should exist. They want the Region to be subordinate to Baghdad and there should be no Kurdistan Region and no gains, rights, or anything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some in Iraq are talking about the demands of the Kurds becoming too high. What is your opinion about this?
[Barzani] This is not true. Our demands are less than the reality and cannot compare with the sacrifices we have made for Iraq and for Kurdistan. Our demands are Iraqi-Kurdish and not only Kurdish. When we emphasis democracy, this is a matter that interests every Iraqi citizen. When we talk about partnership, we do not mean Kurdish Arab partnership, but the partnership of the political forces in Iraq. Some forces have struggled and offered sacrifices. So how could we deprive them of participation in building the country? There are basic components in Iraq. So how could we marginalize them? The issue of partnership is not a Kurdish demand only. There are also the issues of the army, security, oil, and gas. All these are the property of the Iraqi people. How could one component unilaterally appoint officers in the Iraqi army and circumvent the Constitution and the parliament? The army is the army of the Iraqi people, and balance must exist in it. These issues do not affect the Kurds alone, but all Iraqis. We are defending the future of Iraq, democracy, and the Constitution in Iraq. We are defending so that Iraq would not face the same tragedy we faced in the past.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you disappointed with some Iraqi political forces, which you embraced and sacrificed for since 1991?
[Barzani] I am very sorry to say that some have disappointed us by their positions towards our cause. We never expected such a position. We imagined that they, in our absence, would defend the Kurdish cause and the rights of the Kurds. We trusted them to this extent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the last conference of the Iraqi opposition in London in 2002, an agreement was reached between the political forces that currently exist in Baghdad about the rights of the Kurds. What happened later?
[Barzani] These rights are entrenched even in the Constitution. The agreements reached at the London conference were almost all recorded in the Constitution in one form or another. Now, attempts are being made to circumvent the Constitution. How can we talk about agreements that took place in an opposition conference?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that Khanaqin and Mandali are within the disputed areas?
[Barzani] Of course. If we use the recent provincial elections as a basis, we will find that the Kurdish list won the votes of all the citizens and won all the seats there.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are measures taking place in Kirkuk and the rest of the disputed areas similar, in your opinion, to the measures carried out by the former regime, such as increasing the government forces and appointing a percentage of Arab officers higher than the other components?
[Barzani] Yes, this type of practices regrettably exists.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani has expressed the Region’s fears if the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq. How do you explain these fears?
[Barzani] If the American forces withdrew before the political situation in Iraq stabilizes and before the political forces are ready to fill the vacuum, problems will definitely arise. There are dangers and there is a possibility that major problems would take place in Iraq between the Sunnis and Shi’is and between the Arabs and the Kurds. Everything is possible.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the fears include the possibility of a military confrontation between the central government and the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] We hope this will not happen. We are not thinking that matters would reach this point. There will be no repetition of this in Iraq, God willing. We all must use the weapon of the Constitution to resolve our problems and not think of another way, particularly the military way. We hope that we will not have to get to that point. Whoever uses the Constitution as the arbiter will ultimately win.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What have the American forces provided to the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] Actually, the American forces have no presence in the Region. They had no presence and had not given us anything, even in term of aid. I say frankly that the US Administration has not given any aid to the Region. All expenditures took place in central and southern Iraq and not in Kurdistan. We had no security or administrative vacuum after the fall of the former regime. The Kurdistan Region existed before the arrival of the Americans, and it will continue to exist after they leave. But America’s presence now protects Iraq against many threats. It also guarantees that no internal problems would take place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you feel that you are alone working and struggling politically for the Kurdish cause?
[Barzani] No, Iraqi and Arab political forces are cooperating and maintaining solidarity with us. They agree with our views and policies. I have also noticed that there is much Arab interest in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar and in Europe in our issues. We are not alone. Also, relations have recently improved with Turkey.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the rate of progress in the relations between Kurdistan and Turkey?
[Barzani] Meetings are taking place with Turkey. There is good Turkish understanding and I can see very broad horizons for commercial cooperation with neighboring Turkey. There are more than 500 Turkish companies operating in the Kurdistan Region. I can say that we are very satisfied with the progress in our relations with Turkey.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you no longer afraid of any military threats from Turkey?
[Barzani] No, no. the course of the relations indicates that the situation is good.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When some problems occurred in the PUK, your ally, some feared that the balances in the Region would collapse.
[Barzani] Regrettably, it is true that some internal problems took place in the PUK, but I am confident of the ability and wisdom of President Jalal Talabani and the PUK leadership to overcome and resolve these problems. We offered any assistance to allow the PUK to avoid such problems to safeguard the Region’s balance and unity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How the PUK problems affecting your work or affecting the stability and balances in the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] The KDP is not exploiting these problems at all – on the contrary; we are cooperating with the PUK to solve these problems. This is a firm decision. We will be a true and faithful ally in their crisis under all circumstances. We will stand with the PUK to solve any crisis it could face.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will be your position in case independent lists run in the next parliamentary elections outside the Kurdistan Coalition?
[Barzani] Any person, party, or list has the right to run in the next parliamentary elections. This is their legitimate right.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will that not upset the balance of your alliance with the PUK?
[Barzani] If this happens, the leaders of the two parties will study the situation. If the issue does not affect the organizations of the two parties, any citizen will be free to run. But if the candidate is from within the two parties and wanted to run in the elections outside the parties, we should study this matter.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who will head the next government of the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] Based on the agreement with the PUK, they are entitled to head the next government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was this an agreement?
[Barzani] Yes, this was an agreement, and we will abide it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani had worked on projects and programs, some of which at his personal initiative and by virtue of his relationships. Do you not think that if someone else assumes the premiership of the government, this could affect the current plans and achievements?
[Barzani] Government programs will definitely be affected, but this is a right for our ally and we cannot take it away from it. It is possible to discuss the issue, but let me repeat that this is their right. However, if they showed interest in the continuation of the work and the success of the government plans and if they raised another issue, we will discuss it. I will repeat for the third time: our ally is entitled to the premiership of the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you describe the unity between the PUK and the KDP?
[Barzani] The unity is strong and strategic, and there is no way to forfeit it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But some said there would be problems between the two parties if the problems in the PUK persisted.
[Barzani] These are dreams.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the relationship between the KDP and the government in the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] The party is a means and not an end for serving the people and creating an entity. Now we have reached the point of building constitutional institutions, state institutions. We have a government and parliament. The government is for all the citizens. The party supports the government, which must lead the Kurdistan Region. The task of the party is to support the government and not to interfere in its affairs. We are taking this course in all the political, economic, and security fields. The government is leading the Kurdistan Region and not the party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you still have an ambition to establish a Kurdish state?
[Barzani] Yes, this is a legitimate ambition, but we are dealing with matters according to the existing realities.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the situation of Iraqi Kurds to be better without Iraq?
[Barzani] No, of course not. The strength of the Kurds lies in a federal democratic Iraq, but I would prefer death rather than exist with a dictatorial Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you confront the views of some extremist Arab nationalists and their positions towards the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] Some people have such views and must learn a lesson from the past. They must realize where this kind of thinking and approach had led Iraq. Do they want to repeat the failed and destructive experiment in Iraq? I do not think that they have any future. What they are suggesting are mere words and pose temporary obstacles in the way of democratic Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will you complete the unification of Kurdish government institutions, including the security services?
[Barzani] We would have completed it had it not been for the internal crisis that took place in the PUK. We suspended the issue until the PUK resolves its internal crisis. One of our priorities now is to assist the PUK in overcoming its crisis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the cut in the budget affect the Region’s projects?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why your government is not permitted to produce and export oil to finance its projects?
[Barzani] Let me tell you something: The Oil Ministry has not provided any tangible service to Iraq. The Oil Ministry received $8 billion to improve and develop the oil sector, but it did nothing. It did not develop any oilfield nor build or develop any oil refineries. Where did the money go? Was the Oil Ministry able to conclude a reasonable and respectable oil agreement with any company in the world? They destroyed Iraq by their wrong policy, and they want us not to do anything. Regarding the issue of oil exports from the Region’s fields, the Region can export 100,000 barrels of oil daily. We said we want to export oil through the oil pipeline between Kirkuk and the Turkish Ceyhan port. The revenues could go to the federal government, but we would take our share as stipulated in the Constitution, which is 17 per cent. The Oil Ministry did not agree, although Iraq currently exports less than its capacity and quota of oil. The oil is ready for export. The revenues would go to the Iraqi people, but the federal government is objecting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about the agreements and contracts that the Region’s prime minister signed with international companies? What is their fate?
[Barzani] These agreements and contracts are valid and we will not go back on them or abandon them. We will work hard to reach an agreement about the oil and gas law and the oil revenues law. The law will be implemented. Based on this law, we will launch our projects. But if the Oil Ministry sticks to its wrong approach and failed policy, we will not pay attention to what the ministry does and we will continue with our projects. We are not doing this for the sake of the Kurdistan Region only, but for all the people of Iraq. We will not follow the wrong path taken by the Oil Ministry.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the extent of your satisfaction with the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] There is no doubt that Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has proven his high qualification and ability to run the government in the Kurdistan Region, as testified by everyone. To safeguard the supreme interests of the Region, he might be asked to continue to head the government – this is although I affirm that the PUK is entitled to this position. I am definitely very much satisfied with him. I love him and admire him. I do not want to praise him, because I regard him as part of me, which means that I would be praising myself. He is part of my life and the dearest person to me. This is from the personal standpoint, and from the practical standpoint, he has been successful, as testified by everyone.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Rumors are circulating in the Kurdistan Region about a hidden conflict between your eldest son, Masrur, and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani about the latter’s position. How true is this?
[Barzani] I assure you that these are the mere illusions and wishes of some simple people. I assure you that if Masrur felt there is a danger to Nechirvan, he would be ready to face the danger instead of Nechirvan. There is no competition and there will be no competition. There is strong and close unity between them and between the members of our family. There are persons in the family that I am not satisfied with. We have a big clan, and I am not responsible for the actions of everyone. But as far as the close family members are concerned, particularly the sons of my late brother Idris, they are dearer to me than my children are. This is from the family and personal standpoint. I know that my children are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the children of their uncle Idris.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there attempts to divide the family?
[Barzani] Many have tried but failed.