Arbil, Asharq Al-Awsat- Nechirvan Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Region’s Government, said that his country’s wounds are deep and in need of the entire world’s compassion. He pointed out that ousted President Saddam Hussein destroyed 5,000 villages in the Kurdistan Region’s governorates and killed 188,000 Kurds between 1987 and 1988 in a military campaign codenamed Al-Anfal after a chapter in the Holy Koran. He added that Saddam Hussein killed 8,000 members of his family – the Barzan family – 36 of whom were his immediate relatives.
Nechirvan Barzani has been the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq since 1999. He was born in 1966 in Iraq, and is the nephew of Kurdistan Region President Masud Barzani’s, and the grandson of Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani. He headed the government formed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and following the formation of the two Kurdish administrations, was tasked by the region’s president with the formation of a unified Kurdish government involving the majority of the powers active on the Iraqi political scene. Asharq al-Awsat and a small group of Arab media representatives met with the man over breakfast in his home in Arbil. Nechirvan Barzani is the father of two, an eight-year-old boy named Idris, and a 6-year-old girl named Raniya.
Barzani explained that his government’s main priority for the time being is human development, as well as investment in the industrial, administrative development, and educational sectors. He said the Kurdistan Region is yet to receive any assistance from Arab countries, noting that “Islamic relief organizations came to build mosques and sponsor orphans, but we later discovered that they had actually come to recruit young men and train them in violence.” “We issued warnings to five or six Islamic relief organizations because they were breeding terrorists, and we insisted that they hand over humanitarian aid to the government for distribution to the needy,” He added.
He disclosed that the in the year 2000, a Shariaa college that was funded by Gulf countries was closed down after it was observed to be following the wrong path, far from the mediation and tolerance of Islam.
He denied to Asharq al-Awsat that his government had any unofficial ties with Israeli officials, and said that foreign relations are the business of the government in Baghdad. He did however emphasize that the Kurdistan Region harbors no animosity toward Israel or Jews, and said, “We understand the Palestinian people’s crisis because we faced the same problem with the government in Baghdad during Saddam’s reign.” He explained that the Kurdistan Region does not share borders with Israel, but has relations with neighboring countries like Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
He called on Kurdish businessmen in Europe and the United States to return to their country because it needs their support, and said that all Iraqis must understand their obligations to their homeland. He admitted that “Turkish forces are indeed positioned inside the Kurdistan Region’s borders,” and said that Turkish forces entered his country in the 1990s under a deal with Saddam’s government in order to control the border, but under the condition that they not interfere with out personal affairs, and that they not conduct any military operations against members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) without first informing us.
He praised civil liberties in the Kurdistan Region, but said that some laws still need to be amended. He added that the Assyrians, Chaldians, and Sabian Yazidis enjoy full religious rights the same way Sunnis and Shiites do, and explained that the various religious sects have a long history in the region. He went on to say that his finance minister, Sarkis Agajan, is Christian, and that the region’s former deputy prime minister was Christian as well. He said that financial aid was extended to 3,100 Assyrian families to help them resettle in Ankawah, Sarsank, and Dahuk suburbs. He maintained that all Iraqi Kurds, Assyrians, and Chaldians suffered under Saddam, and that “our country is going through some rough times, but this situation is temporary, and we will reach the Iraq we aspire for through the Iraqi people’s strong determination to defeat terrorism and silence the voices of saboteurs for good.” He said that any positive development in Iraq would reflect positively on the situation in the Kurdistan Region, and that any turmoil in Iraq’s other areas would reflect negatively on the situation in the Kurdistan Region.
He emphasized that democracy is part of everyday life in Arbil, Dahuk, Al-Sulaymaniyah, Ba’shiqah, Al-Qosh, Barzan, Bartalah, Zakho, and the remaining Kurdish cities and villages, and said that because of the freedom of press in the Kurdistan Region, many are criticized, sometimes outside the public framework. He recalled that he was once accused by a daily newspaper of memorizing the names of international fashion designers, and not the names or posts of his 42 ministers. He explained that he often does not reply to newspaper remarks on his way of life.
Nechirvan Barzani is in his 40s, he is a fit sportsman with a passion for horse breeding, swimming, morning jogs around his palace, and mountain climbing with the Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) whenever he can get away from the pressures of his work, which eat up his days. His hobbies also include composing and listening to poetry, or so he says.
Barzani spoke well of stability and security in the Kurdistan Region, attributing it to the efforts of the brave men of the security services and the Peshmerga. He disclosed the presence of a number of foreign detainees in his country’s prisons, including Saudis, Afghans, and Pakistanis, all of whom will stand trial following the endorsement of the new counterterrorism law. He said that terrorists come to Kurdistan from Mosul and the Syrian border.
He spoke about the popular cohesion between Kurdish citizens and security services that seeks to maintain security throughout Kurdistan, and told the story of a Kurdish mother who had reported her fugitive son to police after he had committed a terrorist act – upon his arrest, the son supposedly denied his mother, but she confronted him and said that she had carried him for nine months in her womb and that he is the man wanted by the security services.
He went on to say that the people of Kurdistan have proved since 1991 that they are an element of stability in the region, adding that they will continue to pursue this policy. He said, “We extend a hand of peace to all our neighbors and constantly seek to maintain good relations with them.”
On a separate note, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s government has appointed Khalid Salih, adviser to Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, as the Kurdistan Region’s first ever official government spokesmen. Dr Khalid Salih told Asharq al-Awsat that “Nechirvan Barzani officially introduced me to the members of his government as the government’s official spokesman.” Dr Salih holds a PhD in politics and moved to Sweden in 1981, but returned to the Kurdistan Region three years ago and was a member of the consultation committee on the Iraqi constitution and the political adviser to Nechirvan Barzani. He has many writings, the most important of which is the “Iraqi State’s Formation” and “The Future of Kurdistan in Iraq.”
Dr. Salih said that “the post of official spokesman of the Kurdistan Region’s Government was created in order to communicate with citizens through the media and newspapers, ensure transparency, inform citizens of government decisions, and explain current affairs.” Dr Salih asked journalists to “work hard on obtaining news and information and conveying the citizen’s question, no matter what they may be, to the government.”