[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the most significant thing that your government achieved over the past four years?[Barzani] In my opinion, the most significant thing achieved during the past four years is the formation of a unity-government with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] following the years of internal division and conflict. After all of this [division] we were able to establish a [joint] government that worked as one team, especially as we are well aware that the differences between the Kurdish Democratic Party [KDP] and the PUK were not new, but began in 1964. After all of the results and outcomes took place, we established a joint government, which in reality operates as one team. Nobody could imagine that after all that took place we [the KDP and PUK] would work together, and instead of a boycott there is understanding of the new situation. And so a Minister from one party will work with a team from the other party and so on. I gave the deputy Prime Minister all the power to appoint two Directors from these two parties without any interference from myself, and they are working together today after we created a joint operational framework and built links of trust [between the two parties]. Prior to this both parties were obstructing one another with regards to governmental work, but I can saw without exaggeration that we were significantly able to reduce this, and we have come a long way in this direction. What was, and continues to be the major issue that concerns us is the provision of services to the people, in particular the provision of electricity and water services to the citizens. Electricity, for example, was a major problem for us, and I can say that we were able to solve a large part of this problem, and it is not such a problem today although there are still concerns with regards to this. As for the issue of water, we have taken a number of practical steps to provide water in the regions that need it, and we have worked hard to provide these services. With regards to evaluating the work of the government that I head, I leave this to others and their conscience.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You began to use political quotas with regards to the formation of your government at an early stage, how did you find this experience?
[Barzani] Our goal was to bring together all the parties in one government, we do not say that we have succeeded in doing this 100 percent, but we succeeded in implementing this in a large way. Dealing with Ministers always occurred in a professional manner, and never on a party-basis. The relationships that tie us together are [built] upon the basis of serving the people, rather than on the basis of party affiliation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What difficulties did you encounter in building good relations with Turkey?
[Barzani] In the beginning there was a big problem as there did not exist the same acceptance in Turkey with regards to building relations with Kurdistan, and we faced many difficulties. The Turkish army was deployed along the border with Iraq close to us and they were threatening to intervene and the predominant language coming out of Ankara was the language of threats. But we overcame these difficulties due to our determination to pursue joint dialogue, and as a result of economic and cultural cooperation with Turkey. [As a result of this] there has been significant progress on this issue and I personally was the first [Prime Minister] to pay constant attention to our relations with Turkey, not just because it is a neighboring country, but also because Turkey is an important neighbor to Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What have you achieved with regards to the Arab file?
[Barzani] Currently, and over the past two years, relations are thawing with our brothers in the Arab countries. Some Arab countries had reservations, and I believe that these reservations were cleared up by the Arabs themselves. We see that there is a strong desire by some Arab countries to establish relations with the region of Kurdistan, as part of Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the region of Kurdistan begin to export oil at the beginning of next month as has been previously announced?
[Barzani] Yes, and I would like to explain why we have taken this step. Hussein al-Shahristani [Iraqi Minister of Oil] continuously accused the Kurdistan Region of not being able to export one barrel of oil, and he accused us of wanting to exploit this oil, wanting to secede from Iraq, and implement our own agenda. And so we wanted to send a clear message to our Iraqi people that al-Shahristani is not important to us, and that we are in a region that is ready to export oil, and that this oil – according to the Constitution – belongs to the people of Iraq, whether in Baghdad, Basra, Arbil, or Ramadi. Therefore the proceeds of the oil from the Kurdistan Region will go to the Treasury of the Central government [of Iraq]. This is a political message, a message of reassurance to the people of Iraq, it does not matter to us what al-Shahristani says about whether what we have done [contracts signed with oil companies] is legal or illegal; we are not concerned with his remarks.
Yes, we will undertake the exportation of oil, and the proceeds from this will go the Iraqi government, and we [the Kurdistan Region] will get our share of what has been allocated to us, this is the fist stage. As for the next stage, we will search for operational mechanisms with oil companies, so that we can go back to how things were before. We believe that the oil policies in the Kurdistan Region were successful [before], and today there are 35 important oil companies operation in the Kurdistan Region, this includes American, European, Indian, and Korean companies. Al-Shahristani’s statements that these companies are not important are incorrect; have these important companies come to operate in the region with illegal documents, and without the permission of the Constitution? It is well known that such companies do not risk their reputation and money, and they are operating officially [in the Kurdistan Region].
I want my message to be clear, which is that exporting oil from the Kurdistan Region is a national achievement for the people of Iraq as a whole, and as Prime Minster of the Kurdish Regional Government I would like to congratulate all Iraqis on this. We, in the region, are very happy that we have been able to contribute to the construction of Iraq. After all of these years of deprivation and bad relations with the former governments, and even the current government, we have been able to lay strong foundations with our Iraqi people, and contribute through this project [of oil exportation] to the development of Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iraqi Minister of Oil, Hussein al-Shahristani, has made a number of accusations against your oil policy. How do you respond to this?
[Barzani] Before he makes accusations against us, al-Shahristani should clarify to the public his own policies, for he is a failure as a Minister and unable to present anything to the people and nation of Iraq. All that he has done is repeat his statements that the contacts signed by the Kurdistan Region are not legal, and our response to this statement was to take actions, not reply with more statements. We have taken action for the sake of the Iraqi people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that your affiliation to Iraq may allow you to play an important political role in Baghdad in the future?
[Barzani] Why not? This country is our country. I am an Iraqi, and this is our Iraq, and Baghdad is our capital.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The regional parliamentary elections are fast approaching, and depending upon the election’s results you may have to step down from your position as Prime Minister to a candidate from the PUK, are you prepared for this?
[Barzani]We respect our agreement with our allies in the PUK, and they are entitled to this premiership. We are ready to leave this position, and there is no problem on this issue. When the day comes I will collect my things and leave in a normal way, handing over responsibility to the person who will be chosen as the new Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government. I am sure that whoever fills this position [after me] will continue to work to gain achievements for the Kurdish people at the same pace that we did, and we will give the new Prime Minster all the support and assistance should he need it. We accept the peaceful transfer of power, and are awaiting the election results.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your plans for the future after you leave your post as Prime Minister?
[Barzani] I am still busy fulfilling my duties as head of the government, but certainly I will stay within the political process, in the region, and in Iraq. I will work in any position from which I can provide services to the people of Iraq, whether they are Kurds or Arabs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you accept a position as a Minister in the next Kurdistan Regional government?
[Barzani] If there is need for my service, then why not? What is important to me is not the position, but working to help the people. I had the honor of being Prime Minister of the Regional government and serving my country and people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you play a role in choosing the next Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional government?
[Barzani] Certainly, I will express my opinion on who will be the next Prime Minister through the political process.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Reports from the PUK leadership indicate that Dr. Barham Salih is the strongest candidate for the position, how do you view his nomination?
[Barzani] We have yet to be officially informed as to who the PUK’s nominee will be, and we are awaiting the [results of the] regional parliamentary elections. As for Barham Salih, personally, we are close friends, and he is a person who can play his role in any position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you expecting any surprises to change the political landscape of the Kurdistan Region?
[Barzani] There are many surprises in Iraq, and we expect anything can happen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most significant files that you have yet to address that will be taken over by the next government?
[Barzani] There are two important files that must be addressed by whoever comes into power, the first is related to the independence of the legal system and the judiciary; this is a very important issue. The second file regards administrative reform which is something that our administration began, and it is up to the next administration to focus on this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the files that your government began working on but remain outstanding?
[Barzani] There is the issue of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, this deals with the disputed areas, and the definition of the borders of the Kurdistan Region. There is also the file with regards to the laws on oil and gas [production in the region]. These are both files that relate to our relationship with the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and we believe that these files will be resolved if there is a genuine desire [to do so] by the central government. It is up to the new government to work to complete these files, however if the central government believes that [resolving] these files should be left for the time being, things will be more complicated, and will not be resolved easily. If the idea is built upon who has the power and is able to control these files, then things will not be resolved. All parties must reach a consensus that these files must be resolved and finalized in order to reach a state of stability, otherwise this will impede the march of progress and development [in Iraq].
These files will only be resolved by political will [to do so], and we do not believe that Baghdad is showing this political will. We are not convinced that the central government is serious about resolving the outstanding problems between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional government. I imagine that those in Baghdad are thinking of dealing with these outstanding issues at another time, or they are waiting to be in a stronger position to in order to deal with the Kurdistan Region from a position of strength. However this would be a grave mistake, because no matter how strong they are they will never be as strong as Saddam Hussein, in that this problem will not be solved militarily, but by sitting around the negotiating table and working as one to solve all problems. And so for the sake of the future of this country we must resolve all outstanding problems [between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional government].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have a lot of experience with the central government, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is talking about his intention of opening dialogue with the Kurdistan region, do you believe he is sincere in this or that this is merely part of his election campaign?
[Barzani] Unfortunately we have yet to see any strong desire from al-Maliki to resolve the outstanding issues between his government and ourselves. In our experience with him we have discovered, unfortunately, that al-Maliki’s policies rely upon the principle of postponing problems, rather than solving them. We have read in the media his intention to talk with the region’s leadership to resolve the outstanding problems, but we have not witnessed anything in practice, and with this lack of desire to resolve these problems Iraq will remain away from achieving a state of stability and prosperity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you repeat the experience of allying with Islamic parties such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Islamic Dawa Party, and others?
[Barzani] It is not necessary for us to ally with Islamic parties only, from the outset we wished to ally with other national parties. For the sake of the success of the political process in Iraq we are working with an expanded national list [of parties], both Arab and Kurdish, and various other political parties. We are serious about achieving such a broad coalition.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of confronting administrative corruption in the region; is this one of the files that must be taken up by the next government?
[Barzani] I believe that this issue has been exaggerated, our government has taken steps to fight corruption, and we have worked from two directions [to address this]; firstly we signed a contract with a well-known international company concerned with the issue of transparency and fighting corruption, and this company has been operating in the Kurdistan Region for months in order to study the situation and come up with a strategy for our government to eradicate corruption. I do not believe that corruption ends with the arrest of an individual and his imprisonment, a strategy must be put in place that comprises several points, such as how to deal with the laws, and how to achieve transparency, otherwise I can also set up a Commission on Integrity, such as the Commission on Public Integrity that is present in Baghdad. My goal is not for self-publicity or to address corruption in a superficial manner, I want to genuinely address this issue from its roots, and we have begun doing this and made substantial progress.
And so a part of the operation to root out corruption in the Kurdistan Region is to form a Commission on Integrity, while also working with the company that specializes in performing studies and making proposals to combat corruption. In a short time we will announce a strategy on administrative reform that will confront and eliminate corruption.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Local media presents the issue of corruption in a different light. Anybody following this media would believe that nobody in the region is innocent of corruption. Why is the media portraying the situation in this light?
[Barzani] The media situation in Kurdistan is irresponsible and chaotic. We have two problems with the local media, the first is that the majority of people working in the media are not professional in their work. I am not talking about everybody, but [certainly] the vast majority. Secondly is that we have put into place international standards with regards to human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the independence of the judiciary, as well as addressing the issue of violence against women. However these standards are a double-edged sword. In one way we are adhering to these standards and they are important and attractive to the West and present a rosy picture of our region, but in another way this has become a point of weakness for us in that the Kurdish experience in the Kurdistan Region is unique in the history of Kurds in Iraq and abroad. And so the Kurds in Iraq have their own territory, government, and a parliament of their own, and this causes problems to the governments of the neighboring countries in the region that also have Kurdish communities who are deprived of these privileges. And so they exploit the standards that we adhere to and pay the media to write about corruption, and present a image that does not exist, then they say to the Kurds in their own country: Look at the experience of the Iraqi Kurds, it is corrupt, so that the Kurds [in their own country] do not demand their rights. There is an intelligence war taking place against us in our media, and relying upon the standards that I already mentioned…and so the media is not acting responsibly.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your expectations on the outcome of the elections, especially with regards to the presence of opposition candidates?
[Barzani] I do not want to anticipate events, I will not comment on this until the time of the elections, but we are expecting to win with a majority of votes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the files that you hope to complete before you leave office?
[Barzani] The most important file that I hope to complete is to finally resolve the problem of electricity [in the Kurdish Region].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the Iraqis are unconvinced that the Kurds do not wish to break away from Iraq?
[Barzani] If we are speaking about the Iraqi people then I say that the relationship between the Arabs and the Kurds was always and continued to be a good one. As a people [the Iraqis] have always supported our cause, and stood against the injustice that the Kurds suffered. A historic example of this is when General Mullah Mustafa Barzani returned to Iraq from Moscow in the 1950s tens of thousands of people from Basra came out to greet him, and till this day the people of Basra speak about this event. The Arab tribes and religious figures in Iraq have always been supportive of our cause, but this is with regards to the people. As for the politicians they have acted in accordance to political circumstance.
As for ourselves, we have continually acted to assure our Iraqi identity and our belonging to Iraq, which our actions have emphasized. We do not want history to repeat itself, [nor do we want] a repeat of the tragedies, our wounds are too deep to be healed by flashy democratic slogans…we need evidence and proof. We need solutions in accordance with the Constitution and the rule of law, so that these tragedies will not be repeated again. Let us speak explicitly, what have we gained from living in Iraq? More than 182,000 Kurds have died as a result of genocide, 5,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed, and we were attacked with chemical gas. Yes, these are the crimes of Saddam Hussein, and there has been regime change, but we are not reassured. We want concrete assurances for our people based upon the Constitution that what happened to us [before] will never happen again. We need our Arab brothers to understand this, and be ready to help us and gave us adequate assurances through cooperation and the law. What would the Iraqis do if they were in our place? Would they not demand the same things we are calling for; our problems should be their problems as well.