London, Asharq Al-Awsat- In the many interviews that I held with him since my first one in the Syrian capital Damascus in 1984, Kurdish Leader Masud Barzani has continued to give me the impression that he economizes in expressing his happiness. However, I found him to be much different when I met him a few days ago in London, where he arrived on an official visit as the elected president of the Kurdistan region, and before that during my interview with him in a resort area northeast of Arbil last April. On those two occasions, he looked much happier and relaxed. I told him of my impression. He laughed while showing some signs of astonishment. When I asked him about the secret of this happiness, he said: "The secret perhaps lies in the positive developments during the past two years in the general situation in Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan, and the broad international recognition of our cause. Our internal political and economic situations have witnessed continuous improvement. Now, we have become more hopeful and confident about a good future for Iraq. All this makes me feel happy, as you have noticed. I think that you have the same feeling."
(Q) To what extent do you feel that you have achieved your personal ambitions in these positive developments?
(A) My ambitions are the ambitions of the Iraqi people, in general, and the Kurdish people, in particular. I think that the writing of a permanent constitution was a very important step. Although it did not achieve all our ambitions, it included a large part of my ambitions and the ambitions of all the Iraqi people who aspire for a federal democratic system. A person definitely does not achieve all his ambitions at once, and it is unreasonable to expect that all ambitions to be achieved at once. However, I feel now that a significant percentage of my ambitions have been achieved.
(Q) You, in Iraqi Kurdistan, will write a constitution for the region. I personally believe that it would be much progressive than the permanent Iraqi constitution that was approved not long ago. How can you reconcile between two constitutions in one country that contain some conflicting articles?
(A) The Iraqi constitution allows the Kurdistan constitution to express and be consistent with the peculiarity of that region. There will be a balance, but there is also much room for the region”s constitution to express the reality in Iraqi Kurdistan.
(Q) Following the approval of the permanent constitution, which established the federal system in Iraq, the visit of Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa to Kurdistan, and your official visits as the president of Iraqi Kurdistan to the United States and Britain, one can say that federalism, which was your main demand, has been explicitly recognized on the local, Arab, and international levels. Can this recognition give momentum to the Kurdish popular movement”s demand for self-determination and exert pressure on you as a leader to exercise the right to self-determination and declare independence?
(A) The Kurdish people are free to express their views. I think that they have a right to demand self-determination. I view the issue of independence as follows: the fear among the Kurds that they would face punishment or held accountable if they talked about independence must end. Fear of the Kurdish demand for self-determination and independence among others should also end. This demand is not a crime. However, we are not using independence as a slogan now. The referendum movement is an independent popular movement, and it has a right to say what it wants. At the same time, the political leadership must make the Kurdish people understand what can be achieved under certain historical circumstance and make a distinction between it and a long-term ambition.
(Q) We have noticed that the good reception you received at the White House has angered Turkey. How do you explain such a reaction?
(A) So far, I have not seen anything that can be considered an official Turkish reaction. What I heard was from the Turkish media, and we know that many of them do not enjoy much credibility. Nevertheless, what we did and what happened did not encroach on others at home or abroad. All what we did was within the recently approved Iraqi constitution.
(Q) Do you expect Turkey to carry out some provocations?
(A) I do not think this will happen.
(Q) They might again raise the issue of the Kurdistan Workers Party.
(A) This issue has existed for a long time and will continue to exist if no political solution is achieved for it.
(Q) How big is this problem? Is it true that a large number of this party”s fighters are present in Iraqi Kurdistan and are launching attacks from there against Turkey?
(A) No, this has been exaggerated too much. There are remote areas in the border triangle (Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian) where no roads exist. Perhaps they have camps in this area, but they exist mainly inside Turkey.
(Q) At a certain period, you suffered from them and not only Turkey.
(A) Yes, this was at a certain period, but the entire issue is political. It is a reaction to a wrong policy toward an existing people. There are signs of a political solution. There is information that the Turkish Government is considering such a solution. If this government adopts such a solution, we are ready to cooperate with it to achieve a good result.
(Q) What do you think this solution should be?
(A) First, Turkey must recognize the existence of the Kurdish people and reach an understanding with the political movements and figures representing the Kurdish people in Turkey. The EU and we can help find reasonable solutions that will not pose a threat to Turkey”s security, unity, and independence. Actually, no Kurdish political movement, including the Kurdistan Workers Party, is calling for the division of Turkey. Therefore, there is no threat to Turkey”s security.
(Q) Can we understand from this that you could exploit your relations with the Turkish Kurdish parties to reach an understanding with Ankara?
(Q) In Syria, there were some signs about the possibility of defusing the tension on the Kurdish issue. What is your opinion about this?
(A) What I heard is that the Syrian Government has expressed its readiness to restore the citizenship it withdrew from some people between 1962 and 1963.
(Q) Do you think that this is a positive development?
(A) It would be strange to consider the withdrawal of citizenship from a citizen and then returning it to him as a favor.
(Q) Despite the many positive developments in Iraqi Kurdistan, two governments are still running it. Has not the time come for unity?
(A) This will happen soon. We have made major progress toward unity. We unified the parliament, unified the election lists, accomplished the election of a president for the region, and unified the Kurdish representation in the central government. The issue needed all this time because of the legacies of the past. We do not want to announce something and then face an obstacle that could delay its implementation. We want completely to remove all the obstacles and then announce the unity. No political obstacles exist for unity. The obstacles are technical. During the past three months, we did not devote attention to our domestic situation. We devoted all our efforts to the issues of the constitution and the referendum. In the coming period, we will devote more efforts to our local affairs.
(Q) It is clear that the Kurdistan Coalition was extremely disappointed with its government alliance experience with the Unified Iraqi Coalition because of the failure of the Unified Iraqi Coalition and its government representatives, particularly the prime minister, to abide by the government partnership agreement. After the upcoming elections, are you thinking of establishing an alliance again with the Unified Iraqi Coalition? Are there new conditions to avoid a repetition of the current situation?
(A) We are waiting for the elections. The existing alliance was temporary affecting the transitional period, which will end with the new elections. After these elections, we will have a new situation. Any alliance, whether with the Unified Iraqi Coalition or any other list, will have more clarity.
(Q) On what will you focus your conditions in the coming period?
(A) We will focus on the issues of democracy and Kirkuk. We will demand abidance by the democratic rights and freedoms in all Iraq and finding a concrete solution to the Kirkuk issue, based on what was agreed upon and decided legally.
(Q) How important is the Kirkuk issue to you?
(A) It is a very important. It was the reason for the outbreak of fighting between the Kurdish movement and past Iraqi governments. The primary and most important reason for the outbreak of fighting was the intransigence of the past regimes on the Kirkuk issue. There was a complete plan to Arabize Kirkuk by expelling its Kurdish residents and bringing Arabs to replace them. This has caused wounds in the hearts and feelings of the Kurds. The wounds are still bleeding. When the Saddam Hussein regime fell, an attempt should have been made immediately to solve this problem. We showed much flexibility during the drafting of the State Administration Law. We were able to introduce an article that has become very famous–article 58. According to this article, the situation should be normalized not only in Kirkuk, but also in other areas, like Khanaqin, Shikhan, Makhmur, and others. The article was clear. It called for the normalization of the situation in these areas, then census, and referendum, and in the light of the referendum, self-determination will take place in these areas. We support this solution. In the constitution, a time limit was established to implement this article, which is the end of 2007. We will wait and cooperate to implement this article in full. This is what we insist upon. If this article is implemented, there will be no problem. In any case, Kirkuk will remain an Iraqi city like Arbil, Dohuk, and Al-Sulaymaniyah.
(Q) Irrespective of the issue of geography, in your opinion, what will be the social and political consequences if the Kirkuk problem remained without a solution?
(A) The failure to solve the issue or the attempt to prolong the time to achieve a solution will create many problems with very serious consequences. A conflict or a dispute between two neighbors could lead to fighting between entire neighborhoods, parties, tribes, and ethnic groups.
(Q) Has the present government taken any steps in this respect in implementation of the government partnership agreement?
(A) The federal government has so far not fulfilled its commitments and promises in this respect. This is an important issue. We oppose any attempt by the government to leave this issue for time to solve. It must fulfill its commitments toward the Kirkuk issue, as we agreed. We are not demanding that Kirkuk become a Kurdish city. We want it to become a model for national, religious, and sectarian solidarity. To achieve this, we must restore the situation in the city to normal.
(Q) Under what circumstances will the Kurds find themselves obliged to demand separation and independence?
(A) If a civil war breaks out between the Shiites and the Sunnis and they separate from each other, the Kurds will have no alternative but to declare independence. However, if the two sides continue to abide by the constitution, we will also continue to abide by it and safeguard it.
(Q) How did you view the demand to establish a federation of nine governorates in the south?
(A) We support federalism, whether in two, three, or nine governorates. It is up to the people in the governorates themselves to decide their own future. Federalism will keep us united within Iraq. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites can monopolize the government. Federalism will allow each side to run its own affairs and keep us all under one roof, which is the federation roof. We believe that the people should decide how to govern themselves. We will support the Shiites if they want one or more federal region, and the same applies to the Sunnis. It is not right to prohibit any side from establishing a federal state. This is wrong. In our meetings with the Arab Sunnis, we told them that what some of you are saying about accepting a federal state for the Kurds and not accepting it for others is an incorrect position.
(Q) What have you achieved in your visits to the United States and Britain?
(A) What we achieved was for Iraq and Kurdistan at the same time. I visited the two countries not only as a representative of Kurdistan, but also as a representative of all Iraq. I discussed issues that affect all Iraq. There was much interest in my visits, and we received assurances to continue supporting and cooperating with the Iraqi people to achieve democracy in Iraq. President Bush strongly affirmed that his country will not abandon us, and they will remain with us until complete victory is achieved against terrorism and the terrorists and until democracy is achieved. Of course, it is important to hear such assurances from the President of the United States and not from an administration official. I heard from him strong assurances, and this is reassuring to us.
(Q) The Kurdish movement had suspicions about the United States since 1975. Have these suspicions been removed following this visit?
(A) Actually, I found President Bush to be a man of principles, brave, and a man who honors his word.
(Q) Like you?
(A) (He laughed. The head of his bureau, Dr. Fuad Hussein, interrupted, saying: This is what President Bush said to President Barzani when he received him at the White House. He said that he was like President Barzani–a man who honors his word.) I personally now feel reassured about the American pledges, and I have no more doubt as long as President Bush is in office.
(Q) And in London?
(A) We received the same thing. Mr. Blair gave us similar assurances. I am also very satisfied with the outcome of the meeting with Mr. Blair. He emphasized the same thing.
(Q) What promises have they given you?
(A) They promised that they would remain on the side of the Iraqi people until they prevail over terrorism and achieve democracy. They promised to respect the opinion and choice of the Iraqi people.
(Q) What promises have you received regarding reconstruction?
(A) They also promised to give us the aid we need. This, of course, primarily depends on us. The next government must have a program, show some gains, and achieve some field victories against terrorism. Until when are we going to remain dependent on foreign forces to maintain our security?
(Q) How can the next government achieve this? What political program it should embrace?
(A) We must have a strong government headed by a strong figure. The ministers must also be strong and patriotic, not to turn their ministries into party ministries. The prime minister and the ministers must abide by a complete program and bylaws and not allow every minister to do what he likes. Sometimes, half of the ministers are outside Iraq while the prime minister does not know about it, or the prime minister leaves the country and takes half the ministers with him while the others do not know about it. We must have harmony in the government. So far, there is no harmony in the present government. The next government must be harmonious and committed.
(Q) What specifications do you have for the next government?
(A) We believe that the next government should be a coalition. The situation in the country demands that. We hope that no community, group, or party would use the election results as an excuse to establish a dictatorship. We must have agreement.