(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your legitimate ambition for a federal system of government in the Kurdistan Region has been fulfilled. What stage are you in now?
(Barzani) This is the beginning. I think all peoples have the right to have big ambitions. The Kurdish people, too, have ambitions. I think this is a good start. Security and prosperity in Kurdistan can spread to the rest of Iraq. The main target is security as well as stability and dignified life for the citizens. We have been through bitter experiences and tough events, but we managed to reach results which we hope will be in the interest of the Iraqi people in general and our Kurdish people in particular.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you think this experience can be applied in the rest of Iraq?
(Barzani) Regrettably, the deteriorating security situation in the rest of Iraq and the federal government’s inability to benefit from the experience of Kurdistan prevented the adoption of our experience in the other regions. However, all benefited from the Kurdish experience in holding elections, establishing a parliament, and bolstering democratic life. One of the top priorities at present is providing security. When the federal government succeeds even relatively in providing security to the rest of Iraq, the experience of Kurdistan can then be easily transferred. I, however, do not think anything can be done under the current bad security situation. The rest of Iraq can benefit from all the positive and negative steps taken here in Kurdistan, but who benefits from this experience? Some may imagine that they are larger, more important, and richer in experience than us. Others are determined not to benefit from our experience. They consider benefiting from this experience an attempt to detract from their importance. They wonder how the Kurds can have a successful experience while they do not. There are some who think in this narrow-minded way and there are others who want to benefit from this experience but cannot do so.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Even the experience you had in the field of security was not utilized in the rest of Iraq.
(Barzani) We made large efforts to apply our experience in the rest of Iraq. Even during the Iraqi opposition conference in London in December 2002, we adopted the policy of national reconciliation and avoided being dragged behind retaliation and revenge. The secret of our success lies in our liberation from the complexes of revenge and the culture of revenge. We adopted the policy and culture of toleration and national reconciliation. This led to our current situation in Kurdistan. Regrettably, the brothers in the rest of Iraq did not learn the lesson. Instead of adopting the culture of tolerance and reconciliation, they adopted the culture of revenge.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you satisfied with the makeup of the Iraqi Government?
(Barzani) I cannot say it is an ideal government, but I do not think it is possible to form a better government under the current circumstances.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why did you not nominate a Kurd for the interior portfolio in order to convey Kurdistan’s successful experience in the field of security to the rest of Iraq?
(Barzani) There is regrettably intense sensitivity toward the implementation of this idea. A Kurdish interior minister will certainly be neutral and apply the law thoroughly, but he will still be accused of being biased to a certain side or of committing crimes against this sect or that party. Take for example what happened in Al-Fallujah. The Kurds did not take part in the Al-Fallujah battle, but the Iraqi Army had some Kurds in its formations. They were there just like the Arabs, but there was a hue and cry over this issue. The Kurds were accused of entering Al-Fallujah and killing the Arabs. Kurds within the Iraqi units participated with the other units in attacking a site or mosque in which there were terrorists or weapons. I do not exactly know what was there. Others then said the Kurds attacked a Shiite mosque. We will support the interior minister and the implementation of law. We will support the concerned services but no Kurd will be in charge of the Interior Ministry because a Kurdish minister will be accused of being biased and of harming the Arabs no matter how much he succeeds in his work or how well he serves the people. Therefore, we rejected this idea. We are ready to help the federal government succeed in its work. We extended and will continue to extend all the support it and any ministry needs through our specialized and qualified people. The past circumstances were not encouraging. We can provide the Interior and Defense Ministries with successful cadres, but let the minister be a non-Kurd as the Kurds will be an object of accusation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why do the Kurds not rule Iraq and implement their experience so that the situation will stabilize in the rest of the country. They can then hand this job over to others. Why do you not do so, especially since you are Iraqis and the president of the republic is an Iraqi Kurd?
(Barzani) Actually, we want to emphasize that the new situation in Iraq means the birth of a new Iraq. A Kurd can now assume any post. He is not a second or third degree citizen as he was viewed in the past. The Kurds are ready to extend any service to Iraq, but others may not think the way you think.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you view the issue of the Iraqi people’s acceptance of a Kurdish president like Jalal Talabani?
(Barzani) I think this is a successful and good experience. This enhances Iraq’s situation and position and strengthens Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In view of your success in building Kurdistan and in view of the presence of investors and diplomatic delegations, do you object to declaring Arbil an economic or cultural capital of Iraq?
(Barzani) We have no objection. On the contrary, I think that during the monarchy and even the republican era, a decision was made considering Arbil the second capital of Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But that did not materialize.
(Barzani) Of course, it did not, but Arbil is ready to perform its duty toward Iraq and to help stabilize the situation in Baghdad.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You called on the Arab League to hold a national reconciliation conference in Arbil. Why do you not call for holding an Arab summit in Kurdistan? Kurdistan is an Iraqi territory and Iraq will thus get what it is entitled to.
(Barzani) The Arab League representative visited me and we spoke about the conference that will be held in Baghdad. He talked about obstacles and the security situation. Therefore, I expressed the Kurdistan Region’s willingness to host the conference if necessary. As for inviting the Arab leaders to attend an Arab summit conference here in Kurdistan, this is difficult. They do not come to Baghdad, so how do you expect them to come to Arbil?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But Arbil is safer than Baghdad.
(Barzani) This is true, but security is not the reason why they do not come to Baghdad. I think the reasons are political. Security can be provided to any president or king who comes to Baghdad. Things have not reached the limit of not being able to provide them with security. If they do not come to Baghdad, how can they come to Arbil?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How are your relations with the Arab countries?
(Barzani) Our relations are good. We tried and exerted efforts to build good relations with all Arab countries. Some of them responded while others responded only slightly. Some still have no relations with us, but we have relations with several Arab countries.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think some Arab countries fear the democratic experience in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) A large number of countries in the region fear the democratic experience in Iraq. Some of them do not know the true situation in Kurdistan. There are still some who imagine that the Kurds came from abroad and occupied the land of others. The truth is quite the opposite. The others were the ones who occupied our land. This policy has proven its failure.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you fear real threats to the Kurdistan Region from the neighboring countries?
(Barzani) The region’s situation is linked to the Iraqi situation. We cannot isolate ourselves from what takes place in the rest of Iraq. What happens in Baghdad also reflects on us negatively or positively, but the situation in the Kurdistan Region is different. There is real national unity that is getting stronger day after day. There are services which watch over security in the Kurdistan region. In the meantime, we did not and will not create any problem to our neighbors or interfere in their affairs. There is a big chance for all parties to build the best possible economic and trade relations between us. Therefore, I hope there will be no problems or threats.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Has any country asked to open a consulate in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) There are many offers to do so from several countries. Some of them have already opened consulates in Kurdistan while others are on their way to do so.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do these include Arab countries?
(Barzani) No, I do not think so. All the consulates which were opened or will be opened belong to western countries.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you view the Kurdish aspirations for a greater Kurdistan?
(Barzani) This is an important and sensitive issue. The Kurdish people are a nation. The Kurds are a nation which was exposed to a large injustice throughout history. This nation was not asked if it wanted independence or annexation with this or that country. This nation was also not given its right to self-determination. The Iranian and Ottoman empires partitioned Kurdistan about 500 years ago. Then the allies came after their victory in World War I and partitioned Kurdistan the way it is currently partitioned. This partitioning, of course, gave every part of Kurdistan its special character, but it is the legitimate right of the Kurdish nation to be united and to build its independent state. We at the same time must be realistic and know that achieving this at present is difficult. We call for a peaceful democratic solution to the Kurdish issue in every part of Kurdistan and in accordance with the special character of this or that part. As for the issue of uniting the Kurdish nation and establishing the state of Kurdistan, this is a natural legitimate right.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What assurances do you have that your political experience in Kurdistan has succeeded?
(Barzani) We in Kurdistan have resolved all thorny issues and laid the foundation for a strong national unity and for educating the people continuously about this unity. If any political leadership one day thinks of taking an action which we feel might lead to internal strife or encroachment on the unity, freedom, and rights of citizens, our constitutional and legal institutions, which we are building now, will rebel against any such action.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) If your legitimate ambition to establish your Kurdish state in the future is fulfilled, how will you view Iraq?
(Barzani) There will be a distinguished relationship with Iraq when this is achieved.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Kurdish youths with whom I met at universities and on the street talk about their right to have an independent state. How does the political leadership of the Kurdish people view this issue?
(Barzani) As a Kurdish citizen, I have the same ambitions and hopes, but the current situation and reality dictate that we should enlighten the Kurdish people about the true international and regional situation. We call for a democratic solution to every part of Kurdistan in accordance with its special status. Raising the slogan of establishing a Kurdish state or the republic of Kurdistan should not be done through violence. We should not resort to violence. If the concerned countries resort to violence, they will fail in destroying the Kurdish nation as they failed in the past. Therefore, there must be a common language of understanding in accordance with the conviction of the two sides. I hope this will materialize soon. I think every Kurdish citizen has the right to speak freely about his aspirations for the establishment of a Kurdish state as part of the people’s right to self-determination.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Kurdish citizen, who is a relentless fighter, used to keep his weapon with him. Have you said goodbye to arms today?
(Barzani) Under no circumstances have we carried arms to commit aggression or attack others. Throughout history, Kurdish weapons have been defensive and not offensive. Even the dagger, which is a symbol for the Kurds, is for self-defense and not for attacks on others. I do not think we will one day carry arms to attack anyone, but we will keep defensive weapons for ever and this is our right. The Kurdish citizen remembers the executions, killings, tortures, Al-Anfal (Kurdish genocide in Iraq), and other practices by the former regime. I hope none will blame him. Despite the attacks and injustice done to the Kurds, have you ever heard that a Kurd blew up a car or detonated a bomb in an Arab city? I challenge anyone to say so. I also ask: Has a captured soldier ever been killed in Kurdistan? During the 1991 uprising, tens of thousands of the Iraqi army personnel surrendered but none was harmed. On the contrary, we gave them the choice of staying, going to any foreign country, or returning to their homes. Not a single Iraqi soldier was harmed. The Kurdish families opened their houses for the captives. This makes me proud of the Kurdish people. After 1991, I took greater pride in belonging to this nation. I was afraid the Kurdish people would take revenge upon the first opportunity, but they did not do that. They adopted the culture of tolerance and reconciliation. This is the right path.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are there Kurdish fears of the Arabs of Iraq today?
(Barzani) No, there were fears of the regimes which ruled Iraq. These regimes committed crimes against the Kurdish people, but we did not hold the Arab people of Iraq responsible for what happened in Kurdistan. The rulers who ruled Iraq were the ones to blame.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You do not visit Baghdad much. Do the circumstances of your work here prevent this or there are other reasons?
(Barzani) My visits to Baghdad are not few. On the contrary, I go to Baghdad whenever needed and I will continue to do so. My responsibilities are, however, known here. What I do here is also in the interest of Iraq. For example, before the formation of the government I spent 50 days in Baghdad where we prepared for the government formation. Also I was there during the discussions held on the constitution. I did not fail to visit Baghdad.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) US Ambassador Paul Bremer said in his book that when he asked you to participate in the Governing Council you told him you hated going to Baghdad. How true is this?
(Barzani) This is an inaccurate and incorrect statement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Those who believe in the centrist liberal secular current consider you one of the leaders of this non-sectarian current. How do you support this current under the sectarian offensive and quota system?
(Barzani) We strongly support this current, but it must assert itself, put its house in order, unify its ranks, and restore its prestige and strength away from division. We are ready to provide it with all types of support. I stress that we strongly support this current, but our support will not be enough unless the current reorganizes itself, holds out, and defends its position.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How did you agree on the issue of sectarian quotas?
(Barzani) Actually, we did not agree but this is the reality we are living. This does not mean that this is the solution to the problem, but it is the reality we are living.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think the bad security situation in Basra will influence the situation in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) Anything that happens in any part of Iraq will certainly reflect on Kurdistan. But if you mean direct influence, then there is none.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are your ambitions about the future of the Kurdistan Region?
(Barzani) The almighty God has bestowed on the region all forms of wealth like pure water, fertile soil, minerals, and beautiful nature. What is more important is that there are human qualifications. We want to make up for what we missed and lead all of Iraq if we can, and the Kurdistan Region if this is not possible, toward the highest development and progress. We will benefit from the experience of Dubai. Our ambition is even to do better than Dubai because we have a beautiful nature and this is a blessing from God.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have Arab and foreign investments started to play their role in the Region?
(Barzani) Yes, but what has been achieved does not rise to the level of our ambitions. We are at the start of the road.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) We have not seen any foreign forces in the Kurdistan Region.
(Barzani) Praised be God, we do not need foreign forces to protect our areas. Besides, the peshmerga liberated the areas of Mosul, Kirkuk, Himrin, and Khanaqin before the arrival of the US forces in 2003. Our forces entered Mosul and Kirkuk before the arrival of the US forces.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Due to the bad security situation in Iraq, many Arab families come to Kurdistan. What is the situation of these families here?
(Barzani) The government departments were instructed to extend all facilities and assistance to these families. But this is not the solution. There should be no collective exodus from southern and central Iraq to Kurdistan. The situation must be addressed so that these families will not be forced to leave their homes and seek other places. When they need us, however, we will be at their service.