(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does your government work independently or it is linked to the federal (central) government?
(Barzani) The Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq and according to the constitution our government follows the Iraqi state. We have independence in some issues and plans related to the region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are the most important points in your government program?
(Barzani) First I would like to say that we used to have two separate governments. These were later united into one government, which presented its plan to parliament. One of our priorities is streamlining the unification of the two governments. Another priority is maintaining security, providing public services, and taking care of the people’s education. The important issue on which we are working now is electricity, which concerns all the people.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What role do you play toward stabilizing the security situation in Iraq?
(Barzani) We are ready to contribute to the stabilization of the security situation, but we take care that our intervention does not create problems for us. Many said the interior minister in the federal government should be a Kurd, but we rejected that because we do not want to create sensitivities against us. There has been no problem between the Kurds and Arabs throughout the history of Iraq. The conflict was not a Kurdish-Arab one. It was struggle against governments and regimes which attacked us, killed our people, and robbed us of our rights. Nevertheless, the Kurds did not carry out any military operation in Baghdad or any other city in Iraq at the time of Saddam or others because we did not want any Iraqi Arab citizen to be harmed. The Kurdish revolution leadership has never allowed this.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How did you confront the terrorists in the Kurdistan Region?
(Barzani) They try hard to create problems and transfer terrorism here, but there is no place for them among our people and in our region. We succeeded in this regard, thanks to the awareness of the security services and citizens of the need to stand against the terrorists. There is large cooperation between the citizens and the security services. They report any suspicious moves and provide information. We are much reassured about this aspect. The security services have been mobilized to fight the terrorists and they continue to do so.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How did you succeed in separating politics from religion?
(Barzani) Our problem as Kurds was not religious but national. The majority of the Kurds are Muslims, but we all suffered from the problem of wars against us as Kurds. Religion is something that concerns the person himself. When religion interferes in politics, it will negatively reflect on religion. Islam does not call for killing innocent people and then attributing this to religion by saying this is done for the cause of Islam. This does not exist in Islam or any other religion. We believe in separating religion from politics. The Kurdish society is a Muslim society which believes in this.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the issue of investment in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) There is no doubt that we encourage Arab and foreign investment. We will soon have an investment law. We are waiting for the Kurdistan Parliament to endorse it. It will facilitate foreign investment in Kurdistan. The general situation in Iraq reduced the chances of investment because some do not differentiate between the internal situation in Iraq and the stable situation in Kurdistan. Our message here is that we call on the Arabs and westerners to come to Kurdistan because it is the first gate of Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What encourages the Arab or western investor to invest in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) We believe that having an investment law characterized by transparency and security will be important to encourage any investor to come to Kurdistan. The anticipated law guarantees the rights of the investor and protects his funds. A stable security situation makes the investor feel secure about himself and his money.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do the Arabian Gulf investors have more incentives for being closer to Iraqi Kurdistan?
(Barzani) When we talk about the chances of investment in Kurdistan, we prefer to see our neighbors invest their money here. These are headed by investors from the Gulf region. They have the economic capabilities and they know our culture. We share the same habits and traditions with them. We also have a joint heritage of good relations with them. The investment law, which will be issued soon, allows the investor to completely own property in Kurdistan. It also provides many facilities which encourage investment in Kurdistan and other regions of Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is the nature of these facilities?
(Barzani) We will allocate the land they need for their projects. They will be able to bring in their money and get it out whenever they want without any complications. There will be no restrictions on them. We will also establish an investment commission through which the investor can finish all procedures without having to report to any other government department. This commission will do everything for him.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you mean the Arab and foreign investor will have the right to possess property for life in Kurdistan?
(Barzani) Yes, every investor will have the right to own property in Kurdistan.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are planning to establish a media city in Arbil. Could you give us more details on this issue?
(Barzani) This city is still an idea. We will allocate the necessary land for it. We are preparing a feasibility study for this large project. The idea is there and we are working on it in order to translate it into practice in the near future. We are serious about this project.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some say Kurdistan is rich with natural resources, particularly oil. Have you started investment in this field and have you started to look for oil?
(Barzani) Kurdistan, like the rest of Iraq, is rich with natural resources, including minerals in general and oil in particular. Regrettably, the former governments and regimes used the Iraqi wealth against the Iraqi people. We envy some other countries for their wealth and the richness of their people although Iraq can be richer than them and the Iraqi people can be more prosperous. Iraq is rich with its human and natural resources. It is a country in which all resources exist, but due to the erroneous policies of the former regimes we reaped only poverty. The Iraqi people turned poor. We tried to invest in the field of minerals in Kurdistan and we began with oil. Let me convey to you happy news about the Zakho oilfield production test. We began drilling in October last year and the production test indicated two days ago that the field can be productive and that the quality of its oil is excellent. Only yesterday we received the happy news.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) When the Arab and western media discuss your call for annexing Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region, they concentrate on saying it is a city rich with oil. This gives the impression that you want this city because of its oil. Is this true?
(Barzani) This is far from truth. Kirkuk for us the Kurds is a symbol of our people’s struggle. We cannot give up Kirkuk and say it is not a Kurdish land. As for oil, it exists everywhere. It exists in Zakho, Arbil, and Al-Sulaymaniyah. This is not our problem. It is completely wrong to say that we want Kirkuk because of its oil. We want a solution to the issue of Kirkuk on the basis of the constitution for which the Iraqi people have voted. The constitution drew the road map for this solution, which we want to see implemented on the ground. Kirkuk is historically and geographically a Kurdish city in which Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, and Chaldeans live. They all live in brotherhood on this land. Geographically, it is part of the Kurdistan Region.
Some accuse us of trying to expel the Arabs from Kurdistan, but the issue is not at all like this. Some Arabs were brought in to Arabize the city at the time of Saddam and their issue is known. We want these to return to their original areas because they got the rights of others through the force of the former regime. We know that they are not responsible for this. Therefore, we will appropriately compensate them. There are other Arabs who naturally came to Kirkuk or Kurdistan. There are seven Arab villages here around Arbil. The people did not go there by force. They came as part of a natural movement. They bought land and settled in it and these are their villages. They voted for the Kurdistan Alliance list during the recent elections and the previous ones. They want to stay in the Kurdistan Region. We are certain that if we hold a referendum in other areas where Arabs live, we will find that they will vote for staying in the Kurdistan Region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you have a message to the Arabs? I do not mean the Arabs of Iraq but all the Arabs.
(Barzani) My message is that the Arabs have regrettably misunderstood our cause. We are people who were subjected to a large injustice in history. We only demanded our rights. We do not have enmity with any people in the world. We as people have all fundamentals just like other peoples. We have our own language, culture, habits, traditions, history, and heritage. We want to live in peace with all world peoples, especially with our Arab brothers, who are our strategic depth.