Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Immediately following his return from his visits to Turkey, Austria, Germany, and France, Masud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, began an Arab tour that took him first to Jordan at the invitation of Jordanian King Abdullah II and then to Egypt at the invitation of its President Hosni Mubarak. Developments on the Iraqi situation topped the agenda of Barzani’s talks in these countries. However, the economic files also asserted their strong presence on the talks. In Egypt, these files also asserted a strong presence. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo, the president of the Kurdistan Region emphasized the importance of the unity of Iraq’s people and land. He said: “We have not proposed secession and we strengthened unity. Irbil is Iraq’s second capital. At the same time, I defend the special character of the Kurdish people. I am ready to host the Arab summit if the security situation in Baghdad precludes convening it there”. Jokingly, Barzani added: “We can also hold a big party for the Arab heads of state in Irbil if the summit convenes in Baghdad”. The interview also covered developments on the Iraqi arena, Arab-Kurdish relations, and the results of his visit to Cairo where he met with President Mubarak. The text of the interview is as follows:
Q) What are the results of your meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, particularly after Egypt announced the opening of an Egyptian consulate in Irbil? Does this mark the beginning of a new Egyptian-Kurdish relationship?
A) First of all, the meeting with President Hosni Mubarak was very important; it was friendly and warm. It was an opportunity for me to explain to President Mubarak our viewpoint on the political process in Iraq and on the attempts to form the next Iraqi government. I sensed President Mubarak’s keen interest in conditions in Iraq. We also talked about the prospects for economic, trade, and cultural cooperation between Egypt and Iraq in general and the Kurdistan Region in particular. I sensed a strong desire by President Mubarak and the Egyptian government in this regard; this desire is mutual.
Q) What are the priorities of this Egyptian-Kurdish cooperation?
A) The cooperation will be in the field of investments. The Egyptian companies are invited to operate and invest in the fields of construction, agriculture, exchange visits by delegations, and holding cultural conferences. Many in Egypt and from outside Egypt are not aware that the first Kurdish newspaper was published in Egypt in 1898 and the first Kurdish radio station transmitted from Cairo in 1957.
Q) So will the Egyptian-Kurdish relationship renew the fields of active cooperation?
A) We will restore the warmth to this Egyptian-Kurdish relationship to be in the form and substance that we wish.
Q) Do you intend to visit other Arab capitals after your visits to Egypt and Jordan?
A) On this visit, I held important talks in Egypt and Jordan and I will return directly to Irbil. In the future, I will visit other Arab countries. I have already visited Saudi Arabia where I noted the strong interest of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the custodian of the two holy shrines, in the situation in Iraq, the situation in the Kurdistan Region, and in building better relations. I was very pleased with the assurances of the custodian of the two holy shrines that Saudi Arabia supports what the Iraqi people decide and does not interfere in Iraq’s affairs but that it is important to safeguard national unity, fraternity, and amity.
Q) Does this Arab-Kurdish warmth allow holding the Arab summit in Irbil if the security situation precludes holding it in Baghdad?
A) From the legal point of view, Irbil is Iraq’s second capital. If security conditions in Baghdad preclude holding the Arab summit there, Irbil is definitely ready to host the Arab summit in lieu of Baghdad. If the summit convenes in Baghdad, we will host a big party f or the Arab heads of state in Irbil.
Q) Do you consider your reply as a correction of the charges made against you that you seek to secede from Iraq?
A) On the contrary, I strongly care for Iraq’s unity and we proved that in practice. However, I also strongly care for the special character and rights of the Kurdish people. When a situation arises that requires me to defend the rights of the Kurdish people I do so while safeguarding the national unity of Iraq’s land and people. I believe in history and in a common destiny; but I cannot abandon a cause for which I have devoted all my life. At the same time, I care a lot about the issue of democracy in Iraq and about the historic relationship between the Arabs and Kurds. Therefore, the defense of the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people should not be interpreted as a call for secession. This is an erroneous understanding of the issue.
Q) You were among the most prominent figures that contributed to the emergence of the new Iraq. How do you view the new Iraq today?
A) The new Iraq means that the Iraqi people should decide their future in the ballot boxes. Power should be rotated and should have democratic, federal, and pluralistic components.
Q) Are the factors for achieving this vision available or are they lacking?
A) The first step was drafting the constitution that recognized this identity and the new Iraq. The rest is the implementation of the constitution.
Q) What about the formation of the government and the current differences among the Iraqi lists? Do you consider this to be an obstacle to building the future of Iraq? What is the way to emerge from this impasse?
A) Unfortunately, I feel embarrassed when I am asked this question. Four months have passed since the elections were held but the government has not been formed. So if we do not resolve this problem, the situation will be embarrassing for Iraq and the Iraqi people. We hope that the Iraqi government would be formed as soon as possible and we will exert major efforts to emerge from this crisis.
Q) Are there any external positive interventions urging the formation of the Iraqi government?
A) I believe that many friends and countries are urging, encouraging, and pushing for the expeditious formation of the Iraqi government. I believe that if any negative interference takes place, political forces in Iraq should block such interference.
Q) Will the delay in the formation of the government impede the programmed departure of the US forces in August?
A) According to the statements made by US Vice President Joe Biden, the issue of the formation of the government does not affect the schedule of withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq.
Q) Do you think that the United States is serious about ending Iraq’s occupation allowing it to return to its normal state?
A) The strategic security agreement that the Iraqi government and the United States have signed ended the occupation. However, the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq does not mean the end of the relationship between the United States and Iraq. We need this relationship to continue. A US presence does not mean a military presence. A US presence can be through diplomatic channels and bilateral agreements.
Q) Proceeding from your distinctive relations with Washington, how can the United States help Iraq in a way that ensures non-intervention in its affairs?
A) It is true that we have good relations with the United States and we have exploited these relations in favor of Iraq and not just in the service of the Kurdish issue. We were honest with the United States before and after the fall of the former regime. We gave them a true picture of conditions in Iraq and of our viewpoints. We never deceived them. We criticized them when they made mistakes. I have said that the biggest mistake made by the Americans in Iraq was the issuance of Resolution 1483 that confirmed the occupation. That was a big mistake.
Q) When will the international tutelage on Iraq end?
A) There are problems. The Iraqi foreign ministry and government are exerting major efforts to emerge from the repercussions of the mistakes that were committed in Iraq and to end the international tutelage on Iraq and Chapter VII.
Q) Is the Kurdish-Turkish problem closer to a solution, especially after you announced the importance of a peaceful solution?
A) I was in Turkey about one month ago; I think it was a very successful visit. It was an opportunity to exchange viewpoints with the Turkish president and the prime minister as well as with Kurdish officials. I am very happy that I sensed Turkey’s understanding and openness. I also sensed a new policy in Turkey pertaining to the relationship with the neighbors, the situation in Iraq, and the Kurdish issue inside Turkey. We support this Turkish openness. I believe that the resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey should be through dialogue and peaceful means. We oppose violence and we advised the Kurdish side not to resort to violence. The relationship between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey in the economic and trade fields is developing fast. The Kurdistan Region and Turkey can act as a springboard for the promotion of the economic and trade fields with other countries until the security situation settles down in the rest of Iraq.
Q) Regarding Iraq’s regional relations, how can Iran contribute to the stability of Iraq instead of its current negative interference?
A) Iran can no doubt play an important role in Iraq and Turkey. It is also an important neighboring state. Iraq should establish balanced relations with Turkey and Iran as big and important neighboring countries. I proposed to the Al-Maliki government that when evidence is collected about the interference of any state, this evidence should be shown to the particular state. We should be frank with the state and tell it that this or that interference took place. We should ask: Is this government policy or is it the work of a specific organ or organs in the state? I say that when we find evidence of negative interference by Iran we should discuss this matter with it through diplomatic channels. We should avoid raising the tension in relations because such escalation does not serve the interests of any country.
Q) Do you think the proposal by the Arab Neighborhood League and dialogue with Iran serve Arab-Iranian relations?
A) I believe that the Arab League secretary general’s initiative in this regard is good and I hope it will lead to positive results.
Q) Did you ask for specific aid to Iraq during your discussions with the Arab League secretary general?
A) The Arab League can play an important role in Iraq and the region in general and we welcome any role by the Arab League. As far as we are concerned we also support them in establishing a relationship between the Arab League and the Kurdistan Region because the Arab world concerns us and we wish to be understood without any doubt-casting on our stands in any issue and we want to safeguard our historic ties with the Arabs.
Q) Is the Arab presence in Iraq adequate? What does Iraq need at present?
A) The Arabs came to Iraq late. Egypt’s presence was important had it not been for the painful incident involving Egyptian Ambassador Ihab al-Sharif who was martyred. However, the fact is that the Arab role in Iraq was not up to the required standard.
Q) How do you see it at present?
A) There is a push and desire and a better understanding of the situation in Iraq.
Q) What is the current situation in Irbil? What are your plans for the future?
A) The security situation in Irbil is stable and we are constantly consolidating our constitutional institutions, promoting development and construction, working to provide full services to our citizens in the Kurdistan Region, and also playing a positive role in solving Iraq’s problems.