Kurdistan Regional Government


Translation of interview of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper with President Masoud Barzani.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani acted peacefully and rationally with the recent political crisis in the region that began from Suleimaniya; whether by inviting opposition political parties to participate in the reform process; participating in a coalition government; or event to organize an early election to determine the will of the people thorough ballot boxes, or as he states: "Who will remain in power and who will leave." A last initiative by President Barzani was to invite the ruling and opposition political parties for unconditioned talks.

Question: Constitutional institutions like the judicial, legislative and executive powers in the Kurdistan Region seem to be already mature. There is an elected parliament, a president and a government and there is a specific legislative power. Can we say that you are now more in a position to become and independent state?

President Barzani: This is true, all the elements of a state are in place, but I repeat it once again, as have always have, as far as Iraq follows the current constitution, we would not think of division and establishing an independent state. Abiding by this constitution is for the benefit of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, particularly in this current situation.

Question: Do you think there is obedience to the constitution?

President Barzani: To a large extent, yes. There are violations, but there is compliance as well.

Question: What do you say about Article 140 for the disputed areas?

President Barzani: The implementation of Article 140 was delayed a lot. If it is desired that Iraq remain stable, the historical brotherhood relationship among the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens continue, and the relations between Erbil and Baghdad remain good, a radical solution should be sought for the issue of the disputed areas according to Article 140. If this issue is not solved through this article, set by the Iraqi Constitution and voted for by the Iraqis though a referendum, it means that the situation is subject to explosion at any given time.

Question: There is a belief among Kurds that Kirkuk could be the chain of the relation between Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq, especially as it consist of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, while you have no doubt about Kirkuk being part of Kurdistan.

President Barzani: In fact, we have not talked about the issue of Kirkuk being part of Kurdistan, neither do we intend to, since for us this question has been answered from historical, geographical and practical points of view. But we agreed to this article in order to solve the issue legally and constitutionally, otherwise, we have no doubt that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. This should not mean that Kirkuk will be a Kurdish city, but rather we will make it an example for co-existence of all groups, ethnicities and religions. It will be a city for all Iraqis, but there is no way to compromise about the fact that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan.

Question: In your opinion, why has the issue of Kirkuk has become so complicated, while it will remain as an Iraqi city like Erbil, Suleimaniya and Duhok?

President Barzani: Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq, and Kirkuk will remain part of Iraq, but with a Kurdish identity, like Erbil, Suleimaniya and Duhok.

Question: But there are some opinions stating that Article 140 has expired and cannot be implemented. Is there such an indication in the Constitution?

President Barzani: Whoever has such opinions either doesn't understand or doesn't want to, or have never read the Iraqi Constitution. If Article 140 dies, it means the constitution is dead, and if the constitution dies, then Iraq's unity does.

Question: So you think Article 140 is still valid?

President Barzani: Yes, of course.
Question: What do you think of the demonstrations that happened in Suleimaniya?

President Barzani: Demonstration is a natural issue and is one of the people's rights to go out and express their opinions. We have also requested that. I delivered a speech during the 1991 uprising in Koya. I said that we would organize an election and the public would determine their destiny and elect the person who governs their country. For sure, people have a full right to express themselves. But the demonstrations in Suleimaniya had two agendas, one was the people's agenda which was asking to improve public services, employment and reforms, and we ask for such reforms for them and will do our best to respond to their demands. The second agenda was that of the opposition parties who are seeking power, which is their right, but it should be though constitutional institutions.

Question: Do you think they need to seek power through elections?

President Barzani: Of course, that is what I mean. To facilitate the issue more and solve the issues, I expressed my agreement to early elections. We have no problem with early elections. The nation itself would decide who will come to power and who will leave.

Question: Did the opposition parties agree with this suggestion?

President Barzani: We're expecting the political parties of Kurdistan meet in the coming days. These issues will be addressed in the meetings.

Question: As per your initiatives, will the talks be unconditional?

President Barzani: Yes, I have asked all parties to return to the negotiation table. I suggested that they participate in the reform process or an inclusive government, or change the government, if they like. This will only be done though elections. We told them if they want early elections, we have no problem, as there is no other solution. Here, the system is not a dictatorship, but has come into being through a fair election, participated in by the majority of the population, and was recognized internationally. And if this government needs to be dissolved, it should be in a constitutional way, through ballot boxes. If people decide that this government should go, it would absolutely go.

Question: Do you think the problems in Suleimaniya are related to the conflicts between Gorran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan?

President Barzani: The problem started from that conflict, due to the split happened within the PUK. Gorran was a main part of PUK, but broke away from the party. The problem started there.

Question: Later on, did it became a problem for the whole region?

President Barzani: Not for the whole region. The problem was only in Suleimaniya. It might have had some effect on Erbil, Duhok and Kirkuk, but the core of the problem was in Suleimaniya.

Question: Do you think the government's treatment of the issue was healthy?

President Barzani: Undoubtedly, the administration reacted rationally to the events and has fared well for more than two months. Just imagine 79 policemen were injured in a single day by the demonstrators. No government in the world would accept that. This is chaos. There were people calling for jihad, which means call for killing and war. This is chaos and backwardness, and they need to be convicted for this. Chaos is more serious than murder.

Question: Are you satisfied with the performance of the government?

President Barzani: In fact, we are not satisfied with our situation in general, but for sure the government is serious about performing its duties. Yes, there are shortcomings in the government institutions, but there is also an emphasis on implementing the laws and the constitution, responding to peoples' needs and providing them services.

Question: But you support the government, and that was reiterated by Dr. Barham Salih.

President Barzani: The government is the Kurdistan Regional Government and my brother Dr. Barham Salih is the prime minister. Absolutely it is my duty to support him and I will continue to do so.

Question: Will he be reassigned as prime minister for the next two years?

President Barzani: This issue has not been proposed for discussion and has not even been addressed.

Question: Have you thought of a replacement for him?

President Barzani: This issue has not been addressed at all, and not proposed for discussion.

Question: How do you describe your relation with the PUK?

President Barzani: Our relation with the PUK is strong due to the strategic agreement that exists between us. We have strong cooperation with each other. In fact, this relation has been in the interest of the Kurdish question.

Question: Have you talked about the issues of corruption and unemployment?

President Barzani: A number of committees study all these issues, and serious actions would be taken against any ministry, institution or official against which involvement in corruption and negligence is proven, and would be punished according to law.

Question: Kurds see the Turkish prime minister's visit to Kurdistan and standing under the Kurdistan Flag and next to you, wearing traditional Kurdish clothing, as a historic achievement. Do you think these are historic achievements?

President Barzani: Of course, this was a brave step by Erdogan, who finds himself on the way to opening within the political transition in Turkey. Indeed, we honored this step, since this was a huge turn in the history of the relations between Kurdistan Region and Turkey.

Question: How do you see your relations with the neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran?

President Barzani: Our relationship with the region's countries is very natural and we work towards improving them. We don't want to face any problems with these countries, and we don't want to interfere in their internal issues, and at the same time we would not tolerate any outside interference in our internal issues.

Question: Do you think there is a positive change in the behavior of the Turkish government towards its Kurds?

President Barzani: Of course. This change might not be fast enough. When the prime minister says the time for denying the existence of the Kurdish nation is over, in my opinion this is a big thing in Turkey.

Question: Do you think Kurds in Iran would get freedom?

President Barzani: Undoubtedly, freedom should cover all the countries in the region. Kurds also need to ask for their rights in all the region's countries, but in a peaceful way, and I think they will get these rights.

Question: Have the achievements of Kurds in the Kurdistan Region had effect on the Kurds of the neighboring countries?

President Barzani: Of course, but this effect should be positive and peaceful, and shouldn't change into a negative effect. I think the time for using weapons is over, whether by the government or by the liberation movements and parties.

Question: It is clear that an important diplomatic achievement has been reached in the region, which is clear from the existence of numerous consulates and diplomatic missions. How do you analyze that?

President Barzani: We are proud of this great achievement. This is proof these countries' care about Kurdistan Region and its situation and is counted as a big achievement. Besides, large investment projects are underway in the region by local, Arab, Iranian, Turkish and Eastern investors.

Question: Your nation is looking towards you and towards "Sari Blond," where the presidency office is located, for the solution to the problems. How will you face the current conflicts in the region?

President Barzani: What I am proud of is the confidence that my nation has in me. People are confident that I serve them faithfully. Whatever I have is for serving my nation, without this, I am nothing. That is why they always listen to my advice. I also listen to them and meet them always; and I get their advice in most of the issues related to them and to the region. There is a strong relation, it is not only the relation between a president and the nation. It is the relation of a brother with his brothers and family. Part of it is from the resistance and binds me to the people with whom I lived for a long time in the mountains and under tents and in caves. It is not a formal relation between a president and a citizen, it is an unofficial relation. I have walked through all of Kurdistan's villages, from Zakho to Penjwen, and met with the people. I rarely find a village that I haven't visited. Therefore, I describe this as a personal relation rather than a formal relation.

Question: Is that why they are calling you "Kak Massoud" instead of Mr. President?

President Barzani: Yes, I am proud of this name, I don't see myself as their president, but I have taken the responsibility of serving this nation, like a brother not like a president.

Question: Will you run for the next round of presidential elections?

President Barzani: I respect the Region's constitution, which only allows one to stay in the post for two terms, and I have finished my two terms. The first was though parliament and second was through though direct election. The Constitution will decide on that issue.

Question: What happened to your initiative for the establishment of the Iraqi government and solving its crisis?

President Barzani: It solved the main political crisis in Baghdad, but unfortunately it faced difficulties in the later stages of National Council for Strategic Policies, placement of defense, interior and national security ministers. It should not have been delayed that much. Indeed, I am concerned about the delay in implementing the constitution.

Question: Do you think there is another solution?

President Barzani: We are trying to work out another solution, though we don't say there is another initiative in place, but we try to solve the problems.

Question: Will Kurds get any of those ministries?

President Barzani: If professional and moderate people are selected for these positions, we have no problem, even if there are no Kurds among them.

Question: Do you feel you are actual partakers in the political process all over Iraq?

President Barzani: Since there is a region, there is a constitution that outlines the relation between the region and the center.

Question: In all Iraq, do you feel you are real participant in the political process?

President Barzani: As far as there is the region, there is a constitution regulates the Region's relations with the center, there is a positive side. About participation, it is something related to all parties, not only us. I think the issue of participation hasn't yet become a real subject. There are opinions, conflicts and interpretations for its meaning. This is not only for us but for all the parties. Every partt has notes on this issue.

Question: With which Iraqi parties you keep better relations?

President Barzani: Our relations with Iyad Allawi, Nuri al-Maliki and Ammar al-Hakeed are good and we have good relations with all the rest of the parties. Particularly at the current time, we stepped away from any party; but, of course, we have historical relations with some of them.

Question: Does improvement in Baghdad's situation affect those relations?

President Barzani: Doubtlessly, those personal and old relations leave crucial impact on the current situation.

Question: How are your relations with Arab countries?

President Barzani: We have good relations with most of the Arab countries and particularly with the Gulf countries, and above all Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Currently, fundamental changes are ongoing in some countries and we expect for improvements in those countries.

Question: The initiative of King Abdullah Ben Abdulaziz for resolving the Iraqi political tension came at the same time as your initiative. Do you think it would be better for Iraq's situation if you get benefit from both initiatives?

President Barzani: Doubtlessly, the great initiative of King Abdullah at that time and now is welcome. We think it was for supporting the local initiative; any external initiative should go with supporting the Iraqi initiatives whether it is by me or by any other (Iraqi). I think that (King Abdullah's) initiative can be changed to a real national reconciliation initiative and possibly with the attendance of the Arab League for Iraqi parts toward a real national reconciliation.

Question: Do you think an Arab summit to be held in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan Region, as a secure and organized solution instead of Baghdad?

President Barzani: We have shown our readiness and still we are for hosting an Arab summit if Baghdad asks for it.

Question: The Iraqi political stances and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have differed on Iraq's foreign policy. What's your comment on this?

President Barzani: The internal policy in Iraq reflects on the foreign policy, without a doubt.

Question: How do you see the revolutions going on in Arab countries?

President Barzani: We, of course, are with the people and their freedom; but the changes must be studied and must result in real democracy.

Question: Some complain the budget allocated by the federal government is not enough for executing projects in the Region. What do you think?

President Barzani: Of course, it is not enough in comparison to our plans for building and reconstruction, but it is a large budget at the current time and it is fine.

Question: What are your aims for Kurdistan Region?

President Barzani: First: our aims for all Iraq are for security and stability. As for the Region, our aims are improving the services of roads, electricity, health, agriculture, education, protecting security and stability, and protecting democratic freedoms and individual freedoms -- everything that achieves happiness for our people and the Region goes within the border of our aims.

Question: The last congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Party held at the end of last year, voted Nechirvan Barzani, the former KRG prime pinister, as the vice president of the party. Does this mean from now on he's responsible for the party?

President Barzani: Without doubt, I cannot be involved in the party's responsibilities and the Region's presidency at the same time. Nechirvan has an important responsibility in leading the party. He is competent, whether in the government or in the party.