BRUSSELS — President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani has said he is willing to help Baghdad fight against terrorism and warned the European parliament of the influence of extremist groups in Syria. He also suggested that a dialogue with Baghdad over oil deals will continue until a deal is reached.
Barzani spoke Jan. 21 at the Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels, just before the Geneva II conference set to take place Jan. 22 in Switzerland.
“All we can say is we hope that the Syrian people decide their own fate [at Geneva II], far removed from terrorist influence,” Barzani said, while refraining from commenting on the situation of Syrian Kurds.
On Jan. 20, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) declared its autonomous administration in Syria just ahead of the Geneva conference, after the international community failed to invite the PYD to Geneva II.
Barzani’s visit to Brussels coincided with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's first visit to the European Union in five years. During his speech, Barzani said that closer economic ties between Turkey and the KRG would create "more stability in the region" and would not harm anyone.
The Kurdish president is currently on a diplomatic visit to Europe and is expected to attend the World Economic Forum to be held Jan. 22-25 in Davos, Switzerland.
After his Europe tour, Barzani will travel to Washington, reported the Kurdish media network Rudaw, following an earlier invitation by Washington to discuss the oil issues between Baghdad and Erbil, as well as the Iraqi elections scheduled for April 2014 and the security situation in the Sunni provinces of Iraq.
In Brussels, Barzani asked for more European support for the political process in Iraq, specifically for the Iraqi constitution, democracy, federalism and the fight against terrorism.
“Unfortunately, terrorism has become something that scourges the entire world. We suffered bitterly from terrorism and continue to struggle against terrorists. We have no other choice to fight against terrorism.”
The fighting that took place on Jan. 1 between al-Qaeda armed groups and the Iraqi government led to 13,000 Anbari residents fleeing to Erbil, said a Human Rights Watch report.
“Our region has become a safe haven for [Syrian] refugees and for other Iraqis,” Barzani said, asking for more international support to assist internally displaced Iraqis and Syrians seeking refuge.
Barzani also mentioned the Sept. 29 Erbil attack, blaming it on the situation in Syria. He said, “Everything that happens in Syria has a direct impact on our countries, and after having six years of stability, on Sept. 29 in Erbil, we witnessed a terrorist attack, and the perpetrators from that attack came from Syria, so we fear for the situation of our country.”
The Kurdish president said that many extremist groups are active in Syria that are a threat to the Kurdistan Region as well. He said, “We are very cautious to not give — in any case — an opportunity to these movements in Syria. We don’t want them to take power in Syria, and we cannot accept the killing of civilians.”
Barzani's offer to Baghdad could lead to more anger from al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, who have already engaged in many clashes with Syrian Kurdish fighters in recent months. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed responsibility Oct. 6 for the Erbil attack and accused Barzani of aiding Baghdad and Syrian Kurds against jihadist groups. Unconfirmed rumors in the local media suggest that ISIS wanted to assassinate the Kurdish president and other Kurdish prominent officials in response to Barzani’s opposition to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria.
Barzani sounded quite pessimistic about the future of Syria. He said, “We expect a lot from the Geneva conference and for the Syrian people to determine their own future, but I am not optimistic, and I don’t expect a great deal to come out of the Geneva conference.”
Barzani reportedly said that although the democratic forces of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are working to be an alternative to the regime in Syria, extremist forces are much stronger than the FSA.
“There are terrorist organizations that are calling the shots, so we have to be very cautious and in no case should we authorize the entry of organizations linked to al-Qaeda. We don't want them to be active on our borders. It is a direct threat to our province," said Barzani.
Some international companies may worry about the stability of the Kurdistan Region after the September attack, but Barzani tried to assure the West and foreign companies that the Kurdistan Region is still safe from terror. He said, “We can never say that you can have 100% security — you cannot have that anywhere — but I don’t think that terrorists can create a base inside Kurdistan. They might want to infiltrate from Kirkuk or Mosul, but a permanent base in Kurdistan is impossible. There are infiltrations.”
Although al-Qaeda could infiltrate Kurdistan, Barzani emphasized that compared to the rest of Iraq and the region, Kurdistan is safe. He said, “There are dozens or hundreds of foreign companies active in Kurdistan. It’s clear evidence of what I have said.”
The Kurdish leader also offered Baghdad more support against extremist groups, saying, “Our region can be involved in military operations against terrorism on the border between our region and Syria, and between us and the province in Mosul, but in my view, problems cannot be solved without reform and national reconciliation, such as we achieved in our autonomous region. So we as Kurds are ready to help Baghdad in its fight against terrorism.”
On oil issues, Barzani warned that the Kurdistan Region will not "give up its constitutional rights" to export oil, saying, “Two days ago, a delegation led by Prime Minister [Nechirvan Barzani] went to Baghdad to talk about these matters, and these talks will continue until an agreement is achieved.”
Reportedly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Rudaw that he would not cut of the KRG’s share of the budget. He said that his words were, “There should be a language of understanding to solve the issues between Baghdad and Erbil."
But Barzani suggested that the upcoming Iraqi elections could change the political landscape and new alliances could be forged after the elections, He reminded Maliki’s government, “We are waiting for these elections, and we will see what the outcome will be.”