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Iraqi Kurdistan president: 'We are not scared of Iran, but we respect Iran'

Assessing the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani's death, KRG President Nechirvan Barzani, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, calls for a reasoned, negotiated approach to Iraq's problems and for the Kurdish issue in the region.
President of the Kurdistan region in Iraq Nechirvan Barzani sits in a shaft of window light as he greets U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the VIP terminal at Erbil International Airport in Erbil, Iraq November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RC23HD91WQR6

The assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a Jan. 3 drone strike carried out by the United States sent shock waves throughout the region. Those who argued that Tehran would take its time to retaliate proved wrong. On the night of Jan. 8, Iran launched more than a dozen missiles on Iraqi bases housing US forces. Several struck the Ain al-Assad base west of Baghdad. Several others landed in an open field near an air base in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Nobody was killed.

The attack was seen, however, as a clear message from Tehran about the potential punishment Iraqis would face if they pursue their relations with the United States. Baghdad’s immediate reaction already had been to ask US forces to leave. Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, joined the chorus of Shiite Iraqis saying it was time for the Americans to depart. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurds see US forces as protection as much against the Islamic State as they do against Baghdad and Iran and other potential foes. 

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