Barzani: Maliki’s Actions 'Illegal, Unconstitutional and Provocative’

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, rejects Baghdad’s establishment of the Tigris Operational Command. In an interview with Fateh Abdel Salam, Barzani admits he has not spoken to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a long time and calls for adherence to the Iraqi constitution to diffuse tensions.

al-monitor Kurdish President Massoud Barzani speaks at a news conference in Erbil, 310 km (193 miles) north of Baghdad November 8, 2010. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani.

Topics covered

tigris operations command, nouri al-maliki, massoud barzani, kurdish rights, kurdish issue

Dec 4, 2012

The president of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, has said that the formation of the Tigris Operations Command (TOC) is illegal, unconstitutional and provocative. In an interview with Azzaman to be published in the paper’s Iraqi, Arab and international editions, Barzani said that the policy of gradual takeover and establishing facts on the ground in disputed areas is rejected. He said that the best options for the Kurds and for all Iraqis is to reach an agreement, to return to the constitution and to solve the differences through dialogue.

Barzani stressed that Baghdad does not belong to one person, one party or one group. He said that the Kurds are willing to assume all results and consequences, but that they cannot accept a new dictatorship.

On the escalation in Kirkuk, Barzani said to Azzaman that the escalation was started by the central government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki without the knowledge of the cabinet or parliament. Barzani said that everyone is calling for calm. He said that the Sunni Arabs cannot be taken out of the equation, nor will he agree to such a thing. He said that when the constitution was being drafted, there was a partnership because the central government needed the Kurds, but after the vote on the constitution, the Kurds were no longer needed, and the partnership gradually diminished until it disappeared.

Barzani said that there is no alternative to Article 140 and that he is confident that if Article 140 is applied, then he would be very open to other groups, but not before.

Barzani stressed that the dispute is not personal and that the problem is one of governance, partnership and abiding by the constitution. He said that he felt a change in 2008, when there was a problem in the area of Khanaqin and it was decided that the army be employed. Barzani said that Maliki thought he had triumphed over the Sunnis and taken them out of the equation, that he has control of Shiites and that now is the time to go after the Kurds.

The text of the interview follows.

Azzaman:  The Kurdish delegation returned from Baghdad without any results. There was optimism at first, then things fell apart. What exactly happened?

Barzani:  The TOC is an illegal, unconstitutional and provocative act. Some may ask why didn’t we object to other operation commands. Other operation commands took place in what they called mixed areas. [But what's happening today is] taking place in what we call expropriated areas. These are sensitive areas and have their specificities. There are agreements prohibiting the deployment of government forces there without prior coordination.

Moreover, linking the police, security and administration to the TOC in Kirkuk and Diyala means direct rule. If the objective is to fight terrorism, then why link these organs to the TOC, which belongs to the province? It is to expropriate [land], to continue the expropriation policy [of Saddam] and impose facts on the ground. This is something we reject.

When the TOC was formed, we protested. The president [Jalal Talabani] called me and said that he will send his chief of staff to see the prime minister, and he did so. The prime minister promised, from what I heard, to eliminate or suspend or freeze the TOC. And when the president returned from treatment, the prime minister visited him in Sulaymaniyah and repeated his position.

But suddenly the TOC was put into action and its powers expanded. So we unanimously decided — it was a decision by the Kurdish National Security Council, not a personal decision — to confront this operation because it targeted the core of the Kurdistan Region and the crux of the province’s constitutional gains, which means a de facto declaration of martial law.

Then the head of parliament visited us and I informed him that the prime minister wants to alleviate the tension and reach an understanding according to the 2009 agreement. The 2009 agreement stipulates forming a higher committee and sub-committees to oversee these areas; it calls for coordination and prevents moving troops from any side without consensus and then only when necessary. I accepted it.

But it was the prime minister who abrogated the agreement, not us. He requested that we send a technical military delegation. We agreed and we sent a delegation. At first, it notified us that an agreement was reached because they had agreed on one point in spite of the fact that we had reservations on certain points. We said to wait for the negotiations. But in the end, the prime minister rejected all the points except three, and he requested the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from the region into another area. Of course this is unacceptable.

Our decision is final. We cannot allow the TOC or any other operations command to impose facts on the ground on expropriated areas, and the responsibility lies with whoever is trying to foment trouble.

The best option

Azzaman:  At this stage, everyone is considering the possible options. Escalation has gone as far as it can go. In front of that so-called dead-end, what options are the most beneficial and least damaging to the Kurds?

Barzani:  The best option for the Kurds and for all of Iraq and for all Iraqis is to reach an agreement, to step back from war, to go back to the constitution and to resolve our differences through dialogue. That is the best option. But if other options are imposed on us, then we will be ready for them.

Azzaman:  Among the options that do not result in war but result in escalation, some are saying that the Kurdistan Region’s option in front of that dead-end is to retrench into the province and to be isolated, as happened during Saddam’s regime. Is the province ready, given its capabilities, to be isolated in that way, to rely on its own resources and to be cut off from Baghdad?

Barzani:  Baghdad does not belong to one person, or to one party or to one community. First, there is a constitution that unites us. It is abiding by that constitution that guarantees Iraq’s unity. We will assume all the results and consequences but we cannot afford the imposition on us of a fait accompli and of a new dictatorship. Let whatever will happen, happen.

Azzaman:  On the subject of Kirkuk, escalation is sometimes unilateral and sometimes bilateral. The government says that the disputed areas have been included into the upcoming Kurdish elections. The government considers that to be an escalation. There is a report from Kirkuk that we published today. It says that the central government has, as an escalation, armed the Arab political council with armored vehicles, and not only by light arms. Where is the situation going?

Barzani:  First, the escalation was started by the central government — by the prime minister’s office. In fact, neither the cabinet nor parliament knew about it. At any rate, forming a command structure must be approved by parliament. So all of that is unconstitutional. And building the army in that way is unconstitutional because right now, it is not Iraq’s army, but the army of one person.

The question is why has the central government not applied Article 140? This is a constitutional provision, and if it were applied, we would not have faced all these problems. [Article 140 is about] normalization, a census and a referendum. We accepted this article not because we doubted Kirkuk’s identity, but because we wanted to be very flexible so that there would be a constitutional solution and so that we would not have to demand Kirkuk’s separation from Iraq. So we left the matter for the people of Kirkuk to decide their fate: whether to be part of the Kurdistan region or go to another option.

We will respect any decision, but that decision must come from the people of Kirkuk. However, evading the application of Article 140 indicates bad intentions. The Arab brothers should not be fooled by these temptations of supplying them with armored vehicles, or tanks or airplanes.

Armored vehicles will not resolve the crisis. The Kurds are used to facing armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and millions of soldiers. That doesn’t scare us at all. We hope that we do not reach the stage where armored vehicles are used.

Azzaman:  With regard to international and regional parties, has Iran, the US or Turkey applied pressure or tried to mediate? How are they dealing with the crisis?

Barzani:  Everybody is appealing for calm. Truly, many sides are appealing.

Azzaman:  Ali Larijani’s visit did not include Kurdistan at this stage.

Barzani:  An Iranian delegation visited us during that time.

Azzaman:  On the issue of Kirkuk?

Barzani:  About the tension and the existing situation. They expressed their desire to see the problem solved and to avoid escalation.

Azzaman:  Do you think that the Iranian side can convince Maliki to back down from his decisions?

Barzani:  Certainly, Iran can play a big role in Iraq.

Azzaman:  But the central government, or specifically Maliki, was able to exclude the parties connected to or influenced by Iran from the cabinet and the advisory bodies. For example, the Islamic Supreme Council no longer has any influence in the government.

Barzani:  It is the Supreme Islamic Council that chose to move away from the government and refused to participate in it when it was formed. Maliki cannot exclude the Islamic Supreme Council. He can perhaps cause them some trouble by virtue of his office and post, but he cannot at all exclude them.

Azzaman:  There are contacts with the National Shiite Alliance, and there are calls from Kurdistan that this alliance should try to convince Maliki to back down from the escalation. But at the same time, the alliance may itself be having certain problems with Maliki. The Sadrist current has problems. The Supreme Islamic Council has problems. According to observers, the National Alliance is not the proper party that can dissuade Maliki from his decisions. But perhaps there are other sides?

Barzani:  So the question is "where are we going?" Maliki is a member of the alliance.

Azzaman:  Have the Sunni Arabs been taken out of the equation?

Barzani:  No, not at all. The Sunni Arabs cannot be taken out of the equation, nor can we agree that the Sunni Arabs be taken out of the equation. But Maliki is part of the National Alliance, which is required to make clear its position with regard to Maliki. Does [the alliance] support Maliki’s policy with regard to this escalation with the Kurds, with the Sunnis and with the Shiites — as you have already mentioned with the Sadrists? The National Alliance should take a stand.

Azzaman:  Have they sent signals, during their meetings with your excellency, that they may take a stand?

Barzani:  The negotiations are ongoing. I cannot answer that question because the picture is not clear to me.

Azzaman:  Let’s go back to the partnership issue because it is related to that subject. In the way the cabinet was first formed, the Kurds are present in the political process, but, according to all declarations by the Kurdistan Region, there has not been participation in the political, military or even economic decisions [by the Kurds]. Who is protecting the partnership?

Barzani:  In truth, there is no partnership right now. It is shameful that the Kurdish ministers are still present in this cabinet in such a format. If the situation is not addressed soon and if there are no radical reforms, then in my opinion, the Kurds should not stay in the cabinet.

Azzaman:  Could they withdraw from the government, as did the Sadrists once?

Barzani:  It’s possible, it’s possible.

Azzaman:  When have you been partners? And what have you achieved?

Barzani:  In fact, after we voted on the constitution, the partnership shrunk to nothing. It was a gradual downward slope. During the vote on the constitution and the drafting of the constitution there was partnership, because they needed the Kurds. But when they felt that they no longer needed the Kurds, the partnership started shrinking.

Prior intentions

Azzaman:  So they held those intentions from the start?

Barzani:  Of course, if they did not have those intentions, then what happened would not have happened.

Azzaman:  Regarding the “disputed areas,” that terminology has been used for 10 years by the media and politicians, but it seems the situation is hopeless. It seems like a minefield. It’s as if the situation is endless. I have a frank question here. The Kurdistan Region has made this modern accomplishment, which a friend would be proud of and which an enemy cannot ignore. Given that the Kurdistan region is on the road to modernity and that this accomplishment should be defended, if the disputed areas are a source that could undermine this sophisticated region, then can the disputed areas be called by other names, such as common or federal areas, and for them to go through a historic phase? Will you agree to that? Or is the matter subject to Article 140 only, and cannot be touched?

Barzani:  We cannot compromise on Article 140.

Azzaman:  But can it developed, Mr. President?

Barzani:  We cannot accept an alternative to Article 140. But in all confidence, I say that if Article 140 is applied, then we will be very open to the other communities. But we cannot have an accord before the application of Article 140.

Azzaman:  I heard from Christian Iraqi figures that the Kurdistan Region was displeased with the Christian component’s refusal of the Kurdish invitation to establish a province in the Nineveh plain.

Barzani:  That is not true.

Azzaman:  An upcoming Kurdish state, God willing?

Barzani:  God willing. [Laughs]

Azzaman:  Will you accept a federation?

Barzani:  Under the roof of Kurdistan? Of course.

Azzaman:  There have been problems even when the Kurdish federation is under the roof of the central government, so how can there be no problems when there is no such roof?

Barzani:  The problem is that there is no commitment to the constitution, and no belief in federalism, and no faith in coexistence. Our brothers’ entrenched mindset is the return to authoritarian military rule.

Azzaman:  Who holds the power to pressure the central government?

Barzani:  Right now, the National Alliance should take a stand.

Azzaman:  The Sadrist position was surprising. It transformed the Maliki-Kurdish bilateral conflict — or rather the Arab-Kurdish bilateral conflict — and showed that Maliki has problems not only with the Kurds but with the rest of the components of the political process. Do these signs encourage the Kurdistan Alliance to build new alliances against Maliki before or after the elections?

Barzani: The Sadrist position, and the position of Muqtada al-Sadr, is honorable and responsible and we appreciate that position. They spoke the truth. We may reconsider forming an alliance.

We are not arming Syrian Kurdish parties, and oppose them being subjected to any abuse.

Azzaman:  Your excellency, you issued statements in a media outlet saying that the dispute with Maliki is not personal. However, many observers have hinted that this crisis is personal, in the sense that there has been no contact between you and Maliki during this period. You two did not meet, despite the call made by Mr. Sadr in Najaf for a meeting under his auspices. What has led to these claims that this dispute is personal?

Barzani:  No, I am now repeating and assure you that this dispute is not personal; this is certain and definite. The problem relates to governance in Iraq, abiding by the constitution and rejecting partnership. This is the root of the problem. The problem relating to the [Kurdish] region is part of the problem of Iraq as a whole; it is not a personal problem and I assure you of that.

Azzaman:  Have you had any contact with Maliki?

Barzani:  No, I haven't had any contact with him for a long time. There is no use in contacting him, so why would I? He considers himself higher and more important than anyone else, he is the absolute ruler of Iraq and everyone should kneel to him. I am not used to kneeling to anyone other than God.

Azzaman:  When did this qualitative change in Maliki's positions occur? Was it after his visit to Washington, because you received [fugitive former Iraqi Vice President] Tariq al-Hashemi, or as a result of the non-implementation of the Erbil agreement?

Barzani:  I sensed a changed in 2008, when the problem occurred in the Khanaqin region and he decided to involve the army. Since that time, I felt that his rationale was actually dangerous and presented a risk for the future of Iraq. First, according to the constitution, the army should not get involved in internal political disputes. This was a small problem and the army took action against the Peshmerga. I never expected this to occur, yet day after day the facts unfold.

Azzaman:  However, Mr. President, there was a similar problem in the Zimar region, when the army was involved and then the problem dissipated. Why did the same thing not happen concerning the TOC?

Barzani:  Perhaps he thinks that now he has a better chance, or better equipped forces. You would have to ask him that question. He is the one moving the troops. He is the one putting us in a position of self defense.

Azzaman:  We published a report a few days ago saying that he moved 45 tanks from the Kiwan military base, and they discovered that 43 of the tanks were not working. This means that the TOC forces are not ready for an escalation. Why, then, is he moving his forces, which are not capable of delving into a war? What is he depending on? Does he want to implicate the Sunni areas [in this conflict]?

Barzani:  This is the question. I think that a group of his close advisers are playing with the fate of Iraq. I think he is being influenced by these advisers, some of whom know nothing about the reality of the situation, while others are knowingly planning a military coup.

Azzaman:  A military coup? Would this be a coup against Maliki, or against the political process?

Barzani:  Against the situation, or the entire political process, the army, a group of generals seizing power, and so on.

Azzaman:  This theory has been mentioned before, but would it be advantageous for the region? The media has repeatedly said that this could be a crucial operation. They first said that the Americans would [carry out this coup] prior to their withdrawal. Then, when they withdrew, they said that the Iranians would carry it out.

Barzani:  In any case, I don't know whose interests it would be in, or who would provoke it, but the possibility exists and has been mentioned. But what is the point? What personal interest does Maliki have in this policy, and how would this situation benefit Iraq? A group of advisers are playing with the fate of Iraq — they want to involve Iraq in another catastrophe.

Azzaman:  If Maliki is replaced — whether in the elections, or even if he is elected for a third term and then replaced — given the political rationale of the parties that are affiliated with him, do you think they would be able to select a prime minister that differs in the way in which he deals with the federal government [in Kurdistan]?

Barzani:  I want to be fair, and in fact, I don't blame Maliki alone for what has happened. I blame the council of ministers, the council of representatives, the president and other political leaders. Why did they allow him to behave in such a way, where it has reached the point that he actually considers himself the absolute ruler of Iraq? He was appointing cabinet members without consulting the council of representatives, without nominations from the council of ministers, without the consent of the president. Why did they agree to this, and allow him to do this? I objected, and they immediately went back to the same old story, saying I was against the Iraqi army, etc. I am not against the Iraqi army, as long as it is a balanced army — as is stipulated in the constitution. However, I certainly do not trust an army that is loyal to a man who believes problems can be solved through tanks and guns.

Azzaman:  A few years ago, toward the end of former US President George W. Bush's term, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kurdistan and met with your excellency. It was indicated in the media, and perhaps in your statements, that this was a very positive visit for the Kurds at that stage. What happened? Did they make certain promises to Kurdistan and then renege on these promises?

Barzani:  This visit was no different from any other. Of course, the Americans assured us that they are committed to the defense of the region, the political and democratic processes and the constitution that we voted for. [They assured us that they are committed to] the Kurdistan region in this context, but it seems that the Americans are unable to do anything in Iraq.

Escalation following the case against Hashemi

Azzaman:  However, when Maliki returned from Washington, he immediately escalated the situation?

Barzani:  This is what we have observed, Correct, correct.

Azzaman:  As soon as the case against Hashemi was prepared, this escalation with the region occurred.

Barzani:  This is true. Maliki felt that he had triumphed over the Sunnis and removed them from the equation, and had complete control of the Shiites. He now thought it was time to do the same with the Kurds, to seize power over everyone and monopolize his power. Of course, this is not correct, he cannot overthrow the Sunnis, the Shiites or the Kurds. If there is not a true partnership between these components, then no single person or party can rule Iraq. This is not true.

Azzaman:  In this regard, are you at ease regarding the future of [the Kurdistan region]? Maliki was able to dismantle plans to establish federal regions in Tikrit, Diyali and al-Anbar. These plans were aborted. He destroyed [the hopes of establishing] federal regions in other parts of Iraq, and now you are the only one left. Now he wants to escalate the situation with [the Kurdistan region]; are you at ease regarding [the future of the region]?

Barzani:  The Kurdistan region is a province like the other provinces of Iraq. The Kurdistan region and the land of Kurdistan is the land of the Kurdish people. They must understand the components of Iraq. With all due respect to other groups — such as the Turkmen, the Assyrians and the Chaldeans — there are two primary peoples in Iraq, the Arabs and the Kurds. Also, there is an elective union [between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad]. Other constitutions have noted that the Arabs and Kurds are partners in this homeland. We must decide: Either we are partners, or everyone keeps to himself.

Azzaman:  What prevents the Kurdistan region from doing this, and allows the central government to escalate the situation in this manner? What is preventing you from transitioning from a federal region to an [independent] state?

Barzani:  If the ruling group in Baghdad continues with these policies, they should not rule out the possibility that this will be our choice.

Azzaman:  Have you had any contact with Turkey and Iran regarding the path you will take if you exhaust all other options?

Barzani:  We are not a threat to Iraq's unity and we will not threaten that unity. What is threatening Iraq's unity is a dictatorship. We will not accept living under a dictatorship in Iraq after the looting, chemical attacks and massive destruction that was inflicted on Kurdistan, regardless of the state that has inflicted it. We cannot even consider this situation; we will make a decision and take responsibility. However, we don't want things to reach this level, but if we reach the point of living under a dictatorship, we will choose death.

Azzaman:  Your excellency, do you think that this day will come soon, when you decide [to form an independent] state?

Barzani:  Statehood is a legitimate right. When the Kurdish people decide this and when they are convinced that the time has come, without going back or without saying no or objecting.

Azzaman:  There are those who say that the money given by the central government is used to serve a single person, a single party or security and military apparatuses that are under the command of a single entity. Moreover, we've heard from people in the government that the budget given to the Kurdistan region is used to support pillars of a future Kurdish state, or used for the Kurdistan region's political goals. Will this year's budget be a point of contention, or will it stay the same as in the past — 17%?

Barzani:  Of course, if they manipulate the budget this will be another point of contention. This is something that cannot be tolerated. We have proved to others in practice that we protect Iraqi unity through commitment to the constitution. At least at this stage, we cannot think of resorting to other options. However, when it comes to violating the constitution, putting pressure on the region, manipulating the budget and other issues, we cannot accept this behavior. I'll say it again: We will resort to all options that the Kurdish people deem necessary.


Azzaman:  Concerning the issue of the right to self-determination, which has been the right of all peoples and nations throughout history, do you know think that if a Kurdish state — were it formed — would face the same problem that Arabs faced at the onset of independence, when the Sykes-Picot agreement divided them into parts? Kurdistan is the dream of every Kurdish person, and it is his or her right to dream of this great nation, but is it possible that [a single] Kurdistan will not be established, but rather there will be various Kurdish states in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran — similar to what happened with the Sykes-Picot agreement?

Barzani:  We are talking about the Kurdistan region. We are a unified nation with a unified cause. However, this division that occurred following the first world war imposed a new reality and changed the facts on the ground. We cannot [establish a state] using violence. This issue relies on dialogue between the nations and the peoples that live in this region.

Azzaman:  Although the Arab states are currently occupied with many events, has your excellency been in contact with influential Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt? I mean, have you contacted influential Arab states to express the region's point of view, before Baghdad expresses its point of view?

Barzani:  It is our right to explain our point of view to all countries, including the Arab states, and that is what we are doing and continue to do. It is a natural right.

Azzaman:  Have you been in contact with them?

Barzani:  Of course, there is ongoing communication with all countries, including the Arab states, in order to explain the region's point of view.

Azzaman:  How was the response?

Barzani:  The response varied from one country to another.

Regional role

Azzaman:  I mean [what was the response] of influential states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

Barzani:  First of all, I want to assure you that the region cannot benefit from, and will not accept, pressure put on the government in Baghdad — regardless of who is ruling — if this pressure is based upon a foreign agenda. We have a problem with the central Baghdad-based government, and there is a also a problem in the country as a whole regarding the nature of rule in Iraq. We always hear claims of conspiracies, whether or not they actually exist. We cannot allow ourselves to enter into such a bad situation, and at the same time the region has the right to explain its point of view to these nations. We cannot isolate ourselves and allow them to hear only one point of view, one that says we are the ones dividing Iraq. We need to make it clear to them that even if this [division] occurs, we are not responsible for it. Pressures, mistaken policies, efforts to incite the Kurdish people and attempts to reclaim what the Kurdish people have already achieved, this is what leads to ….

Azzaman:  Mr. President, concerning the constitutional amendment, ever since Maliki assumed responsibility, he has said: "I want to amend the constitution." He formed committees and people are no longer silent. Your excellency, do you support the constitutional amendment?

Barzani:  Any clause that would enrich the constitution, or any amendment that would lead to its enrichment, we are not against.

Azzaman:  Perhaps he meant Article 140?

Barzani:  This is another issue. In fact, the cancellation or amendment of Article 140 means violating the constitution. It is true that some articles may be legally flawed, but what is the legal flaw in Article 140, other than it provides for reneging on a commitment? We are opposed to amending any article in the constitution if this means reneging on previous commitments. However, any article that has legal flaws that can be amended, we support these amendments. But we will leave this issue to the experts.

Azzaman:  Regarding the Turkish issue and its overlap with the Syrian issue, there is some intervention and ambiguity in the media regarding the fact that sometimes the Turks are against anything related to the central government in Baghdad. However, at other times there are indications showing that they only agree with the central government in Baghdad. And at times, when they enter into a conflict with Baghdad, they seem to be closer to the regional government. Why this back and forth?

Barzani:  We welcome any step that will lead to a strengthening of ties between the two governments. We do not want there to be tension in this relationship, however, not at the expense of the region. There are also the issues of sovereignty and the fact that crucial political matters are in the hands of the federal government, with which we do not interfere. Our relationship with Turkey is primarily a relationship based on trade and economics. Also, we may be able to play a significant role in finding a political solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey, nothing more than that.

Azzaman:  Does this mean that we can say that Turkey is an ally of the Kurdistan region?

Barzani:  Right now, we have excellent relations with Turkey, but we do not know [the full extent] of this relationship yet.

Azzaman:  During the past few months, I read in several Turkish newspapers that Turks lack confidence in the Kurdistan region, after the Syrian crisis reached a dangerous turning point and the region is now supporting Syrian Kurdish parties, some of which are close to Turkey's primary enemy, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)?

Barzani:  This is the opinion of some Turkish newspapers and magazines. First of all, we do not support any party and are not rallying to take a position hostile to Turkey. It is true that there is a [Syrian] party close to the PKK, and [Syrian Kurds] have relations with this party. But they are Syrian Kurds. We intervened to find a way for our brothers in Syria to cooperate with one another so as to prevent Kurds fighting against Kurds or Kurds fighting against Arabs. We also took into consideration Turkey's interests — our shared interests within Syria. All we are doing is preventing the outbreak of an internal war, or internal fighting, between Kurds themselves or between Kurds and Arabs. In Turkey, most parties — and this includes newspapers [affiliated with these parties] — are not opposed to everything related to Kurds or Kurdistan. Some of these parties have witnessed large changes in their attitudes and policies.

Azzaman:  Your excellency, you have a lot of experience with war and peace in Kurdistan, you have a long history of personal, familial and partisan struggle and now a history of struggle with constitutional issues related to the region. What would be your advice to Syrian Kurdish leaders at this moment, and when the regime falls — as there are indicators that the fall of the regime seems inevitable — especially given that all Syrian Kurdish activism is not taking place through the official channels seeking to take power, such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other groups?

Barzani:  My first piece of advice would be that they should maintain unity and not engage in any acts of incitement that could raise fears among their neighbors. They should maintain good relations with the other components of the Syrian people. They should agree with the Syrian people regarding Syria's future and they should have a unified political voice and specific, agreed-upon demands. They must determine the limit of these demands and we will support any demands they decide upon, for, in our opinion, these matters are up to them.

The Free Syrian Army

Azzaman:  The FSA has asked for arms and the Arab states are arming them. They are now advancing on the Hasaka region and other areas where Syrian Kurdish parties maintain influence. Does this provide legitimacy to the Iraqi Kurdistan region, to provide armament to Kurdish parties so that they can protect their regions?

Barzani:  First of all, the Kurdish areas in Syria were secure and stable until they became a haven for many Syrian families fleeing from various regions. Our advice to them has always been to avoid confrontation with any side, but of course their true position will be to support the Kurdish people. This is a Kurdish region, and the Kurdish people have suffered for many years. They are entitled to their rights given any change in the situation in Syria. We recommend that they maintain a balanced relationship with all sides and do not enter into battles with the FSA or others. However, in all honesty, if the FSA were to advance on Kurdish areas or encroach upon the Kurdish people, we would offer all forms of support to our Kurdish brothers in Syria. We would protect them if the FSA were to advance without the consent of the Kurds or with an intent to assault the Kurds.

A question posed by the Syrians

Azzaman:  The Syrians have sometimes asked: "Why don't Syrian Kurdish parties — which are opposed to the Assad regime — join forces with other active Syrian groups?"

Barzani:  We have asked them this question in all of our meetings with them, and they have assured us that they support the Syrian people and the people's revolution. However, the opposition and the political organizations that lead the Syrian opposition have not reached the point where Kurdish parties — or the supreme body overseeing these parties — can join [the opposition]. [The opposition groups] refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Syrian Kurdish people and refuse to recognize the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people in Syria.

Azzaman:  If [Syrian Kurds] proposed the idea of a federal region, would this be the first clash been Syrian Kurdish parties and the Syrian opposition?

Barzani:  If they suggest this idea and insist upon it, we will support them.

Azzaman:  Do they have this in mind?

Barzani:  Yes, they do, but they themselves will decide. I cannot decide for them, regardless of whether or not they make the right decision. This issue is up to them. However, I want to be clear, we will defend them if they are attacked by any side.

Azzaman:  For example, have you provided them armaments?

Barzani:  Actually, there has just been humanitarian aid, and even this aid was very small. Up until now, we have not provided them with arms.

Azzaman:  The region is developing in terms of infrastructure and economy; even the morale of Kurdish citizens is higher. However, as a historical leader, are there aspects that you are not pleased with?

Barzani:  I am not pleased with everything. I realize that there are shortcomings and problems, I do not deny that. However, at the same time there has been significant development.

Azzaman:  What, your excellency, are some of the most prominent issues that you are not happy with, that need reforming? For example, the economy and the issue of unemployment?

Barzani:  There are many points I want to discuss, but honestly what worries me the most is that our economy still is not strong, and the issue of self-sufficiency, particularly related to food supplies. There is ample opportunity not only to provide for our own needs but even to export. There has not been a lot of interest in the fields of agriculture and industry; rather, we have relied more on foreign states. We must increase our self-reliance when it comes to agriculture, industry and tourism.

Azzaman:  Mr. President, a final question: Blocs and alliances in Iraq have been changing and volatile for nearly 100 years. Is it possible that these shifts could affect the alliances between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan?

Barzani:  There is now an existing alliance.

Azzaman:  This alliance has existed for 10 years, but would it change for any number of reasons?

Barzani:  These two parties may have different views regarding this alliance, but this alliance is necessary for the interests of the Kurdish nation and for the future of the Kurdish people. Thus, this alliance must remain.

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