WASHINGTON, United States (Kurdistan24) – On Tuesday, Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council told an audience at The Heritage Foundation, “We are very encouraged to have so many friends in this administration.”
Barzani’s talk at the conservative Republican think-tank followed his meeting on Monday with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other senior White House officials.
US policymakers are in the process of deciding key issues related to the future of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
They are “listening” to different parties, the Chancellor said. “As far as the discussions that we have had, we are pleased.”
Washington did not always seek the views of Kurdish officials on national security matters. The relationship between the US and the Kurdistan Region has developed, gradually, over the past 26 years. Perhaps, it has now reached a new level of cooperation, driven by the shared struggle to defeat the Islamic State (IS.)
Indeed, Barzani reminded his audience of the sacrifices that Kurdish forces have made in that fight: 1707 Peshmerga killed and 9,997 wounded.
IS will be defeated in Mosul “soon” and also in the rest of Iraq, the Chancellor suggested. But he emphasized that IS’ military defeat will not be the end of terrorism in Iraq or the region.
Barzani noted that IS “is the continuation of what was called al-Qaida.” After IS there will be “similar organizations” espousing the same extremist ideology. The military conflict will shift to an “intelligence war.”
Barzani explained that IS was “the byproduct of much bigger problems.” It arose “because there was a political failure in the system, not only in Iraq, but in the region.”
“We have always believed there must be a political settlement and a political dialogue among all the components of Iraq,” he affirmed, while noting that Iraq has “so many different components.” Some religious minorities were hurt particularly badly by IS, such as the Christians and Ezidis, but Kurds as a whole suffered, as did Arabs.
That is one reason why a referendum on the future of the Kurdistan Region is necessary, Barzani explained. “In order to talk on behalf of our people,” he said, “we must make sure that we hear our people’s views.”
Thus, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has decided to hold a referendum, which “is a very democratic practice,” Barzani noted.
“We need to ask our people” how they envisage their relationship with Baghdad and “what they think they need to guarantee a safe future.”
Barzani emphasized that despite all the difficulties from which the Kurdistan Region suffers—including the interrelated problems of the war against IS; hosting over 2 million refugees and displaced persons; and the economic crisis—a broad consensus exists on the importance of holding such a referendum.
Barzani expressed his great appreciation for the military support that the Kurdistan Region has received from the US-led coalition. The airstrikes, especially, were “very critical” in helping us push back IS and liberate the territory it occupied, he explained.
Kurdistan24 asked the Chancellor whether, given the tensions between the US and Turkey and the possibility that Ankara might restrict coalition access to Incirlik airbase, facilities in the Kurdistan Region, might provide some alternative.
Barzani declined to characterize such facilities as an alternative to Incirlik, but explained that the KRG is certainly prepared to cooperate with the US, and “if they are willing to use the facilities that exist in Kurdistan, we have already welcomed that.”