ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Baghdad would have launched a military attack on the Kurdistan Region in response to the Sep. 25 referendum were they powerful enough, said a Kurdish official on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with Kurdistan 24, Hemin Hawrami, senior adviser to the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, discussed the current situation in the Kurdistan Region, namely the aftermath of the independence referendum held a week ago.
THE PATH TOWARD INDEPENDENCE
Hawrami said that the referendum showed the world that it is up to the people of the Kurdistan Region to choose when is the right time for them to decide on their future, not others.
He mentioned that in the Kurdistan Region’s Referendum High Council's meeting on Sunday, members emphasized that they would not compromise or reverse the result of the vote, which saw over 92 percent in favor of independence.
The Council also changed its name to the 'Political Leadership of Kurdistan – Iraq.'
“We will negotiate and start a dialogue on the result of the referendum with Baghdad, not on pre-referendum conditions,” Hawrami said. “Now, the Political Leadership of Kurdistan – Iraq has the people's mandate. They have decided on their future, and they will not accept anything less than the result of the referendum.”
He explained that the era of the people of the Kurdistan Region being used as political pawns “was over.” In his view, the Kurdistan Region is currently one of the strongest players in the region's political climate.
“The people of the Kurdistan Region will not tolerate the Kurdistan leadership to negotiate anything less than independence with Baghdad,” the Kurdish official added.
PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE THROUGH MEDIA
Hawrami noted that those who opposed the Kurdistan Region’s referendum had now launched a form of psychological warfare against the people of the Kurdistan Region, using threatening language from Baghdad and neighboring countries in the media.
“We will use the language of peace and dialogue in response to the threats from Baghdad and other nations,” he said.
The Kurdish adviser explained that this type of strategy is designed to scare the Kurdistan Region’s people into regretting voicing their opinion. “The will of the Kurdistan Region’s people will never break.”
“Those who continue to threaten the Kurdistan Region, they would have done something before the referendum was held if they had the capacity,” he reasoned.
Hawrami stated that nowadays, different states' security and intelligence information are largely interconnected, unlike before. He noted that standing against the will of the people of the Kurdistan Region would lead to regional destabilization, not only in Iraq.
“Neighboring countries are succumbing to mass hysteria now because, in the past 100 years, this is the first time the people of the Kurdistan Region were able to shout and declare their existence, outside of the neighboring countries’ control.”
He highlighted Baghdad's recent decision to punish the Kurdistan Region collectively by closing its airports and calling for the handover of the Kurdistan Region’s border crossings.
The Kurdish adviser said that indiscriminately punishing the people of the Kurdistan Region by shutting down transportation routes and cutting the federal budget's share is reminiscent of the collective punishment culture of the former Baath regime of Iraq.
“Ali Hassan Majid [Former Defense Minister of Iraqi Baath regime] and Saddam Hussein used similar tactics of collective punishment, such as Anfal, chemical attacks, and genocide campaigns against the people of Kurdistan. Now, the same culture exists in Baghdad, but under a different name and fewer capabilities that the Baath party had,” Hawrami said.
He stated Baghdad has 300 military tanks, 16 warplanes, and 160,000 soldiers while under the Baath regime, Baghdad had 4,500 tanks, 700 military aircraft, and almost one million troops.
He also cited the Transparency International index for 2016 where Iraq stands as the 11th most corrupted country in the world.
“With all the natural resources it has, Iraq has borrowed USD 171 billion in loans… The country is highly divided, more than ever. Even Shia parties are largely divided among themselves.”
“If Baghdad were strong enough militarily, they would have attacked the Kurdistan Region by now instead of using other measures such as the closure of the Region's airports.”
Regarding the two airports in the Kurdistan Region, he mentioned that so far, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) had visited the region 11 times, and every time deemed the Erbil and Sulaimani to be the best airports in all of Iraq, expressing pride in them.
“Last month, an Iraqi delegation visited Moscow to convince Russian airlines to fly to Iraq. They brought the Erbil and Sulaimani Airport General-Directors with them to display their best assets in Iraq. They were ashamed to take the Baghdad and other Iraqi airport Director-Generals with them.”
Hawrami reiterated the Kurdistan Region's leadership's message of peace and desire to negotiate with Baghdad. He warned the Kurdistan Region had many cards to play should Baghdad continue to threaten the Kurdish people.
Commenting on the recent joint Iraqi-Turkish military drills on the border of Turkey and the Kurdistan Region, he noted that any exercise conducted in neighboring soil is none of the Kurdistan Region’s concern. He cautioned that were they to enter the Kurdistan Region’s border, they would face the will of the people.
KURDISTAN REGION RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS
“We want to be brothers with Arabs, Persians, Turks and all other ethnic and religious groups in the region. In the past two decades, we have proven that we are a factor of stability.”
Hawrami touched upon the energy agreements between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region, stating no parties could cancel or suspend the agreement under political pretexts, only if there were a legal issue.
“Four percent of Turkey’s GDP hinges on trade with the Kurdistan Region. Turkey's energy security largely depends on the Kurdistan Region. Turkey has almost USD 10 billion in trade revenue, annually, with the Kurdistan Region,” Hawrami continued. “The Kurdistan Region is the third largest market for Turkey’s products following Germany and Russia.”
Regarding the Kurdistan Region’s relations with Iran, he stated that 15 percent of Iranian products are exported to the Kurdistan Region.
“In the past 26 years, the Kurdistan Region was Iran's most stable and secure border compared to Tehran's other neighbors... We will continue to uphold that standard, and we hope they also respect it.”
Should neighboring countries seek to destabilize the Kurdistan Region, the stability and security of those states would also be endangered, he concluded.
Editing by G.H. Renaud
(Yadgar Fayeq conducted the interview)