ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on Friday met with Pope Francis at the Holy See and asked him to play a role in de-escalating tensions between Erbil and Baghdad.
During the meeting, Francis commended the Kurdistan Region for welcoming an enormous number of refugees and displaced people, namely Christians, who fled from the threat of the Islamic State (IS), according to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) press office.
He praised the coexistence in Kurdistan and hoped the disputes between Erbil and Baghdad would be resolved through peaceful dialogue.
The delegation also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to discuss the disputes between Erbil and Baghdad as well as the humanitarian situation in Kurdistan.
“The Kurdistan Region delegation, led by Prime Minister Barzani, met with Pope Francis to discuss the current situation in the Region, relations between Erbil and Baghdad, Christians’ affairs, and coexistence in Kurdistan,” Chief of Staff to the Kurdistan Region Presidency Fuad Hussein told Kurdistan 24 on Friday.
Hussein stated that Prime Minister Barzani asked Pope Francis, along with other European countries, and the US, to pressure Baghdad “to change its policies in dealing with the Kurdistan Region and resolve disputes peacefully.”
He mentioned that during the meeting with the Pope and other European officials, the Prime Minister explained that Iraqi officials were trying to isolate the Kurdistan Region internationally.
“The isolation pursued by Baghdad aims to cut the KRG’s ties with countries around the world and prevent foreign officials from visiting the Kurdistan Region. It’s a wrong policy,” he continued.
“I don’t think this policy should continue nor should the international community allow it,” he stressed.
Hussein explained that the isolation violated the constitutional rights of the Region, adding that the people of Kurdistan, as well as KRG officials, should be free to meet foreign officials.
He referred to the Iraqi government’s current blocking of European ministers from visiting the Region, stating it was part of the isolation policy pursued by officials in Baghdad.
Ties between Erbil and Baghdad have considerably deteriorated following the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 independence referendum, which saw an overwhelming majority vote for statehood.
The Iraqi government has imposed a series of collective punitive measures on Kurdistan, including banning international flights to the Region’s airports.
Additionally, on Oct. 16, Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias attacked and took over disputed territories, most notably the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
In November, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel canceled a trip to Baghdad after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi refused to meet with him if he also visited Erbil.
Recently, Belgium’s Defense Minister Steven Vandeput revealed that the Iraqi government blocked him from visiting Belgian troops in the Kurdistan Region and asked Brussels to respond diplomatically.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany