This is part two of an interview that Kurdistan 24 conducted with Gov. Najmaldin Karim, just before Thanksgiving.
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – Najmaldin Karim, Governor of Kirkuk Province until October 2017, and the last individual to hold that position in accord with Iraqi legal procedures, explained to Kurdistan 24 that the people of the Kurdistan Region still want independence—a year after their historic referendum, in which 93 percent voted yes.
Asked to assess the implications of the recent parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region, particularly the strong showing of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Karim replied, “I’m glad you asked that question.”
“Everybody blamed everything on the referendum, especially the anti-KDP forces, like the other parties,” Karim said.
But the KDP “actually made a point of talking about the referendum” during the election campaign, he continued—“how important and successful the referendum was” and how it “represented the will of the Kurdish people about what they want.”
So “people voted for them,” Karim stated. The KDP took a position that was the opposite of “the other parties, who campaigned, blaming all the problems of Kurdistan on the referendum—and they all failed.”
The KDP won 45 seats in the elections, while its main rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won less than half that number, securing only 21 seats, with the smaller parties receiving even less.
Asked if that suggested that the people of the Kurdistan Region continue to support independence, Karim replied, “Yes,” citing Kurdistan 24’s own coverage of the big campaign rallies, which KDP President Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and others, addressed.
“The most important thing” they talked about was “the KDP’s work and leadership during the referendum,” along with “Kurdish aspirations for independence,” Karim explained.
Speaking later to a small luncheon group, Karim revealed that the main US concern in the run-up to the referendum had been to secure the election of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for a second term in the May 2018 Iraqi elections.
He recalled how Amb. Douglas Silliman had come to him, as Governor of Kirkuk, on July 2, 2017, saying, “We don’t want you to have the referendum, because it will affect Abadi’s” election prospects.
Karim advised Silliman that it was unwise for the US to put all its eggs in one basket.
Karim attributed Abadi’s electoral loss to his failure to provide basic services, even to Iraq’s Shia areas.
“That’s why you saw all those demonstrations in Basra, which led to the collapse of Abadi and his government,” Karim said. “Abadi really had everything on a silver platter, with 200 percent US support for him to become Prime Minister again—and yet, he lost it.”
“Why?” Karim continued. “Because they didn’t pay attention to people’s needs—electricity, water, schools, health.”
Both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton seem more sympathetic to the Kurds than their predecessors. However, they did not take office until April 2018, six months after the Iraqi assault on Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
Asked if he thought Pompeo and Bolton might have done more to stop the Iraqi attack, Karim replied, “I’m not excusing the US government’s position on October 16 of last year.”
“But if it wasn’t for the treachery that happened, I think US officials” would not have been “so emboldened to come out and call the referendum ‘disruptive,’” Karim continued, “including Secretary Tillerson and his representatives in Iraq.”
“That was the main reason,” I think, Karim said, “but those representatives actually fed that division, encouraged that division, and worked on having that division.”
Karim described the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, in positive terms. He is “very familiar with the Kurds” and “has many Kurdish friends, including the late President Talabani, Kak Masoud, and most of the Kurdish leadership.”
“He was with the Iraqi opposition” before 2003, when the US overthrew Saddam Hussein. “He even has a house in Dukan,” Karim continued.
“He has promised that he will apply the constitution, and if he does that, and sincerely does that, I think it’s the best way to resolve the issues of Kurdistan” and “with the rest of the communities of Iraq.”
“I hope he has the power and courage to do that,” Karim concluded, “although we will have to wait and see.”
Editing by Nadia Riva