ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – A Kurdish official called on the international community to intervene and prevent the escalation of tensions between Erbil and Baghdad to avert further conflict in the region.
Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Department of Foreign Relations Minister Falah Mustafa, accompanied by KRG Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdulrahman, on Sunday participated in the 9th Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.
The forum's panel titled “Rebuilding the Middle East: From Civil War to Civil Society” brought panelists from what are considered the most pluralistic, western-aligned nations to discuss issues in the region.
Mustafa reminded the audience that the Kurdistan Region held its first free and fair elections in 1992 and that its democratic journey began then.
“At the same time, on the 25th of September this year, the whole world told us not to hold elections [the independence referendum] - don’t do it. We still don’t understand why you preach and teach us democracy and elections. Why when it comes to us, it is not good, or it is not a good time?” Mustafa asked the members in attendance.
He added that when Kurdistan embarked on its democratic journey, it was rife with obstacles and hardships as it was something Kurds had not have experienced before, and for which they did not have international support.
“Our neighborhood is not that friendly with us. The Kurdistan region does not have access to the sea. Geography is our number one adversary, but still, we managed because we had the will, and we had the determination, we had the people with us,” he continued.
“The right to self-determination is an important principle that is in the UN charter. It is one of the basic human rights included in the universal declaration of human rights, but at the same time, it is handcuffed by the principle of sovereignty.”
On Sep. 25, the people of the Kurdistan Region went to the ballot boxes to exercise a fundamental principle of human rights, peacefully, in a democratic way, but they were told it was not “good” and in response, were met with collective punishments.
“In the Kurdistan Region, we are paying the price for stability and the one-Iraq policy. We have suffered a great deal because of the one-Iraq policy, and that policy has failed,” Mustafa said.
“Unity has to be voluntary. You cannot impose unity from Washington on Iraq. If the people of Iraq are not united, you cannot have it. We need realism, pragmatism in dealing with the problems in the Middle East. Leave it to them.”
He highlighted the people of the Kurdistan Region's suffering under Saddam which included chemical attacks, genocidal campaigns, mass killing and mass destruction.
“We expected the new government of Iraq to apologize to the people and compensate [them], but now the Iraqi forces are attacking the Kurdistan Region. The same cycle is being repeated. Let’s be realistic. It [one-Iraq policy] will not stabilize the area, change the policy, and you will see changes.”
Mustafa also discussed the destabilizing role of Iran in the region, stating Tehran wants to become a regional superpower. Iran is the most influential country in Iraq today.
The Kurdistan Region will also be their arena of activities if its influence is allowed to expand, he cautioned.
The Kurdish official said that Iran could harm the Kurdistan Region and already has when it closed its borders in retaliation to the referendum, and through its network of Iranian-backed Shia militias and with the help of Iraqi forces, attacked Kurdistan.
He called on the US and the international community to intervene in helping address tensions between Erbil and Baghdad and impose a permanent ceasefire.
“If the international community does not interfere to stop the Shia militias and Iraqi forces' attack on the Kurdistan Region, it will lead to the people of the Kurdistan Region, with its 1.5 million IDPs and refugees, to immigrate to Europe. Extremism will expand in the region and the energy supply will stop,” the Kurdish Minister warned.
Regarding the democratization process in Iraq, Mustafa noted that elections are not enough to measure democracy in the country, stating Iraq was becoming more and more Islamic.
“Last year, when forces were fighting the Islamic State (IS), the Iraqi parliament was discussing a ban on alcohol in the country. Recently, they passed a law, in principle, to allow girls [as young as] nine-years-old to get married.”
Ties between Erbil and Baghdad considerably deteriorated following the Sep. 25 independence vote in the Kurdistan Region that saw 93 percent of voters favoring secession.
Editing by Nadia Riva