ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Autonomy for the Kurdistan Region is not enough to protect the rights of the people of the Kurdistan Region from threats, atrocities, and attacks, affirmed the Region’s head of security and intelligence.
In an interview with the BBC Hardtalk, Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council (KRSC), asserted that the push for independence was due to the Iraqi Federal Government’s inability to accept the Kurds as “equal partners.”
“We’ve tried every other means to solve our problems peacefully [with Baghdad],” said Barzani, but that the Iraq Government refused to address them within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ratified in good faith and as “part of the deal to be a part of Iraq” in 2005.
“The governments in Baghdad have been selective in implementing articles,” Barzani stated, adding that the central authority focused on the application of articles that “served their purpose.”
“Those that were part of the package to satisfy the Kurdish side have been ignored.”
“All other avenues were exhausted, and we had no choice but to resort to the referendum as a peaceful mean to express the desire of our people,” the security chief said, describing it as a “legitimate mandate” for the Kurdish leadership to determine the future relationship between Erbil and Baghdad.
With the sanctions imposed by Baghdad and the possible escalation of armed conflicts as Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have mobilized to areas surrounding the disputed territories under the KRG’s administration, Barzani highlighted that the quest for independence was to guarantee the safety of the people of Kurdistan.
The Kurdish official cautioned that the Kurdish-controlled areas currently besieged by Iraqi security forces would not necessarily be the new borders of the Kurdistan Region.
The KRG is “open to negotiation with Baghdad,” despite the disputed territories having been “used by previous regimes” to displace local populations and replace them with others, which Barzani asserted contributed to their fall to the Islamic State. “It was the Peshmerga who were responsible for protecting [those people] and driving back the [jihadist group].”
The desire to have an independent Kurdistan is over a century old as Barzani underscored, but that “the mentality ruling in Baghdad is moving away from democratic principles and power-sharing” toward a “sectarian regime that excludes not just the Kurds,” pushing the Kurdish leadership to reconsider its relationship with the central government.
“We are worried about the future of our people. We have been treated unjustly for years.”
Barzani stressed the fact that despite being semi-autonomous for years, the people of the Kurdistan Region have been “subject to threats, atrocities, genocide, and chemical bombardment” that the international community has yet to guarantee would “not be repeated in the future.”
The KRSC head expressed disappointment with the “disproportionate” response by Baghdad and neighboring countries to the “peaceful expression of the people’s will.”
“It’s the 21st century, and it’s absurd that we are still struggling or challenged when it comes to freedom of expression,” he noted. “Baghdad pushed us to hold the referendum by claiming we did not represent the entire Kurdish population and that the Kurdish regions were divided.”
“There is nothing wrong with people expressing their desire. There is no animosity with Iraq or other neighboring countries,” he stated. “We wanted a legitimate mandate to discuss with Baghdad.”
With the increased tension in the region and escalating threats against Kurdistan’s people, Barzani called on the international community to prevent neighboring countries from interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq and encourage Baghdad to initiate a dialogue.
“We are surprised they do not respect the will of three million people. We never said we would enforce our will on anyone and the door is open to negotiation,” he reaffirmed, laying blame on Baghdad for “not wanting to resolve” the situation peacefully.
Editing by Ava Homa