Kurdistan Region prime minister speaks to Iraqi and international Arab media

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani participated in a joint interview with major Iraqi and international Arabic language media organizations (Al Iraqiya, Zagros, Al Sharqiya, Al Arabiya Hadith, Al Jazeera, and Alhura) in which addressed multiple issues related to the Kurdistan Region’s relationship to the federal government in Iraq and to the world.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani participated in a joint interview with major Iraqi and international Arabic language media organizations (Al Iraqiya, Zagros, Al Sharqiya, Al Arabiya Hadith, Al Jazeera, and Alhura) in which addressed multiple issues related to the Kurdistan Region’s relationship to the federal government in Iraq and to the world.

Erbil-Baghdad disputes, border crossings

In response to a question about Erbil-Bagdad ties, Prime Minister Barzani said, “I would like to state that Iraq is a federal state and the Kurdistan Region is a federal entity, with rights and duties. Unfortunately, after the constitution was approved in 2005, the people of the Kurdistan Region did not feel that the federal government in Baghdad was committed to the constitution as required, so all the problems that we are witnessing today are the result of the lack of application of the constitution.”

“The constitution defines what is exclusive to the federal government, the authorities of the Kurdistan Region, and joint authorities. The border crossings are not the exclusive authority of the federal government and their management must be managed jointly with the federal government. We have no problem with joint administration.”

Regarding Baghdad’s common failure to send the region’s entire share of the national budget over several years, Barzani explained that Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “expressed constant reproach to the Iraqi government” for not sending the funds as stipulated… The Iraqi government has not taken steps to pay the financial dues to the region. Therefore, these problems still exist, and we hope to reach an understanding. The KRG is always prepared, in accordance with the constitution, to fulfill its duties.”

“Kurdistan Region’s financial dues was 17 percent (of the national budget, based on population) of the public revenues in Iraq, then it was reduced to 12.67, based on a personal decision and without any legal basis. However, at any rate, the Kurdistan Region still did not receive it.”

“We previously agreed on 17 percent, but the question is on what basis the percentage was reduced to 12 percent, and this was not based on any scientific basis. The best solution for each party to receive its due financial rights is to conduct a census in order to know how many residents of the Kurdistan Region and all the components of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians, so we can determine what the region is entitled to, according to the percentage of the population out of the total revenues of the federal government.”

When asked a question that appeared to be made on the assumption that the Kurdistan Region’s budget share was being taken from other Iraqi provinces, the prime minister stated, “As we are Iraqi citizens, so we must be treated equally,” and pointed out that, despite the fact that the federal government keeps more than 95 percent of Iraq’s revenue, it has roundly failed in developing the provinces.

“If we compare the situation in the Kurdistan Region in terms of economic structure and urban development with the rest of Iraq, we notice that there is a very big disparity. This is not at all because the Kurdistan Region takes a greater part of the financial dues. It is quite the contrary. Despite all the problems, I believe that there is effective administration in the Kurdistan Region which was able to develop the region and bring it to this level.”  

The Islamic State and the status of the displaced

Barzani mentioned that even though Kurdistan Region has hosted more than two million Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis looking for safe haven, the federal government has not assumed its responsibility to help the Kurdistan Region in managing camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees.

“During the expensive war with ISIS, and when ISIS was on the outskirts of the walls of Baghdad, Peshmerga forces were a main factor in defeating ISIS. They were first to defeat the myth of ISIS, allowing Baghdad to reorganize its forces and start the attack against it. Even in terms of securing the cost of the war, the federal government did not assist the Kurdistan Region, but instead cut off all aid and funds allocated to support the Peshmerga.”

“Therefore, the Kurdistan Region, without any budget, was at war with ISIS while hosting nearly two million displaced people and refugees. Despite the limited revenues available, it was able to manage itself. And I say to all those who believe that the Kurdistan Region has received more than it deserves from the federal government, this is absolutely not true,” Barzani said.

In regards to the war against the Islamic State, Barzani also explained, “Militarily, when we were at war with ISIS, the federal government did not help the Peshmerga and instead actually blocked the military aid that was sent to us by the coalition forces.”

“Despite that, this was not the gesture we showed our brothers who were displaced from the rest of the Iraqi provinces and have sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region. I want to remind all citizens in Iraq that the immortal leader Mustafa Barzani, and now (KDP) President Masoud Barzani, have always stressed that the Kurdish issue is not a problem between Arabs and Kurds. The problem lies with the authority in Iraq that is limiting the rights of the people of Kurdistan.”

The Oil issue

During the interview, Barzani clarified that Kurdistan Region has exported a small percentage of its oil after the federal government cut the regional budget in order to guarantee revenues for the region, “because, unfortunately, the federal government did not implement its constitutional obligations regarding sending salaries and the budget for the region.”

“When ISIS attacked Kirkuk, if it had not been the Peshmerga, the oil fields would have fallen under the control of ISIS and out of the federal government’s hands. The federal army was not present to protect the oil fields and the Peshmerga forces protected Kirkuk and its oil fields. I wanted to clarify this issue because there are many who believe that the Kurdistan Region exported Kirkuk oil and it is not their right. Without the Kurdistan Region, ISIS would have seized those oil fields.”

“In regards to the issue of the oil law, the government has not been able to pass the oil and gas law in the parliament until now. The Kurdistan Region has expressed its readiness to participate in the process of drafting an oil and gas law in Iraq, but the federal government did not respond to this request and this law was not passed.”

Prime Minister Barzani also stated that Baghdad has canceled all the laws of the previous regime except for two. “The first is the Arabization campaign in disputed territories that remains and it is still continuing in many of these areas. The second is the issue of oil, which is established according to a central policy and not a federal policy. After 2005, the constitution provided for a federal government and these laws should have been compatible with the federal system in Iraq, which failed to pass these laws to suit the current circumstances.”

“Regarding SOMO (State Organization for Marketing of Oil), it is an institution that was established during the previous regime and does not reflect the current federal system. We submitted a suggestion that if SOMO has a desire to be a trustworthy company for all Iraqis, then we ask that the Kurdistan Region be a participant in its management. As much as they wish to know about the revenues and production of oil in the Kurdistan Region, the region and its people have the right to see the quantities of exports and production of oil in other parts of Iraq.”

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani gives an interview to multiple major Iraqi and international Arabic language media organizations, Aug. 26, 2020. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani gives an interview to multiple major Iraqi and international Arabic language media organizations, Aug. 26, 2020. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

The Turkey-PKK conflict and its toll on the Kurdistan Region

“What is happening is unfortunate, not only in the border areas of the Kurdistan Region with Turkey, but in all border areas in Iraq. There is continuous external interference in Iraq and the violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. We hope that this will end soon.”

Barzani explained that the Turkish conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has prevented the KRG from rebuilding many areas, stating, “We request from all neighboring countries that, if they have problems with their opposition, to keep all their problems away from our borders and not to settle their conflicts at the expense of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.”

“We hope that PKK will respect the constitutional entity of the Kurdistan Region because we made huge sacrifices and fought for many years to liberate these areas, so respect for the administrative authority in the Kurdistan Region is a condition for all parties who are guests in the Kurdistan Region. Also, the fact remains that the Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq and should not be used to harm neighboring countries, because we want Iraq to have good ties based on mutual relations of good neighborliness.”

US role in Erbil-Baghdad relations

Prime Minister Barzani emphasized that the solution to disputes between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government must be ultimately solved by both sides, “But we welcome the efforts of all friendly and allied countries and their auxiliary role in order to reach an agreement between the two parties.”

“We participated in the Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s visit to Washington through a delegation from the Kurdistan Region that was officially within the Iraqi delegation. The US was keen for the Kurdistan Region to have active participation in the Iraqi delegation in the strategic dialogue with Washington,” Barzani said

He expressed his hope that Iraq will benefit from its relations with the coalition and these countries so that security and stability prevail and for political stability, followed by economic development. The Kurdistan Region, he said, “benefits from this as well and it is possible that the Kurdistan Region will have the appropriate ground and influence in economic terms and be the gateway for the reconstruction of other regions of Iraq.”

“For example, in the field of energy production, the Kurdistan Region has the production capacity of 6500 to 7000 megawatts, but we only use 3500 megawatts because we do not have enough time to operate power plants. In case of an agreement with the federal government, it will be mutually beneficial and if the federal government provides fuel for electricity production stations, we can not only generate energy for 24 hours in the region, which is currently equipped with 21 hours, but we can also secure electricity for many cities in Iraq, such as Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit.”

Reform Project in the Kurdistan Region

The Prime Minister stressed, “Reform is an ongoing process, and not something that can be achieved in a short period.” He added that his cabinet’s initiative “is not limited to ending corruption, but also includes transparency, how to best severe the public, and finding the best way to construct a solid economic infrastructure.”

Barzani mentioned that the agricultural sector, which is a very large wealth for the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, must be taken care of to increase production, support farmers, and restrict the import of crops that can be produced locally by increasing customs tariff fees, and we believe that the federal government had the same policy, and we applied it here in order to support Peasants, as to strive for the policy of self-sufficiency.

Barzani also mentioned the importance of industry and strategic infrastructures such as roads, transportation, education, and health, was crucial to the plan, explaining KRG’s steps towards development in all such sectors.

“Dams are a great source of national wealth. We have paid attention to this field and there are 13 small and medium dams under construction. It requires funding and support from the federal government and perhaps from abroad because it required massive financing.”

“But we must not forget that this government is 13 months old, and, unfortunately, since the beginning of the assumption of our duties in this government, we have faced two major crises. They are the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis because the federal government did not abide by its obligations and did not send salaries for three months. Furthermore, the crash of oil prices has compounded the economic crisis and we could not possibly live up to the level of our ambition.”

In closing, the prime minister said, “Despite all these challenges, we will carry on with the reform package.

Editing by John J. Catherine