Despite crises, we remained steadfast, reformed, and developed the economy: PM Barzani
Erbil (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani spoke candidly on various topics relating to his premiership and the situation in the Kurdistan Region in an interview with Sky News Arabic aired on Sunday night.
“Despite the crises, we remained steadfast, made reforms, and developed the economy,” Barzani told Sky News TV.
The prime minister recalled that when the ninth cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) entered office, circumstances were tough. It had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, low oil prices, and bad relations with Baghdad.
“Despite all of that, we were able to remain steadfast, and we started making reforms,” Barzani said. “We resumed work on projects, and we were able to develop the security and economy of the region.”
Below are some of the noteworthy topics the prime minister discussed:
Relations with Baghdad
“The relations with Baghdad have been improving, but the problems have not been completely solved,” Barzani said. “For four years Baghdad’s government didn’t send the budget to the Kurdistan Region, and the region had to take loans from oil traders, local businessmen, and even the Iraqi Central Bank.”
“This led to the accumulation of billions of dollars in loans that my cabinet inherited.”
Barzani pointed out that despite all of these problems, his cabinet was able to continue distributing salaries for public service employees and take big steps in the development of the region.
“We worked step by step to gradually fix our relations with Baghdad,” Barzani said. “We have a good relationship with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and we look forward to strengthening it.”
“We never said that the Kurdistan Region is free of corruption, but the level of corruption that has existed in the region is way lower than the level of corruption in the rest of Iraq,” the prime minister said.
Ending this corruption, he added, “is our top priority.”
Prime Minister Barzani also pointed out that the level of corruption has notably decreased in the autonomous region.
The prime minister said he is observing the migrant crisis in Europe closely. He pointed out that the issue has two sides, a political one and a humanitarian one.
“I can assure that none of those migrants went to Belarus because of corruption or having pressure on them,” Barzani said.
The prime minister pointed out that the migrants had paid smugglers thousands of dollars to go to Belarus, where they were then exploited and used by Belarus’s government to pressure the European Union.
He added that the migrants are going to Europe in search of better opportunities and “not because of poverty” in the Kurdistan Region.
“A lot of foreigners come to work in Kurdistan,” Barzani noted.
He also pointed out that the autonomous region is hosting more than 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) who sought shelter there because of its security and stability.
“Thousands of migrants from Asia, Iran, Turkey, and other parts of Iraq have come to work in Kurdistan,” Barzani said. “Those who went to Belarus didn’t go there because they can’t find jobs here; they went there because they were tricked by smugglers and used for political purposes.”
“I’m very saddened by their humanitarian situation,” he added, reiterating that the Kurdistan Region stands ready to cooperate with the Iraqi government to return them.
“Hundreds of them have already received our help to come home.”
The prime minister acknowledged that the turnout in Iraq’s parliamentary October parliamentary elections was low.
“People were hopeless, and there were technical challenges too,” he said of those elections.
He went on to explain that some of those who received a lot of votes did not win a lot of seats in parliament for their parties. That is because Iraq is now divided into numerous constituencies. As a result, political parties that did not have a good election plan didn’t win enough seats.
“We hope everyone respects the result of the elections,” Barzani said.
The militia’s rejection of the elections’ results
“We condemned the terrorist attack on Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. We expressed our support to him, and we are waiting for the result of the investigations,” Prime Minister Barzani said of the assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader early this month.
“So far, it is not known who was behind the attack.”
“Those who stand against the election process and call for repeating it will take Iraq backward,” Barzani warned.
“There is no way we accept revoking the elections’ result, and those who didn’t get the result they wished for should still respect the final results.”
Iraq’s presidency position
“This position is for Kurds,” Barzani said of the Iraqi presidency. “However, so far, no decision has been made about the candidate.”
He pointed out that traditionally Iraq’s Shia parties nominate a candidate for prime minister, the Sunnis nominate a candidate for the position of parliament speaker while the Kurds nominate the presidential candidate.
“We are waiting to know who is the Shia candidate,” he said. “I hope the candidate is someone who is accepted by everyone.”
Relations with the United States
“We have a good relationship with the American administration,” the prime minister said. “As a friend and as an ally, the Americans helped us toppling the Ba’ath’s regime in 2003, helped us with our fight against ISIS, and we hope to continue having good relations with them.”
Barzani also expressed his hope that the United States and the coalition forces stay in Iraq to help the country with its economic and security challenges.
“Iraq is unable to face the current economic and security threats alone,” he said.
Relations with the PUK
“We have good relations with all political parties, including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is a primary partner with us in the government,” the prime minister said.
“Our relation with them is based on Kurdistan’s interests.”
Refugees and IDPs
Prime Minister Barzani warned that if Iraq once again becomes destabilized, that will harm the Kurdistan Region. On the other hand, if Iraq develops economically, that will have a positive impact on Kurdistan.
“We are part of Iraq, and together with Iraq, we have to face challenges,” Barzani said. “If the security situation deteriorates in Iraq, refugees and displaced people will come to the Kurdistan Region.”
The prime minister pointed out that the autonomous region hosts more than a million Iraqi IDPs and 250,000 Syrian refugees. He said that this situation causes a lot of problems for the region.
“Unfortunately, the international community has not been helping us enough in this regard, and Baghdad also didn’t help us,” Barzani said. “These people need help. I don’t know why Baghdad is not helping them.”
Barzani affirmed that the region’s doors have always been open for them [refugees and IDPs], even when Baghdad cut the Kurdistan Region’s budget.
The ISIS threat
“ISIS is everywhere, especially in the disputed areas,” the prime minister said. “ISIS lost its territories but still has large numbers of fighters.”
Barzani warned that ISIS has also recruited additional fighters, especially in western Iraq and the disputed territories.
“ISIS continuously launches attacks on Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces,” he added.
“The Iraqi components seek a bright future within Iraq, where nobody oppresses them,” Barzani said.
He emphasized that oppression in Iraq can end if all different parties work together and abide by the constitution.
“What is lost in Iraq is trust,” Barzani said. “We need to regain trust.”
“What we expect from Iraq’s friends is to help Iraq by respecting its sovereignty.”
He also said that friends of Iraq should respect the will and decisions of Iraqis and not impose agendas on them.
Regarding Iraq’s revenues, Barzani said that the courts in Baghdad should decide what to do about corruption in Iraq.
“They all know that Iraq’s revenues are getting looted, and it is the court who should identify who is looting it,” he said.
Iran’s role in Iraq
Regarding Iran’s role in Iraq, Barzani said the government in Baghdad needs to evaluate the situation, know what influence neighboring countries have on Iraq, and decide whether or not that influence is acceptable.
“In the Kurdistan Region, we have our own policy in this regard, and we don’t accept any intervention from the neighboring countries,” Barzani said. “We want to have the best relations with our neighboring countries, but we never accept to be influenced by neighboring or foreign countries.”
“I hope the same policy is applied in Baghdad,” he added.
An Iraqi or a Kurd?
“I was asked this question before, and I said I’m Kurdish and proud,” Barazani said. “And I live in Iraq.”
The prime minister said that Iraq is the state and the Kurdistan Region is a federal entity within that state.
“We have a federal entity within Iraq called the Kurdistan Region, which is the reality right now,” Barzani said. “Kurdistan, like any other nation, has the right to obtain its rights and its independence.”
“However, today’s reality is that we are a region within Iraq, and we do our best to have better relations with Baghdad,” he added.