Interview with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir – Head of the Department of Foreign Relations

The Kurdistan Region, at a crucial juncture in its history, is enjoying increasing strategic and economic prominence, growing global interest and recognition as key constituents of the new Middle East. At the same time, Kurdistan is facing a number of pressing issues such as a crisis of relations with Baghdad and a Syrian civil war on its border.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke with KRG Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, on a number of key issues.

Kak Falah, thank you very much for your time with the Kurdish Globe. Let’s start with KRG relationships with Baghdad which are at a critical stage. What is your view on the current crisis and what is your demand from Baghdad?

Not only is the current crisis between Baghdad and Erbil at a critical stage, indeed the political process as a whole is in a deep and dangerous crisis. President Masoud Barzani has recalled all the Kurdish MP’s and ministers from Baghdad to come to Erbil for consultations and discuss the possible options that can be taken. This decision is not solely due to the budget being passed without an agreement with the Kurdish MP’s in Baghdad. This decision is only the latest in a string of moves made by the State of the Law bloc and Prime Minister Maliki against the people of the Kurdistan Region. It is no secret that he has opened fronts with not only us but with Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and some of the Iraqi Shi’ite political parties and the main issue which we are all united against is his insistence of making decisions unilaterally with no respect for the constitution, power sharing principles or agreements that he has signed. This will endanger the democratic process and the implementation of federalism in Iraq.

Our demands from Baghdad have been honest and consistent and while we have to be part of the process we are not aware and they are not transparent. Regarding the budget, every year we are humble and transparent in our demands and yet we are painted as if we have excessive demands. What type of unity is Mr. Maliki trying to promote when he does not wish to allocate funds to the Peshmerga, who are part of the Iraqi defense system, protect the borders as well as the internal security of the Kurdistan Region which by extension means protecting Iraq.

In addition, the oil and gas issues are still an issue and it is unfortunate that in 2013, Mr. Maliki still wants the Kurdistan Region to be at the economic mercy of Baghdad. According to Article 117 (3) of Iraq’s constitution, “Regions and governorates shall be allocated an equitable share of the national revenues sufficient to discharge its responsibilities and duties, but having regard to its resources, needs and the percentage of its population.” This is why we have gone ahead with our decision to work towards economic independence so that the people of Kurdistan are no longer at the mercy of one party rule which is sadly the case in Baghdad.

Mr. Maliki controls in addition to the army the security apparatus, the judiciary and even the independent institutions such as the Central Bank and IHEC have been attacked in his attempts to bring those closer to his control.

With Dijla Operations Command established by Maliki and signification mobilisation of forces on both sides, if the situation deteriorates any further, is there a real danger of all-out war between the Kurds and Arabs?

The danger of an all-out war between Erbil and Baghdad is quite remote and rest assured that if any violence were to break out, it would be due to Prime Minister Maliki’s policies and his forces making the first move. Our Peshmerga are stationed for defensive purposes because our history has shown that some of Iraq’s individuals will not hesitate to turn weapons against us in attempts to deflect from their own shortcomings. Mr. Maliki attempts to use Dijla forces and the Iraqi Army not only to threaten our security and stability, but to turn public opinion in Iraq against us and to attempt to deflect from his failure to combat corruption, provide basic services and bring stability to the rest of Iraq after seven years being in charge. Fortunately, the regional situation along with developments on the ground mean that an internal war in 2013 is highly unlikely and Mr. Maliki is slowly realizing that negotiations, not violence are the only way to solve any political disputes between us and Baghdad.

It is now been almost 10 years, a decade, since the fall of Saddam. The Kurds have been patient, but there seems to be no real movement on article 140, a national census, a national hydrocarbon law, oil export payments etc. When will Kirkuk be returned to the Kurds? How patient are the Kurds willing to be on Kirkuk and these other key articles?

Indeed it has been ten years and sadly we have been misled by many on the issue of Article 140. We believed strongly that dialogue, adherence to the constitution and its implementation would eventually take place, but instead we see voices today speaking of Kurdistan’s demands being excessive, when on the contrary we have been extremely patient and could easily have taken full control of these areas ourselves without the need for consensus. We do not want a short term solution rather we need to solve this once and for all, and we believe that the international community as well as the United Nations need to play a more active role in the support of Article 140 and in part they have to be blamed for this issue not being solved so far.  For example, the people of the Kurdistan Region have continuously asked for a census to take place across all of Iraq, yet the other political parties keep making excuses. At the same time we are seeing a shift in Sunni Arabs who are starting to also ask for a census in order to be able to ascertain the real numbers of Iraq’s population and from there be able to address their needs.

Our patience is running thin and the recent meetings chaired by President Barzani will result in decisions being made not only regarding the budget but about sidelining Kurds not only from the political process but also denying us our rights enshrined in Iraq’s constitution.

What is your view of the recent wave of Sunni protects in Iraq, is their a danger that the bloody sectarian civil war that peaked in 2007 will be repeated? Does this indicate to you that only way is to create a federal entity for Sunnis?

Iraq’s Arab Sunnis have also been marginalized heavily by Mr. Maliki and his State of the Law coalition and that is why we are constantly in discussions with them and other partners in the Shi’ite community, because the new Iraq belongs to all Iraqis and not to one political party or one sect. There is a real danger of another civil war erupting particularly given Mr. Maliki and his State of the Law members’ comments towards these protesters as well as ignoring many of their legitimate demands. Being a constitutional right, I believe that the Sunni Arabs would be better off with their own federal region and being in control of running their own cities and towns but the decision is up to them and from what I understand some of them do want their own federal region while others think it may be more detrimental for them given their reliance from oil and gas outside their provinces.

The KRG relations with Turkey have been on a rapid rise, with trade, political and energy ties at the forefront. Would you say that as the gap between Kurdistan and Baghdad is growing, that the gap between the Kurds and Turkey is ever closing?

The KRG has an open door policy. The Kurdistan Region would like to establish cultural, economic, political, and educational ties with the international community that mutually benefits both sides, and done within the constitutional framework. 

KRG’s policy towards Baghdad and international community is very clear. The KRG has no policy of enhancing its ties with Ankara or any other member of international community at the expense of Baghdad. There are specific reasons behind the fact that our relations with Ankara are growing while we regularly face setbacks in our ties with Baghdad.

Growing relations between Erbil and Ankara are the result of wise and visionary leadership from both sides. The leaders in Kurdistan and Turkey have wisely chosen for establishing mutually beneficial ties that could equally serve the interests of both sides. These relations will benefit all of Iraq.

On the other side, ties between Erbil and Baghdad are not going on the right direction. Unilateral actions by the Federal Government and lack of commitment to the Erbil agreement raise serious questions about the intention of the Federal Government. We are always for strong relations with the federal government, a government that abides by the constitution and believes in partnership and power sharing and in a federal, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq.

The Kurds were often viewed as potentially the “best friends” of U.S.A in the Middle East, however, it appears that Kurds if anything are somewhat frustrated and annoyed with the US. What is your view of current state of relations between America and Kurdistan? Could Washington do more to resolve disputes with Baghdad, and pressure Baghdad to implement constitutional articles? Does America have a balanced approach to dealing with Iraq?

We appreciate the sacrifices made by the Americans in overthrowing the former Iraqi regime and also to the reconstruction efforts following the removal of that regime.

We are for having good relations with the U.S. Our ties with the U.S are not only limited to political interaction between the two sides. American companies and private sector are contributing to the economic developments in the Region, particularly in the field of energy. However, we are not satisfied with the level of American economic presence and we would like to see more involvement form the American investors and businessmen. 

Iraq is supposed to be a sovereign country and it has to take its matters on its hands. The prime factor behind lack of progress on solving disputes among Iraqi political parties is lack of political will not lack of U.S interference. Without political will, there will be no genuine solutions to the political crisis facing Iraq.

In the midst of the deadly war to topple Bashar Assad, Syrian Kurds have a unique opportunity to determine and govern their own affairs. How is the KRG supporting their ethnic brethren in Syria? Is the situation in Kurdish areas of Syria viewed as an external affair or a Kurdistani affair by the Kurdistan Region leadership?

We are very concerned about what is happening in Syria and it is important for us for two main reasons. Firstly, we share border with Syria and what happens in Syria affects the Kurdistan Region as well. Secondly, there is a sizable Kurdish population in Syria.

We have always encouraged the Kurdish people in Iran, Turkey, and Syria to find peaceful and democratic solutions to their differences with their respective governments. Our position on the Syrian crisis is very clear. We encourage the Kurds in Syria to preserve their unity and realize their rights in the future state of Syria. We call for an end to bloodshed and violence in Syria and we are for democratic changes through peaceful means. 

What is the government’s stance in terms of reforms demanded by the opposition parties, including the draft constitution?

The government and Parliament are empowered by the vote of the people of Kurdistan Region. We do not claim perfection and we are mindful of our shortcomings. The KRG is committed to make meaningful reforms and to improve governance. We have a democratic system and we are making concerted efforts to enhance governance, decrease bureaucracy, and increase efficiency.

Our leadership believes that there has to be a national consensus on the constitution of the Kurdistan Region. The KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani has consistently reiterated that the government has no red lines towards the reforms demanded by the people of the Kurdistan Region.

Finally, fast forward 10 years, what kind of a Kurdistan do you see?

It is hard to predict the future but I can proudly say that the Kurdistan Regional Government is making serious efforts and taking meaningful steps to provide a prosperous life for the people of the Region. Domestically, we are trying to provide the highest possible standard of life for our people through building the infrastructure, enhancing our economy and developing our institutions, ensuring the rule of law, promoting civil rights, and investing in our young generation through various programs such as Human Capacity Development Program. 

Today there exist international agreements that shape economic relations between countries of the world, and there exists a time frame to implement all these economic agreements whether it is related to industry, trade or services. We should not wait, rather we should act fast in order to attract foreign direct investment.  

Externally, our objective is to establish cultural, economic, educational, and political ties with international community. We welcome and value the diplomatic and economic presence of foreign countries in Kurdistan Region.  Establishing ties with international community gives us the opportunity to increase understanding not only about our past but also about our vision for future and how international community can contribute to political, cultural and economic developments of our region.  We are willing to learn from the experience of international community and ready to utilize their knowledge and expertise in further developing our region.

Our first and last goal is to ensure the rights of our citizens, men, women, youth and children. The individual is the foundation of progress and it is that individual who can guarantee the success of our institutions and consequently of the Kurdistan Region.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>