IRAQ: Kurdistan's prime minister talks Baghdad politics
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Prime Minister Barham Salih sat down recently with the Los Angeles Times, and reviewed the political deadlock in Baghdad. Salih, who had served as a deputy prime minister in Baghdad, also reviewed the state of Arab-Kurdish relations.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation, which was conducted in Arabic.
Q: Regarding forming the government, in one of your previous statements you have stated not forming the government is a disgrace, Why?
A: In fact, it is a shame…. We do not have a government that has emerged as a result of this [March] election. The country is exposed to serious terrorist attacks and crises in the basic services of electricity and water supply to the people. In normal circumstances, governments fall because of these problems and a new government comes. What is happening now is a major failure for the political elites in front of the Iraqi voter who challenged terrorism when he went to the ballot boxes and wanted to establish a new beginning for his country.
Q: Not forming the government, has it shown any kind of repercussion or side effects in terms of security and services?
A: There is no doubt that this situation negatively affects the security situation. The continuity of the problems and political quarrels represents an outlet for extremists and terrorists to destabilize security. Iraq’s security will not stabilize permanently without resolving unfinished political issues in the country and in particular the problem of the power-sharing between the main Iraqi components and bringing an Iraqi government supported by the general public to serve as an impervious dam against terrorists and extremists who are trying to defeat the emerging Iraqi experience.
Q: Do you think that the Iraqi public if the situation stays the same and the government isn’t formed will be forced to protest?
A: There are now demonstrations denouncing the government’s performance in the field of services. I think that the continuation of this situation would lead the current political elite to lose its credibility before the people.
Q: There has been some kind of difference of opinion between [Kurdish leaders] Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. There has been some speculation that Barzani supports Iyad Allawi and that Talabani supports current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki for a second term, Is that true?
A: There is a unanimous and announced Kurdish position that we are dealing in accordance with basic principles and specific demands with the candidates for prime minister. These principles restate the need to abide by the constitution and the principle of partnership in governance; the prevention of a monopoly of power; [and] resolving the outstanding problems between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad, including the fate of the disputed areas, the oil and gas law and the position of the peshmerga as part of the Iraqi defense system. The one who answers with these basics and who provides guarantees to abide by the constitution and partnership will be supported by the Kurdish bloc.
Q: Do you hope that forming the new government would help solve these problems?
A: We have an opportunity to resolve the political problems in Iraq. This is for the benefit of all Iraqis [and] not just the Kurds. The law of oil and gas is not only for Kurdistan but a vital interest for Iraq. Oil policy in Iraq has not succeeded. Production levels are very low. We need a giant opening in the managing of the oil sector and in the bringing in of modern technology, private capital and expertise to enhance the levels of oil exports.
Q: Do you think that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of the situation after the American army’s withdrawal?
A: The United States has given much to Iraq. We thank America for its assistance to the Iraqis in getting rid of the tyranny of Saddam and giving us the opportunity to build a democratic Iraq. We highly appreciate the sacrifice of the U.S. military. Responsibility lies with us now and we have a major challenge. Iraq is still undergoing a difficult transition amid a complicated regional environment. Iraq needs to keep the United States government’s continued support for … the process of building a democratic and federal Iraq.
Q: Will the Iraqi forces be able to tackle the security situation?
A: There is a significant development in the Iraqi military capabilities. But they remain limited in their ability to defend Iraq's borders in the face of regional dangers. We will need the help of the United States for a long time to be able to complete the building of military and defense institutions.
Q: What do you think about who will be lucky enough to be the next prime minister?
There are three main candidates now. They are Maliki, Allawi and Adel Abdul Mehdi.
Q: The Iraqi army aside from the Iraqi Kurdish region has been armed really well, do you have any fear that the national army is being equipped with heavy weapons?
A: The Iraqi army must be a national army and for all Iraqis. Peshmerga are part of the Iraqi national defense system and have been used at different times to maintain security in Baghdad and other areas. Now we have an understanding with the Iraqi government and the support of U.S. troops to train peshmerga and equip them. This is a good development, but we need more and this is a guarantee in order to integrate security capabilities of Iraq and to promote them.
Q: Do you have any fears regarding the future?
A: We have a legitimate concern about the return of tyranny and dictatorship. This concern is not confined to the Kurds. There are certain segments of the Iraqis that fear the Iraqi army could be used as a means for persecution as happened in the past. Iraq must be governed according to a regime of consensus that is built upon the foundations of a federal and democratic system.
Yes, there are authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies that appear from time to time that make us concerned. The government must be serious and resolute in facing them by putting an emphasis on constitutional guarantees to prevent a monopoly of power in Baghdad.
Q: When Kurdish citizens hear that the Iraqi army has been armed with heavy weapons, they might be worried that history is repeating itself?
A: Kurdish citizens have the right to be afraid of the past repeating itself when they hear of arming the Iraqi army with heavy arms. The Iraqi army must be a national army that represents all Iraqi components. We cannot accept the marginalization of the Kurds in the security and military system. Arming, training and equipping must include the Kurdish forces as part of the Iraqi national defense system.
-- Asso Ahmed