Turkish Iraqi Kurdish Crisis Over

Turkish/ Iraqi Kurdish Crisis over Barzani Comments

All hell has broken loose rhetorically between the politicians in Turkey and those in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (IKRG), Massoud Barzani, for Barzani’s comments on April 6 in an interview with the al-Arabiya satellite television station. (For the text of this interview, see below). Barzani rejected Turkish concerns over the attempts by the IKRG to incorporate the oil city of Kirkuk into its territory, saying that if Ankara interfered, that he would interfere in Turkish cities. The Turks are anyway raw about Kurdish political violence in eastern Anatolia near Iraq, since 37,000 were killed in a low-intensity guerrilla struggle of radical Kurds against the Turkish state. Erdogan accused Barzani of getting above himself and said that the Iraqi Kurds would pay a “high price” for Barzani’s threats.

The US State Department protested to Barzani over the vehemence of his statements.

This conflict could blow up the whole world. Readers who want background might check out this pdf file, Iraq’s Kurds and Turkey: Challenges for US Policy,” from the Parameters journal. This article is already a couple of years old, but it sketches out the lay of the land and what is at issue.

Here are some of the comments by Barzani that have caused the dust-up, as carried by BBC Monitoring:

BBC Monitoring International Reports
April 8, 2007 Sunday

IRAQ’S BARZANI INTERVIEWED ON KURDISH AFFAIRS, IRANIAN ROLE, TIES WITH ISRAEL

Dubai Al-Arabiya Television in Arabic at 2000 gmt on 6 April carries a 50-minute episode of its new programme “Frankly Speaking,” presented by Elie Nakuzi. Guest of the programme is Mas’ud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, who is interviewed in Salah-al-Din in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

Asked if the Kurds have obtained all they wanted after “all the oppression they have been through,” Barzani says: “Certainly not; what we have obtained is less than our sacrifices, less than what we deserve, and less than what is our right.” He adds: “Actually, much progress has been made and the situation has improved. If we talk about the situation in Iraq, then there is a large progress. If we talk about the Kurdish issue in general as an issue of a nation, the road is certainly still long.”

On whether the Kurds are still looking forward to having an independent state, Barzani says: “This is the legitimate right of the Kurdish nation and this goal must be achieved, but without resorting to violence.” He adds: “I encourage dialogue, communication, and explanation of the issue to others. I believe in struggle but in a peaceful and democratic manner and not by resorting to violence. If we are attacked, we will certainly defend ourselves.”

Asked about the Iranian role in Iraq, Barzani says: “Many parties have relations with Iran, and Iran has a large influence among the Shi’is. This is well known. We, too, have heard that there are Iranian interferences. When the nuclear file becomes hot, some forces here move against the coalition forces. We, however, do not have any hard evidence proving this. There is no such activity in Kurdistan.” He adds that the Kurds are against any regional interference in Iraq’s affairs. On whether the majority of Shi’is in Iraq are loyal to Iran, Barzani denies this and says the majority are loyal to Iraq.

Responding to a question on the issue of the proposed federal system of government in Iraq and the Sunnis’ “objection” to it, Barzani says any compulsory union or division will be doomed to failure. He adds: “The Sunni brothers have the right to demand what the Kurds and Shi’is have, but they have no right to say the Kurds and Shi’is do not have the right to demand a federal system. I frankly spoke to their leaders from the various trends. There should be a balanced partnership among the Shi’is, Kurds, and Sunnis. If the Sunnis imagine that they should rule Iraq by themselves, this will then be wrong. This cannot happen. The same applies to the Shi’is and Kurds.” He adds that oil should be fairly and equally distributed among all the people of Iraq.

Told that the Turks say they will not allow the Kurds to annex Kirkuk to Iraq’s Kurdistan, Barzani says: “We will not allow the Turks to interfere in the issue of Kirkuk.” Reminded that the Turks have “a huge army,” Barzani says: “I do not fear their military power. No matter how strong their military power might be, it will not be stronger than that of Saddam.” He adds: “I do not fear their military or diplomatic power because they interfere in an affair that does not concern them. They interfere in an internal affair of another country. Kirkuk is an Iraqi city of Kurdish identity. History, geography, and all facts prove that Kirkuk is part of Iraq’s Kurdistan and Kurdistan is part of Iraq. Therefore, Kirkuk is an Iraqi city with a Kurdish identity and Turkey has no right to interfere in the issue of Kirkuk. If it does, we will interfere in the issue of Diyarbakr and other cities.”

Asked if this is a threat, Barzani says: “This is not a threat but a reply to interference. What right does Turkey have to interfere in the issue of Kirkuk?” He then says: “If they allow themselves to interfere in the issue of Kirkuk for the sake of a few thousand Turkomans there, we will then interfere for the 30 million Kurds in Turkey.” Asked if things will reach this limit, he hopes not and says: “If the Turks insist on interfering in the issue of Kirkuk, I will be ready to bear all the consequences and not allow them to peddle their plan in Kirkuk.”

Responding to another question, he says: “If we are denied our right to settle down and live freely, I swear by God that we will not allow others to live in security or stability.” He adds: “We are ready to defend our freedom and our cause to the end.”

Asked if the Kurds of Iraq help the Kurds of Turkey and Iran, he says: “Frankly speaking, we support their rights.” He adds: “We do not interfere in their affairs; they choose the way to demand their rights or to struggle for their rights.” He denies supporting them with funds and weapons and says: “They do not ask us and we are not ready to interfere in their affairs, but we support them morally and politically. We are against the use of violence. It is impossible to support them with weapons, but we are ready to help them with all other means.”

On whether the Kurds have ties with the Israelis, Barzani says: “Constitutionally, we have no right to establish ties with any country. Diplomatic relations are the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. If an Israeli embassy opens in Baghdad, we will undoubtedly allow an Israeli consulate to open in Arbil, too.” He adds that there will be no relations between the Kurdistan Region and Israel if there are no diplomatic relations between Iraq and Israel. Continuing, he says: “I do not consider relations with Israel a crime or a taboo. Most Arab countries have relations with Israel. If we establish relations with it, we will do so publicly. There is no reason to keep such relations a secret; we are neither afraid nor ashamed of these relations.” He then says: “I am for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue and for the restoration of the Palestinian people’s rights, but at the same time I am against throwing Israel into the sea.”

Asked if he is for the destruction of the State of Israel “as some Palestinians and Lebanese” are calling for, Barzani says: “This is impossible.” He adds: “I consider this an incorrect, illogical, and irrational policy. Why should a whole people be destroyed?” He then says: “I do not believe in the call for destroying the Israeli people, but at the same time I do not at all support the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their rights or any Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.”

On the arrest of Iranian diplomats in Arbil, Barzani says the Americans “came to the wrong place at the wrong time,” adding that “the only place where there is no Iranian influence is Arbil and I will not allow any regional country to have influence in the Kurdistan Region.”

Responding to a question on what the Kurds will do if the United States attacks the Iranian nuclear reactors, Barzani says: “We have very frankly explained our position to the Americans and Iranians and asked them not to drag us to a conflict over the nuclear issue. We will absolutely not be a party to this conflict.”

Asked if there is “large corruption” in Iraq’s Kurdistan as reported in the press, Barzani says: “We do not have a long experience in the field of administration. I do not deny that there are shortcomings and perhaps corruption. There is exaggeration in both commendation and criticism.” He adds: “I will be grateful to anyone in and outside Iraq who can give me an accurate study showing where corruption is and in which department and how we can address it.”

Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 2000 gmt 6 Apr 07