- Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
- Ranya Al-Attar, BBC Arabic (Moderator)
In this conversation, the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Nechirvan Barzani, expressed his views on the current dynamic between the KRI and federal government, as well as the Kurdistan Region’s role on the global stage, looking at how it interacts, and how it is viewed by the national and international community. While life is generally safer for many in the Kurdistan Region than in the rest of the country, the KRI suffers from entrenched economic inequality and domestic issues. Moreover, the session took place over the one-month-mark since oil exports from the Kurdistan Region were halted following the International Chamber of Commerce arbitration ruling in Paris and, while an agreement was reached with the central government to resume oil exports through a pipeline to Turkey on April 4, questions remain over what the post-ruling situation will be.
President Barzani frankly acknowledged that there are problems in the Kurdistan Region. “We have all made mistakes since 2003,” the President said. “Iraq will only succeed when all parts feel like partners. What I see is that our strategic depth is Baghdad. We need to have a model of governance which all partners are part of… We still can move this country forward with dialogue,” the president told the Iraq Forum. “We thank Prime Minister Al-Sudani for his tolerance with the issue of oil transportation. The agreement has technical problems, we are sure that the issue is not political.” Furthermore, the President said, “The agreement with Total will push the entire state forward… this is what the people need. We stand supportive of Prime Minister Al-Sudani with all the Kurdistan political parties.”
“The Prime Minister of Iraq speaks of numbers. What stands out of him is his comprehensive look. He is exerting his utmost to fulfil his promises to serve the entire Iraq,” the President continued, in the presence of the Prime Minister in the audience. Regarding the recent oil deal signed between Erbil and Baghdad on the Kurdistan Region’s oil exports, the President said that “technical issues” are preventing the implementation. “But we in the Kurdistan Region are certain there is no political decision from Baghdad trying to obstruct this agreement,” he told the audience. “We have a joint team with Baghdad for the negotiations with Turkey… I am certain these problems are not that major to prevent the process and we will overcome them,” the President continued. “I hope these technical problems can be resolved by the next two weeks… The sooner this problem is solved, the sooner this burden is lifted from Baghdad’s shoulders,” he added. “Our deepest strategic relations are with Baghdad, and we can only solve our problems in Baghdad.”
Regards to KDP-PUK issues and the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming parliamentary elections, the president said that, “We are trying to make the Kurdistan Region Presidency an umbrella that unites all disagreeing parties,” with parliamentarians from both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). After prolonged delays, the Kurdistan Region is set to hold parliamentary elections on November 18, but questions remain over whether this date will be adhered to. “We have asked all parties to abide by the scheduled date for the Region’s parliamentary election,” the president told the Iraq Forum, calling the holding of elections a constitutional right. “I don’t believe the exit of the PUK team from the cabinet meetings was the right move,” the President added. “By exiting the meetings, they have not served the PUK or the Kurdistan Region… the council of ministers is where you fix problems,” he said.
Turning the conversation to the Kurdistan Regions’ relations with neighbouring Iran and Turkey, the president pushed for a realistic assessment. “We have to be realistic, and the reality is Turkey has some security concerns that are necessary for Iraq to consider… We must not become a source of threat for our neighbouring countries… If it wasn’t for the PKK presence on the borders, why would Turkey attack?” the president said. “Turkey has the right to have a stable Iraq as a neighbour. Iran retains the same right as well. We cannot be a threat to our neighbours… the Prime Minister has been very serious on this matter.” Directly addressing Iran, the president called the country an important neighbour to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. “Iran has always helped us throughout history… We will never help any country against Iran in any way,” he stressed. “We will not allow the Kurdistan Region to be used to threaten Iran… we always want to be a factor for stability… We always want the best relations with our neighbours.”
Iraq Forum: For Stability and Prosperity
Session 10: The Kurdistan Region: A Substate Actor on the National and International Stage