ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With tensions between Erbil and Baghdad nearing a boil over the central government’s forceful passing of this year’s budget without paying heed to demands by the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways told Rudaw that this may have serious consequences. Himself an ethnic Kurd, Shaways said that the Kurdistan Region “will not be part of a bad government.” He warned that the Kurdish bloc in the coalition government would pull out if the budget issue is not resolved, noting that the balance of power in Iraq had shifted against the Kurds since the US withdrawal in December 2011. Here is his interview:
Rudaw: It is said that the Kurds have lost their leverage in Baghdad, is this true?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: The Kurds have not lost leverage in Baghdad. Kurds still have their strong position, but the current balance of power in Iraq is not like the balance of power back in 2003. Year after year this balance of power shifts, and one can say not in favor of the Kurds.
One of the major actors, that was keeping the balance of power stable, was a third party. This third party was acting as a referee and they were listened to by the Shiites. It has been three years that this power-balancer has left Iraq. This third party was America. After the withdrawal of the Americans the formula changed, and the balance of power changed too.
Kurds still have their strong position, but the current balance of power in Iraq is not like the balance of power back in 2003.
Rudaw: Do the Kurds still play an influential role in Baghdad?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: The Kurds have always had an influential role. The Kurdish politicians in Baghdad are supported by a region; they have a lively nation backing them. The Kurds have a long experience and history. Throughout Iraqi history the Kurds have had their role and have attempted to solve issues in Iraq. However, if by influential you mean that the Kurds are drafting Iraqi policies, then, no, that is not happening.
Rudaw: The Kurds failed to secure their share in the budget. If the Kurds have always had an influential role, why did this happen?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: In the budget it is always written that the Kurdistan region has 17 percent share of the Iraqi budget. However, this number is played with and there are attempts to reduce it. The attempts have not been successful. However, the Kurds want to have their share of the budget fixed, and eliminate possibilities for changing the share. The necessary changes have not been made. What we see today is not a fight over the budget; this is about unilateral decision making by a certain political party and ignoring Kurdish opinions. This is a dangerous start. This demand was a demand of a nation. All the Kurdish representatives in the parliament disagreed with passing the budget law in its current condition. All the representatives boycotted the parliament sessions. This is not a good thing. Iraq is marching towards authoritarianism.
Rudaw: There were concerns that the Kurdish delegation in Baghdad did not have decision-making powers, that is why they did not reach any conclusion in Baghdad. Is this true?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: No, it is not true. When the Kurds send a delegation to Baghdad, the delegation will be authorized with all kinds of power, and they will have backing.
Rudaw: You are the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Hoshiyar Zebari , another Kurd, is the foreign minister, and there are a number of other Kurdish ministers. However, the budget law was passed in the Council of Ministers with your approval. Now you are complaining about the budget law. Why did you not make these demands in the Council of Ministers?
All the Shiite parties have had their part in the attempts to reduce Kurdish share in the budget.
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: The budget law was not passed in the Council of Ministers with our approval. Neither I nor Mr. Zebari signed the budget law. The day the budget was passed in Baghdad neither one of us was in Baghdad. Later, we raised our voices and said we will not accept this budget law. We even fought over it. Later, I engaged in a quarrel with (Iraqi prime minister) Nuri al-Maliki and Hussein Shahristani (the deputy prime minister for energy affairs) over other issues like Kurdistan authorities, budget, and other demands.
Often, when we (Kurdish ministers) are not in the council of ministers, they take the chance to pass the laws. However, the Shiites are supposed to be allies with the Kurds. Therefore, they should not be doing that.
Rudaw: It is said that Shahristani is behind the attempts to reduce Kurdistan’s share of the budget and to reduce Kurdistan’s powers. Is this true?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: I do not think Shahristani is alone in this. Maliki plays an equal role. Maliki’s party plays a major role in attempts to reduce Kurdistan’s share. All the Shiite parties have had their part in the attempts to reduce Kurdish share in the budget.
Rudaw: After passing the budget, the Kurdish president held an urgent meeting with the Kurdish ministers and MPs in Baghdad. What was that meeting for?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: It is true we had an urgent meeting. That was because the budget was passed and that was a dangerous act. The Shiites were considered our allies until now, but they turned away from us in the budget case. The Kurds have to set a limit for the situation, otherwise it will worsen. Therefore, the meeting with (the Kurdistan Region’s) President Massoud Barzani was very important. In the meeting, a decision was made to recall Kurdish ministers and MPs from Baghdad. We need to assess Maliki’s decisions and reach a clear conclusion on that, otherwise even worse decisions and acts will follow.
We need to assess Maliki’s decisions and reach a clear conclusion on that, otherwise even worse decisions and acts will follow.
Rudaw: What if Baghdad continues to ignore Kurdish demands?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Then the Kurds will be free to make their own decision. We will make a decision in our interest. We will make the right decision at that time.
Rudaw: What is the right decision?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Well, now we are all in the Kurdistan Region and we will not return to Baghdad anytime soon in order to discuss what should be the right decision.
Rudaw: When will you return to Baghdad?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: We will not return to Baghdad until we reach a decision on the issue. The Kurdistani political parties will be discussing the issue for a while.
Rudaw: Is there any suggestion for the Kurdish ministers to withdraw from the Iraqi government?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Yes, if this situation continues and Kurdish rights are not respected, then we will not be a part of a bad government. No Kurdish minister will stay in Baghdad.
Rudaw: Is it true that you and Maliki got into a fist fight in one of the meetings?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: No fist fight - but we got into a fight over the issues of oil, budget and the Kurdistan Region’s authorities.
Rudaw: Why are the Kurds not united in Baghdad? It is said that Baghdad does what it does because the Kurds are not united!
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Fortunately, the Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi parliament are all united. In the past two or three years, this is the first time that the Kurdish representatives are this united. If you remember, before the hospitalization of Jalal Talabani (the Iraqi president) there were some differences between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but now both parties are in absolute agreement. This unity is strength and we have to preserve it. We have to do all it takes (even in Kurdistan) to protect this unity. Our strength is in our unity. That is the only way to exercise influence on the Shiites and Sunnis.
Fortunately, the Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi parliament are all united.
Rudaw: The Dijla Operation Forces (DOF) still remain in their previous stations. There are talks about DOF receiving helicopters. How long will these forces remain at their current location?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Iraq does not have fighter jets. The helicopters do not carry heavy weapons. They are also not armored, as they are old models. The Iraqi weaponry is not that effective. Their weapons do not match their shiny words about their weapons. Maliki has made some advances in the area under the pretext of changing the security situation in Kirkuk. This area is disputed. Until these disputes are resolved, no one can rule the city. Any ruling has to be joint. Maliki wants to play the main role in the city’s security. This is where the problems start. Kurds do not accept this. There must be joint forces in Kirkuk.
Rudaw: What is the effect of Talabani’s absence on Baghdad?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Talabani’s absence has a major effect on Baghdad. Unfortunately, his sickness happened at a very unsuitable time. If one is to speak frankly, I believe Talabani’s absence has permitted Maliki to create the current situation. Talabani has one deputy, who works in Talabani’s place now, and he is from Maliki’s party. So Talabani’s hospitalization has been in favor of Maliki.
Rudaw: Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) prime minister was to visit Baghdad. When will this visit take place?
Talabani’s hospitalization has been in favor of Maliki.
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Barzani was supposed to visit Baghdad last Tuesday or Wednesday. However, because all of the budget issues were tied to oil, he did not think it was a good idea to visit Baghdad at that time. Now, the time is not suitable for him to visit Baghdad.
Rudaw: Maliki asks for amending the Iraqi constitution. What does he want to change in the constitution?
Dr. Roj Nuri Shaways: Maliki wants to amend the constitution in order to have all oil issues placed under his authority. He wants to place all authority in his own hand. He wants to be able to mobilize the army at his own discretion. The Kurds refuse this.