It seems that the protest has as much to do with branding Kurdistan’s ruling parties – the KDP and PUK -- as suspect organizations by the US, as with the visa applications.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – There has been much speculation over why Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani did not visit Washington as expected last week.
Some said that US President Barack Obama had cancelled the meeting. An earlier statement from Barzani’s chief of staff Fuad Hussein had explained that it was because the timing was not right.
But a letter sent by President Barzani to Obama apparently tells it all: The reason has to do with the fact that the US government has both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) on its blacklist.
It is said that Kurdistan residents have to specify in their visa application forms if they are members of the PUK and KDP, and if they are, then their process gets complicated and lengthy.
A source close to the president told Rudaw, “When the president found that out he decided not to visit the US until that issue is solved.”
“Until the issue of giving visas to the citizens of Kurdistan is solved, I wouldn’t visit the United States,” Barzani is said to have written to the White House as he cancelled his trip.
The head of the Kurdistan Region’s Foreign Relations Department, Falah Mustafa, confirmed that is an existing issue and that the Kurdish government is trying to resolve it with the US authorities.
“In the past years we have sent many letters to the US embassies and consulates,” said Mustafa.
But it seems that the protest has as much to do with branding Kurdistan’s ruling parties – the KDP and PUK -- as suspect organizations by the US, as with the visa applications.
According to Mustafa, the US had put both Kurdish parties on that list following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
“After the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, any group consisting of more than two members and fighting an armed struggle against their government was put on that list,” Mustafa told Rudaw.
He said that the PUK and KDP are at the third level on the US list, which is reserved for suspected armed groups.
“We told the Americans ‘you removed Saddam Hussein yourselves and now you should remove the Kurds from that list,’” said Mustafa.
He explained that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the US government maintain good relations and that this particular issue has to be solved in the US congress.
According to the presidential source, US Vice President Joe Biden had told Barzani on the telephone that the Obama administration is keen on resolving this matter, hence setting a date for the Kurdish president’s visit.
However, Barzani reportedly responded, “If that issue is solved today, I will visit the US tomorrow.”
Shortly after the cancellation of the visit, Barzani’s Chief of Staff denied that the president’s decision was taken because Obama had been too busy for a meeting. “It is that President Barzani didn’t find the time suitable for such a visit, not that Obama didn’t have time,” Hussein said, without elaborating on what might be the real cause the cancellation.
According to another well placed source who talked to Rudaw on condition of anonymity, Barzani had told the US administration, “I am the head of a party and the president of the Kurdistan Region. You refuse members of my party visas because they are with the KDP, yet on the other hand you welcome me. What would I say to my people then?”
Barzani is said to have taken up the case of the PUK in his letter to the US, saying, the treatment is an insult to both parties.
The US Consulate in Erbil, contacted by Rudaw, responded that it does not reply to visa questions.