assoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, has said in an interview that the U.S. and Turkey are unlikely to oppose the declaration of an independent Kurdish state.
Anticipating reaction from Washington and Ankara, Barzani told Germany’s Die Welt: “I do not expect active assistance or resistance.”
As president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Barzani last week called on the Kurdish Parliament in Erbil to work on fixing a date for a referendum on independence.
He told the German daily: “People can only live together voluntarily, not under compulsion”.
“Not long ago, talking about the independence of Kurdistan would could have landed you in jail. Independence is the natural right of every nation,” Barzani said.
The veteran Kurdish leader said the Baghdad government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was largely to blame for the current crisis in Iraq and that it had ignored KRG warnings about the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Barzani’s latest comments came after KRG officials visited Washington to explain the case for Kurdish independence to U.S. administration that has so far stressed the need to maintain a united Iraq.
There have meanwhile been mixed signals from Turkey, the KRG’s closest regional partner but also a state that has been traditionally hostile to any move towards Kurdish independence that might encourage its own Kurdish community.
Reviewing the lead-up to the present Iraqi crisis, Barzani told Die Welt: “We warned Baghdad about the imminent threat, but they ignored us, despite our pleas that ISIS was getting stronger and mobilising alongside the border.”
He said the growth in support for ISIS stemmed from failed government policies that undermined Sunnis in Iraq. “The Sunnis were ignored and their needs for better roads, hospitals and schools were dismissed by the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki” Barzani told Die Welt.
He said ISIS had presented itself as a voice for the grievances of Sunnis. However, the jihadist group was not acting alone but in alliance with other groups, including former supporters of Saddam Hussein.
“The logic behind this is as old as it is simple. The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said. However, there were differences within this coalition. “ISIS wants a religious dictatorship, while the followers of Saddam want their power back”, Barzani said.
He said the KRG had tried for a decade to give Iraq the opportunity to emerge as a democracy, but violence continued on a daily basis.
He stressed that the KRG had become a safe haven for other communities fleeing the violence. “Thousands have fled, especially Christians. Where ISIS establishes a Caliphate, their lives are in danger. We protect our minorities against these terrorists”.