As long as Iraq abides by constitution we’re Iraqis – Kurdistan Region president

The tricky process of coalition building in Iraq is underway while the country awaits the preliminary results of the recent parliamentary elections.

Massoud Barzani, the president of its relatively stable federal region of Kurdistan spoke to RT about the future prospects for the country's development towards peace.

RT: The international community has focused much attention on the historic federal election in Iraq that could form the entire future of the country. Could you explain to us: what is Kurdistan and how is it different from the rest of Iraq?

Massoud Barzani: First of all you are most welcome. Iraq has been a bi-national country ever since it was established after the First World War. Iraq was established with Arabs and Kurds being the two major nations in Iraq. But unfortunately the partnership between the Kurds and the Arabs has not been working, they have not allowed for the opportunity for this partnership to work since the establishment of the Iraqi state at that time, until 1991 when the Kurdish people had their glorious uprising and also the political and international equations and the interest of the international community has changed. Since the uprising in 1991, the situation has changed and the Kurds have a happy opportunity to have their own space and the ability to govern themselves.

After the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the Kurds have played a very important role in the new political process in Iraq and in drafting the new constitution, and, as you know, in the last couple of days you have been able to see the elections in the rest of Iraq and in this region.

As you know, after 2003 the security situation in the rest of Iraq has deteriorated, but thanks to God our own people manage to have their own security and their own stability throughout this region.

RT: In the past there have been clashes between Kurdistan and Baghdad, or at the very least a difference in ideology. Is this something that can be overcome?

MB: In that situation the clashes were based on the denials of our rights. But now the situation is different, Iraq has its own constitution that defines and stipulates the duties of everyone. Kurds are a genuine part of the founding fathers of the new Iraq, and as long as the government is committed to and abides by this constitution, I don’t think there will be any future problems.

RT: Moving on to the elections you have mentioned, the international community has hailed this process as a success; something very positive for Iraq. Do you feel, despite the violence in Baghdad, that overall the election has been a success both for Iraq and for Kurdistan?

MB: We also think it was a very successful process!

RT: What does this election mean to the people of Kurdistan? What’s at stake? What does it mean for the people of Kurdistan?

MB: For us this election means electing a representative of the Kurdish people to the Iraqi Parliament. That is a different front to fight, but the weapon they will have is the constitution, because there are certain articles within the constitution that need to be detailed and have new laws, and especially the implementation and enforcement of article 140 which specifies the situation with the disputed territories. So there are many issues that we have to work on.

RT: One of the first things you notice when flying into Erbil (the capital of Kurdistan Autonomous Region and third-largest city in Iraq) is the phrase “A different Iraq”. Can you explain what this means? What is unique about Kurdistan and what does this phrase mean?

MB: We are part of Iraq, this area is Iraq. This area is Iraq. We don’t say that it is a different place, but we are saying there is security and stability in this region and also we have our own culture, our own traditions and history.

RT: So, as part of Iraq, this idea of a more secure Iraq is it important to help in developing Kurdistan and making it a place for people to come?

MB: Definitely! The security and stability of this region has led to foreign companies and foreign investments into this area and also to help use Kurdistan as a launching pad to help groups invest in the rest of Iraq.

RT: Do Iraqi Kurds consider themselves as Iraqis?

MB: The culture of tolerance in Kurdistan is one thing we are very proud of. The Kurds are very tolerant in their nature. In 1991, two units of the Iraqi army surrendered to the Kurdish people. These Iraqi forces were responsible for the destruction of 4,500 villages and genocide campaigns, the massacres and the destruction in this area, but despite this, these tragedies they caused us, none of them were insulted or degraded. They were all respected, and with that respect they were sent back to their homes.

As long as Iraq abides by this constitution we are indeed Iraqis, but we are the Kurds of Iraq.

RT: How autonomous is Kurdistan from Baghdad?

MB: It has been stipulated in the Iraqi constitution that Iraq is a federal country and Kurdistan is a federal region, a part within that country.

RT: What future do you see for both Iraq and Kurdistan without the US [troops] presence?

MB: A little over a month ago I met with President Obama and we discussed this very issue. I asked if the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq meant the end of America’s engagement with Iraq. He answered that the withdrawal of troops does not mean the end of the engagement. We deem it very ordinary for the troops to go home from Iraq, but that the relationship with the Americans will be continuous.

RT: What are your views on Russia-Iraqi relations and Russia-Kurdistan relations?

MB: We would like to have a strong relationship with Russia, both between Russia and Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. What we have noticed now are some developments in that relationship between the two countries. As far as the Kurdistan Region is concerned, we haven’t seen such seriousness in developing proper relations and we would like to see such seriousness in the future.

RT: How do you think the situation in Iraq is affecting relations with Turkey, Israel and the US?

MB: We are living in a region where the internal situation in Iraq will indeed have an affect on the region as a whole, but also their situation will also have an affect on what happens here in Iraq as well.

RT: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our viewers in the world?

MB: No, just many thanks.