Masrour Barzani to Los Angeles Times: 'very bad signals' from Baghdad | |

Kurd sees 'very bad signals' from Baghdad

Masrour Barzani, the Kurdish region's security chief, criticizes the failure so far to implement an article of the Iraq Constitution concerning control of oil-rich Kirkuk.

Los Angeles Times
By Ned Parker

March 28, 2009

Reporting from Salahuddin, Iraq — Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan regional government's intelligence service and internal security agency in northern Iraq, rarely speaks in public. He is the powerful son of Massoud Barzani, the region's president, and is seen as one of the next generation of Kurdish leaders expected to defend the autonomy Iraqi Kurds gained after years of war and instability.

As tensions deepen between the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Baghdad and the Kurds in the north, Masrour Barzani is a key player in the conflict over land in northern Iraq, including the oil-rich region of Kirkuk.

The Kurds are struggling with how to respond to an ascendant Baghdad, which is reluctant to accede to Kurdish wishes on holding a referendum to settle the fate of the disputed territories. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution called for such a referendum to be held by December 2007, but the vote was never held. The 40-year-old leader recently spoke with The Times about the impasse, the chances of an Arab-Kurdish conflict and America's obligation to both Iraq and the Kurds.

How do you view the status of Article 140 and efforts by the Iraqi government to replace Kurdish officers with Arab leadership in the Iraqi army in the disputed territories?

Are we ready to go ahead and implement the constitution as it is and not be selective in the articles that serve our purpose and those articles we don't like? . . . We all have compromised to have reached that constitution, which we believe is the best way to help all of Iraq, from Kurdistan all the way to Baghdad and the south and the west. We don't see the same intention by some people in Baghdad.

President Massoud Barzani suggested recently to the Los Angeles Times that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was acting in an authoritarian manner. Why do you think Maliki is not implementing Article 140?

We respect Mr. Maliki as prime minister. He is as an old ally, an old friend. It is not against him. It is against the entire approach of how to deal with the new Iraq. This [political] system is lacking a mechanism of following the constitution. There are things happening in Baghdad that are unconstitutional but still they get away with it -- the creation of different institutions and different, let's say, offices, alternative to other official government bodies. These things are happening, and no one is really complaining about it. . . .

And now we have an article [140] that is constitutional and people are refraining from doing it. . . . That sends very bad signals to even the Kurdish people. If Kurds are part of this country, why treat them differently. . . . So now I don't think it's only one prime minister who is doing this. It's the entire approach of not really believing in the new Iraq. And this is the new Iraq that we have sacrificed for. This is the new Iraq that we have promised to defend and be part of. But if the constitution is not respected, if the Kurds are treated differently then, I don't think the Kurds should be the ones to be blamed for whatever consequences . . . might appear.

Is there the potential, if things continue on the same path, for a Kurdish-Arab conflict to erupt?

There is already a Kurdish unrest or unhappiness with the decisions that the Kurdish politicians make in this regard because they [the Kurdish people] think the Kurdish leadership has been very soft and very compromising because they have all the rights to defend their constitutional rights, yet the delay and postponement of implementing those rights is becoming unacceptable to the public. I think there will be a time when the people might not listen to the solutions proposed by the leadership. So once they are fed up, you never know how they will react.

Do you think it's realistic that these issues will be solved by August 2010, when U.S. combat forces are scheduled to withdraw?

Once you agree on solving these issues on a political level, and once you have the intention of solving these things, the rest of it is easy. Finding a mechanism and implementing it is all easy. It's the intention, it's the political solution to the problem. I think the Americans could do that. It's not difficult. It's very realistic.

Are the Americans engaging enough to solve the problem of Kirkuk?

I don't know. What I could tell you would be the perceptions that most of the Kurds have, which is they don't think that the Americans or any of the coalition forces are coming forward and fulfilling the promise they gave. Whether that's true or not, I think American officials might be in a better position to answer that.

What do you think? What is your analysis?

I think they could do more. . . . I think that no problem should be delayed or postponed at the expense of solving some other ones. They could have moved parallel and solved all of the things parallel to each other. I think many things were put on hold because there was this fight against terrorism in the country. But there were areas that terrorism had very little effect on it and they could have introduced solutions to the existing problems and not have waited until things get more difficult and more complicated.

Right now are there any signs of a compromise regarding Article 140 and Kirkuk?

I think it is easy once things are left for the people of Kirkuk. I'm sure that they will be coming up with a solution much faster, but unfortunately there are too many external players, too many influences, too many players that are playing with the fate of Kirkuk, which has not served Kirkuk nor the people of Kirkuk.

Can the U.S. leave from the north in 2010 if Kirkuk and the disputed areas remain a contentious issue?

The reduction of the forces is feasible . . . and doable. But withdrawal completely of U.S. troops before the time is right, I think, is going to end up in losing everything that has been built so far. And [their] losses are going to go in vain. Iraq is not at the point where it can stand on its feet and face all the external and internal challenges. I think Iraq still needs U.S. support for some time, but that doesn't mean that the troops can't be reduced.

What kind of U.S. force do you need in thenorth for Kirkuk and other disputed areas, if there is no solution by August 2010, since the Americans are now looked to by all sides as a mediator?

It's important that the status of new Iraq is kept. Iraq is a federal country. Kurdistan has its own special status that needs to be respected. If the federal government doesn't want to respect that and they want to change that by force, there must be a response. If the Kurds cannot defend themselves, we believe the Americans should do that and they should help the country build and not destroy what has already been accomplished. We hope that it doesn't reach to that point.