The Foreign Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Falah Mustafa Bakir, requests an intensification of international air support und a humanitarian bridge for refugees between Europe and the Kurdistan Region.
Die Presse: The city of Kobane in the Syrian Kurdish areas is still heavily contested. What needs to be done to save the city from IS?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: The Kurdish fighters in Syria have proven that they are a successful partner on the ground. The international community must intensively continue the air strikes and provide all available help, in order for us to defeat IS.
Die Presse: Turkey has been accused by many Kurds of refusing this assistance. It does not allow the Kurds to establish a corridor to Kobane and there are even allegations that Ankara is collaborating with IS. Will this impede on your government’s good relations with Ankara?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: We have very good relations and would like to develop them further. We need to focus together on the threat posed by IS. This is also in the interest of Turkey. The Republic of Turkey has its own policy. They decided to be part of the international coalition against IS. This is a welcome step. But one point remains: We understand that the situation in Syria is complicated. But if we connect the issues IS and Syria as Ankara demands: Will we get the necessary international resolution? No. Therefore, we have to first deal with the threat of IS and then the international community should get together to develop a solution for Syria. This is not the time to further complicate things.
Die Presse: The head of the Kurdish guerilla organization PKK, Cemil Bayik, has said in an interview with “Die Presse” that the peace process with Turkey is over – because of Turkey’s inaction with regard to the border town of Kobane.
Falah Mustafa Bakir: The continuation of the peace process between the PKK and Ankara is in everyone’s interest. We therefore should not allow this process to be stopped. It is not good at this critical moment when we face the threat of IS to threaten the end of the peace process.
Die Presse: The PKK and its allied units in Syria make an important contribution in the fight against IS – also in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Do you see a rival ascending?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: It is not about rivalry but rather to support each other. We do not want any friction among the Kurdish groups.
Die Presse: Frictions existed in the past particularly between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Are these problems now solved after the departure of Maliki?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: It is not our intention that certain persons are replaced. It is about a fundamental change in Baghdad. We want that Baghdad is more open toward the rights and wishes of the Kurds.
There are constitutional guarantees for the Kurds in Iraq that must be respected. We have given the government in Baghdad until the end of the year to build up a real partnership with us. If the politics of Maliki will be continued, then the change of government in Bagdad was pointless. We have received promises in the past. Now is the time for action. If Baghdad wants the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, it must show its willingness to share the power and wealth of the country in contrast to past experiences.
Die Presse: The Kurdistan Region wanted to hold a referendum on independence. Is this still on the table after the attacks by IS?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: Given the years of wrong politics of Prime Minister Maliki, the monopolization of power and the marginalization of other communities, we have reached a point where there no longer was a common ground for Erbil and Baghdad. We did not get the federal and democratic Iraq that was promised to us by the constitution. President Barzani has stated clearly: There are two paths. One is to assist the officials in Baghdad during the joint development of a federal state. The other is to hold a referendum where the people of Kurdistan can exercise their right of self-determination. The government in London has offered the people of Scotland more for them to stay within the common state before their vote. That is what we had expected from Baghdad. But Baghdad pushed us away in a direction that we leave Iraq. They have cancelled the budget for the Kurdistan Region due to political differences. Our Peshmerga troops, who are recognized in the constitution as regional guards and are fighting IS, have not received their salaries.
Die Presse: But given the threat by IS, is a referendum still possible? It has become evident that the Kurdistan Region also needs support – for example by Iraqi troops to expel IS from Mosul.
Falah Mustafa Bakir: We have to be realistic. Currently, the top priority must be the fight against the terrorist group IS – not only for us but for Baghdad as well. It is not clear how much is even left of the Iraqi army. Ten divisions simply collapsed.
Die Presse: What do you expect from the international community?
Falah Mustafa Bakir: We are grateful that so many countries have helped us so far. But we need more help. We have asked for a humanitarian bridge between Europe and the Kurdistan Region. We now have 1.5 million refugees in Kurdistan, many are severely traumatized. These terrorists brought the Middle Ages to life again: They behead people and enslave women. We have to manage this refugee crisis and at the same time fight against IS on a 1035 kilometers long front. We are proud to fight on the front line against a terrorist group that is a threat to the whole world. The air strikes must be continued and intensified. And the Peshmerga must receive heavy weapons and ammunitions for them to go on the offensive. The terrorists leave behind mines and booby traps everywhere they are on the retreat. This poses a big problem and has led to many casualties among our Peshmerga. We need international support – for example equipment for the detection and clearing of mines. We also want the crimes that IS committed against the Yezidis and other minorities to be recognized as genocide.
Die Presse: There are rumors that Iranian troops were active in the Kurdistan Region during the fight against IS.
Falah Mustafa Bakir: Kurdistan has its own Peshmerga troops. We are proud of the Peshmerga and their long history. If we had needed additional troops we would have asked for them. We said we do not need any fighters but we need air support and heavy weaponry for our Peshmerga. In the future we need the support of our friends to form our Peshmerga troops into a professional national army. Iran, like so many other countries, has assisted us with military experts. Like we had many advisors from the United Kingdom and other countries, we also had Iranian military advisors. But they are rather active in other parts of Iraq and not that much in the Kurdistan Region.
For the original article (German), click here