“The Arabs Should Leave Kurdistan Again”

Interview: Massoud Barzani

Massoud Barzani
Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani arrives for lunch with Gen. Jay Garner, then in charge of running Iraq, on April 23, 2003 (Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP-Getty Images).

Massoud Barzani, 57, is chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two most powerful Iraqi Kurdish political organizations. Barzani is a member of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council. Frankfurter Rundschau correspondent Andrea Nüsse spoke with Barzani in his office in Salahedin, northern Iraq.

FR: The United States wants to encourage more countries to send troops to Iraq. What do you think about this?
Massoud Barzani: The best solution for the Iraqi people would be an end to the occupation. But until then the Iraqi people will probably need assistance. We have no objections to European or other soldiers being sent. But we do oppose any of Iraq’s neighbor countries sending in troops.

This means, therefore, no Turkish soldiers?
Our position is very clear: We are against the stationing of troops from regional powers in Iraq, including troops from Turkey.

What do you fear would happen in the Kurdish region, which has until now been stable, if Turkey, which has a tense relationship with all Kurds, obeys Washington’s wishes?
If the Americans want security and stability, then they will not allow any regional powers into the country. But if they would like to lose what we Kurds now have…Troops from Iraq’s neighbor-countries would create problems, and there would no longer be stability in any part of Iraq.

It looks as if the future political system will be based on religious and ethnic proportionality. Can this be the foundation for a national Iraqi identity?
Sometimes reality is unpleasant. But ignoring reality is a mistake. Iraq consists of different peoples, sects, and religions, some of which have, until now, enjoyed no freedom. A system that is not based on such proportional representation is only thinkable in some future phase.

Under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were suppressed and persecuted. As a result, many of them distrust Sunni Arabs. How do you deal with this psychological factor?
We do not want to stir up resentment among the Kurds against the Arabs. The Arab population is not responsible for the crimes against the Kurdish people; it was the former regime’s fault. What we urge is that Iraq’s future be based on a voluntary union. But if the Kurds are forced into something that they are not satisfied with, then there will be neither an Iraqi state based on proportional representation nor any common identity.

The Kurds would like a federal system. How would Kurdish rights be protected in such a state? Let us take language as an example.
Either we will have two official languages, or in the Arab regions Arabic will be the first official language and Kurdish the second. And the converse in Kurdish areas.

Will the roughly 90,000 Kurdish “peshmergas” be integrated into the new Iraqi army? Or will they continue to guard the Kurdish region?
The “peshmerga” are already the core of the future Iraqi army. Once a unified army exists, they could be stationed anywhere in the country.

By driving Kurds out, and then deliberately resettling Arab families, the frontiers of the Kurdish region have become blurred.
The historic borders of Kurdistan are know to all: whether 20,000 years ago, or today. It is very well-known in Iraq where the border between the Kurdish region and the Arab region runs.

Is there general agreement about this in the current Iraqi governing council, too?
There are probably different points of view on it. But we will not concede anything.

Two hot points are the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, which are near large petroleum reserves. Do these cities, in your eyes, belong to a future unified Kurdistan?
All of the areas that had Kurdish majorities before the deliberate policies of resettling Arab families began, which was in 1961, are Kurdish. This is why Kirkuk is not just a part of Kurdistan but its heart. The case of Mosul is different. Some parts of it have always been Kurdish, others Arab.

What should happen to the Arabs who were systematically relocated to Kurdish regions?
During his visit to Mosul a few days ago, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, assured us that a commission established to resolve this situation would soon begin its work. The United Nations ought to be involved, too. These Arabs should leave, because they were brought here to “Arabize” Kurdistan. It is impossible for the Kurds to say that the Arabs can remain. But we will be patient until a legal solution can be found.