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Interview: Elections, Baghdad and hope for the future in the Kurdistan region in Iraq

An interview with Zkri Musa, media advisor President Masoud Barzani

September 17, 2018

Interview by Seth J. Frantzman

Can you tell us about the upcoming KRG elections on September 30th

At the Kurdistan Democratic Party we predict a huge success. Our KDP list has some has many unique qualities and specialties. It contains youth candidates. The average age is 39.

We have different experts. We have a vision and clear goal.

We want a strong and developed Kurdistan. We are not against other parties. We want unity after the elections and a coalition. We are not refusing a coalition with any other party. The campaign is very clam and peaceful. The head of the campaign is President Masoud Barzani and he has asked people to be peaceful and not hurl insults. That is his demand.

The other parties may use different things against KDP and may attack us but we are not doing these kinds of politics. We have a clear plan for governing and reform. Some of the other parties don’t like us and their views are a reaction to our goals.

Each party has 100 candidates. There are 11 seats for minorities. Last time we had 38 members of the KRG parliament, but this time we hope to receive more.

Why do you expect to get more seats this time?

We will receive more seats because the people of Kurdistan are getting tired of candidates who talk without any action. All the achievements we made are ones that the KDP had a hand in. We defeated ISIS and held the referendum with 93% support and cancelled the embargoes on the Kurdish region and performed well in the Iraqi elections as the largest Kurdish party. We got more votes in that election. So people are looking for actions. KDP has a history of such action.

Zkri Musa (Courtesy)
Zkri Musa (Courtesy)

What about Kirkuk and Sinjar, the disputed areas?

People know the truth behind the fall of Kirkuk [in October 2017]. We believe that Kurdish people are more aware of the situation than in years before. If the anti-KDP propaganda affects the people then KDP would not have performed so well in the Iraqi elections [in May 2018]. The places that are controlled by KDP, in those areas people will participate in a high rate in the KRG election. Because KDP supporters believed that this is the word of Kurds and they must help their party. We want to provide information, for instance, that if you look at the Iraqi elections, the racist people didn’t get any votes. Those anti-Kurdish fascists didn’t get votes. They lost. [Prime Minister Haider al] Abadi, wanted to be a national hero for standing against the referendum, but the Iraqi people rejected him. The fascist faces were not chosen. The Iraqi people didn’t vote for them. These are two clear examples. Also those who bragged they could stop article 140 or are anti-Kurdish did not do well. Salim Jabouri, the Sunni, also didn’t get votes.

The demonstrations we have seen in the south and central Iraq are clear examples and show the Iraqi people don’t want this system anymore. They are tired of this situation. The rate of participation in the elections was low. We want the US to understand this.

Let’s discuss the role of America then?

Many parties, local parties, wanted to postpone the Kurdistan elections, because they know they will fail and lose. But KDP demands that the elections will happen. Some of the parties were afraid of losing. Some pro-Iranian groups wanted to postpone the elections and stop the elections so the KRG will lose its legal standing. So if we hold elections then we will have a more legitimate legal government. This is especially true in the wake of the Iraqi elections.

The US wanted the Kurdistan elections to be postponed because they want KRG to focus on Baghdad and the new Iraqi government. But the Kurdistan commission, the High Commission on elections decided to have elections and we couldn’t postpone it.

So what do the Americans want?

They have put pressure, but no results out of this pressure. Because, we had a bad experience with Abadi. Abadi is one of the options that the US has chosen [for the next Prime Minister] and if he has enough power he will block Kurdistan’s breathing space. It is not logical that we will support him and the US understands this very well and they understand that they were wrong. That is my personal belief, I think the American political players in Iraq are not good players. The diplomatic team in Iraq are not good players. They put pressure on Sunnis as well.

They tried a lot with the Kurds to get us to support Abadi again but we did not decide. The Iranians are using the same strategy, of different kinds of pressure.

So who does the KDP support?

It’s not a question of a single person. We believe there should be a deal and some principles, including a balance of power. There are three things that we believe. One is the legal share of the coalition in the balance of power. There must be a clear guarantee and mechanism for these three principles. Oil and gas, for instance. And Kirkuk under Article 140 of the disputed areas. There must be a clear deal on that as well. After that, then with that agreement then it doesn’t matter if it is A or B or X candidate, but not those we have a bad experience, such as Abadi. The Dawa party is also one we had a bad experience with [Nouri al-Maliki of the Dawa party was Prime Minister of Iraq from 2011 to 2014, Abadi was a member of the Dawa party and formed a new party for the 2018 elections].

President Masoud Barzani speak to reporters on the eve of the Independence Referendum, September 24, 2017 (Seth J. Frantzman)

President Barzani’s term ended last year, what comes next?

His term ended last year because it was not legal to extend his term again. So there were two problems. We couldn’t hold elections at that time [in 2017], so when his term ended no parties had a candidate. So KRG Parliament passed a law to divide the power of the President among Parliament and Prime Minister and the Judiciary system. So when the term ended his power was divided.

So this issue is left to the next parliament to resolve. This next parliament will decide on this. But KDP has put out that it is clear that KDP demands that people should choose the President through a direct vote.

So after these elections, there could be another election for a new president?

It’s left to parliament to decide that. They have two choices, either another election for the new president or divide the powers. But the President should be chosen.

A Kurdish man watches his son, dressed up as a Peshmerga, in downtown Erbil. (Seth J. Frantzman)

The KRG faces different challenges, such as economic reforms, salaries, and Peshmerga reform, what is the foremost in your view?

Reform in all the sectors is the most important thing for people. KDP wants to get more votes to start these reforms. Because if KDP will not get enough votes then we can’t have a successful reform plan. In a coalition government there may be obstacles, we want to win to start that reform, in Sulimaniyeh, in Erbil and all the governorates. If we have a strong KDP then we can liberate ourselves from certain outside meddling.

What specific reforms?

The administration system is the priority. The Peshmerga also, and education, and also the judiciary.

What do you mean by the administrative system?

Generally we need revision and reform in all our government. Our government is tired and has not had enough time to do this. Because of the war against ISIS, and the issues of stability and internal disputes among the parties. Some people have sought to control things for themselves and stole money for themselves.

What about the oil exports and the northern border?

Just to make it clear. We believe that the current situation in Kirkuk, the economy, military and political situation is abnormal. And it is unconstitutional and so it must be changed through the constitution. All the minorities should take part in administering this city. They can join together through the parts of article 140. There are serious negotiations for this.

There is one thing that the federal system in Iraq was incapable and handicapped and we never had a council of Senators that should have been a part of a federal system. So there are some recommendations and demands to have a higher council for political strategy out of the parliament or ministry of councils that contains some leaders from the Kurdish, Sunni and Shia communities. That would avoid for instance that with one signature someone could cut the budget of Kurdistan. With a balance of power someone savage like Abadi could not make himself a national hero, so each group has a right of veto. This would guarantee deals and address the constitution. So it would not be a dictatorship.

How much does Iranian involvement concern you?

Iran makes us nervous and concerned. It’s a reality and realistic that it has influence here, especially in Suli and all the interventions are a source of instability.

Is there anything else of importance you’d like to add?

I want to add that if we want a stable solution in Iraq then everyone should let Iraq make their own decisions without intervention. These kinds of interventions just make instability. So the real voters of Iraq have disappeared among the situation. The US-Iran rivalry wants to make the decision of who is Prime Minister after people voted. If they will leave Iraqis to make their own decision then I think Iraqis want to be three good neighbors, but if they insist that we should live together in a unified Iraq then there will be problems all the time.

The voters showed they don’t want this system and don’t trust these faces. They are tired of sectarianism and slogans. The Iraqi people were against the threats of Baghdad against Kurdistan. The results of the election shocked Abadi and the US. The US wanted to make Abadi a national hero. They sought to turn him into a hero through standing against Kurdistan referendum, invading Kirkuk, and success in the ISIS war. But people understand that these achievements of destroying ISIS was not the success of Abadi but he sought to steal the results. Iraqis know that voting in the referendum was the simple right of Kurdish people. And the Iraqis know that through the last century no one can solve the Kirkuk issue through the military, through iron and fire, so what Abadi did, his actions were a savage way of doing things. Now we hope for a new way.

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