In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region discusses oil, Syria and independence.
The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government has urged millions of Kurds to cast their ballot in an upcoming independence referendum, vowing to seek talks with Iraq’s central government on how to implement the outcome of the vote.
In an address on Sunday, Masoud Barzani said he would be “ready to start the process of dialogue with Baghdad” after Monday’s referendum, even as he made assurances to the international community that there is no effort to redraw regional borders.
Shortly after Barzani’s speech, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made a separate address saying he will never accept the disintegration of Iraq.
“This is an unconstitutional decision against the social fabric of our citizens. We will not recognise the referendum, nor its results,” Abadi said.
“We will take follow-up steps to protect the unity of the country and the interests of every citizen living in a unified Iraq.”
But Barzani defended the decision to hold the referendum, asking, “Is it a crime to ask people in Kurdistan to express in a democratic way what they want to have for the future?”
He said the regional government would give “as much time as needed” for negotiations with the central government in Baghdad, but added that the Kurds “will never go back to the failed partnership” of the past.
“If we have a constructive dialogue, then we can give it even more time, in order to secure better relations between the Kurds and Baghdad.”
He complained that Iraq has turned into a “theocratic, sectarian state”, and not the democratic the Kurds had expected after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
“The partnership with Baghdad we had hoped for did not happen. Baghdad violated the principles of power-sharing with the Kurdish region,” Barzani said.
“Only through independence can we secure our safety.”
Addressing the international community, Barzani said that the Kurds have proven that “we are factors of stability, and that we will continue to be a factor of stability in the region”.
Barzani also said that Iraqi Kurds want “excellent” ties with its neighbours, while pointing out that the Kurds had played a crucial role in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Iraq’s neighbours, mainly Iran and Turkey, have vehemently opposed the vote, fearing it will encourage their Kurdish minorities to splinter.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also rejected the vote, warning that it would fuel “chaos and instability” in the region.