President of Kurdistan Masoud Barzani said, several weeks before the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum set for September 25, that any alternative to the referendum, in the form of an agreement between Kurdistan and Baghdad, must include international guarantees. Barzani said that the Iraqi government's cutting off of Kurdistan's budget was "tantamount to a second Anfal campaign" and denied that Kurdistan had been selling its oil on its own. Barzani further said that a Kurdistani state would not be a national home for Kurds alone, but would be inclusive to other religions, nationalities, and ethnicities as well, and that he would not intervene in the affairs of Kurds in other places. The interview, conducted by the Al-Arabiya network, aired on September 7.
Masoud Barzani: "The decision [to hold a referendum] is the right and appropriate decision, and it is the legitimate right of the people of Kurdistan. We tried to give a chance and enough time for all parties to establish a true partnership in Baghdad. Unfortunately, however, we have failed to build such a partnership. Thus, we were forced to take this decision.
"In all our meetings with [international] representatives, no one spoke against the referendum or the rights of the people of Kurdistan. What they said was that the timing is not right."
Host: "Because the war against ISIS is not over..."
Masoud Barzani: "The war with ISIS is not over, and a referendum might divert the focus from the war on terror. But in no way do we accept these pretexts."
Host: "So far, Baghdad's position on the referendum has been negative."
Masoud Barzani: "True, but our brothers in Baghdad should not blame us. They should blame themselves for this outcome.
"We say to those who ask us to postpone the referendum: 'Give us an alternative. What proposal do you want us to consider? Any agreement between Kurdistan and Baghdad must include international guarantees.
"In the 1920s, we voted to join Iraq on condition that we would be partners. What did we gain from this partnership from the 1920s until 2003? 4,500 Kurdish villages were wiped out."
Host: "By whom?"
Masoud Barzani: "By the Baath regime."
Host: "The Saddam regime?"
Masoud Barzani: "Yes. Even before Saddam, Kurdish rights and the principle of partnership were ignored. The regimes that preceded Saddam were not committed to this either.
"The Baath regime wiped out 4,500 villages. They started with the [Shiite] Feyli Kurds. 12,000 Feylis, aged 18 to 30, were killed. They disappeared. They killed 8,000 of the Barzani tribe."
Host: "Your own tribe and family."
Masoud Barzani: "Yes. In the 1988 Al-Anfal campaign, 182,000 citizens were lost. 70% of whom were women and children. Then came the chemical attack on Halabja, and on all the villages on the border, all the way to Zakho. In Halabja alone, there were 5,000 martyrs. 85-90% of whom were women and children.
"The cutting off of our budget by the Iraqi government is tantamount to a second Anfal campaign. How can a prime minister do such a thing? On the basis of which clause in the constitution? Who gave him the right to do this? Even if there were disagreements between Kurdistan and Baghdad, how could he allow himself to cut off the livelihood of an entire nation? The pretext that they tried to spread is not true..."
Host: "That you were selling oil on your own..."
Masoud Barzani: "We started selling oil only after they cut off our budget.
"We agreed to establish a federal, democratic, secular state, but now we are living in a religious-sectarian state."
Host: "After the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, Kurdistan became a virtually independent state. Why do you still insist on this referendum? Will the referendum give you something you do not already have?"
Masoud Barzani: "We had a bitter experience, and we don't want to repeat that failure. The opposite is true. We had been a virtually independent state, and after the collapse of the Baath regime, our people and parliament voluntarily chose to join the union with Baghdad. We gave up our independence, and that, perhaps, was a mistake. We made a mistake."
Host: "So before 2003, you were more independent than now?"
Masoud Barzani: "Of course. We chose to join the union with Baghdad, because we saw it as an opportunity to build a new democratic and federal Iraq. Unfortunately, however, we have encountered procrastination and unexpected evasiveness. Ultimately, we realized that this was the same old culture of refusing to accept the other."
Host: "What are the possible post-referendum scenarios? Will you declare an independent state the following day?"
Masoud Barzani: "No. We will engage in serious negotiations with Baghdad about all the issues."
Host: "But you are already engaged in serious negotiations..."
Masoud Barzani: "Before and after the referendum, the negotiations will continue. We categorically reject violence and we will continue negotiations with Baghdad on all the issues."
Host: "So how will the referendum impact the negotiations? You are negotiating before the referendum and will negotiate after it, so what will change?"
Masoud Barzani: "The people of Kurdistan will have their say and will determine their future by themselves. They will deliver the following message to the region and to the world: 'We want independence, and negotiations from now on will be about independence, and not about benefits or ministerial jobs.'
"I believe that the establishment of a Kurdish state – or a Kurdistani state, to be precise – will help to bolster security and stability in the region."
Host: "What is the difference between a Kurdish and a Kurdistani state?"
Masoud Barzani: "A Kurdish state is a national state for the Kurds, whereas a Kurdistani state includes Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmens, Arabs... It will not be a purely Kurdish nation state."
Host: "Will that state constitute a center for all the Kurds in the world? Will it be similar to the state of Israel, which has gathered all the Jews worldwide in what the Jews perceive to be the 'Promised Land'? Will you gather the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and other countries?"
Masoud Barzani: "I guarantee that there will be no inference in the affairs of the Kurds in other parts. We encourage them to use peaceful and democratic means to reach agreements with the countries in which they live, but we will not draw a roadmap for them and will not intervene in their affairs."
Host: "You said that there would be presidential elections in November, after the referendum. Will you run in these elections?"
Masoud Barzani: "No."
Host: "You won't run in these elections?"
Masoud Barzani: "Absolutely not."
Host: "After the referendum you will step aside from your political role as president?"
Masoud Barzani: "My main goal, ever since I took up arms as a young man in 1962, has been to achieve independence for my people. When this happens – or is about to happen – my mission will be over."