Kurdistan president says Kurds to stay
clear of Iraq sectarian strife
Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud
Barzani speaks during an interview with Reuters in
Erbil, the capital city of the semi-autonomous
Kurdistan region. January 4, 2012. Photo: Reuters
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January 5, 2012
ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq',
— Iraq's Kurds are determined not to get dragged
into a sectarian conflict over Shi'ite Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempted arrest of the
Sunni vice-president, and the Kurds' leader said
failure to implement a federal system would lead to
Nine years after the U.S.-led invasion, much of Iraq
is still plagued by Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite
militias, but Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed relative
peace and prosperity after successfully rising up
against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and achieving federal
autonomy under Iraq's 2005 constitution.
Unless their interests are directly affected, the
Kurds have tried to remain largely aloof from the
interminable political wrangling that has beset the
central government in Baghdad, attempting to act as
a mediator to resolve potential conflicts.
But Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's flight to
Kurdistan last month after an attempt to arrest him
on accusations of running death squads has thrust
the Kurds centre stage in a political drama that
could descend into sectarian violence.
"I don't want to be dragged into this," Massoud
Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, told
Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
"We are not part of the sectarian struggle that is
there. Of course we are part of the political
disagreement and political struggle, but not of the
The Kurds have called for a national conference to
settle the differences between Maliki and the
cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc which is boycotting
parliament and cabinet meetings, accusing Maliki's
Shi'ite-led government of concentrating power.
"We are all waiting for the concerned groups to
reach an agreement on when and where to meet,"
Barzani said he was ready to host the conference,
but political sources said Maliki was against
meeting in the Kurdish capital Arbil and wanted the
issue of Hashemi cleared up first.
"If they decide to have it somewhere else, then it
is up to them, but as far as we are concerned, the
venue is not a problem," said Barzani, wearing
traditional Kurdish costume of khaki baggy trousers,
waistcoat and cummerbund.
"I believe many of the concerned groups are not
ready to go to Baghdad," he said.
As for the fate of Hashemi, "this something that the
judicial system and the courts have to decide,"
Barzani said. "We will not interfere in whatever
proceedings the judicial system decides."
Hashemi says he is willing to be tried inside the
Kurdish zone, and insists a fair trial is not
possible in Baghdad.
OIL DEAL, FEDERAL SYSTEM
The crisis put the Kurds in a precarious, but
potentially powerful position as brokers if any
political deal can be reached, and, if not, both
Maliki and the Iraqiya bloc would need Kurdish
backing in parliament to overcome the other side.
The Kurds may use this as leverage to win
concessions on their own strategic interests, such
as control of oil resources and territories disputed
between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.
While relatively secure in the mountains of northern
Iraq, the Kurds are upset by the Baghdad's failure
to resolve the status of Kirkuk, the city at the
centre of large oil reserves, which the Kurdish
government claims as part of Kurdistan.
A referendum set in Article 140 of the constitution
for 2007 has still not been held.
"We as Kurds we have opted for a voluntary union
between Arabs and Kurds and for the system of
governance in Iraq to be federal. This is a
constitutional right therefore for us and for the
people of Iraq, we support a federal system in this
country," said Barzani who led Kurdish peshmerga
forces fighting Saddam from 1979 after the death of
his father who fought Baghdad-rule from the 1940s
"Preventing the implementation of constitutional
articles, this will lead the country to face huge
problems," he said. "This will bring about
With political wrangling in Baghdad also holding up
a long-awaited law on the future exploitation of oil
riches, the Kurdistan government has gone ahead and
signed a series of its own oil deals,www.ekurd.net
most notably with Exxon Mobil, much to the annoyance
of others in the central government.
Barzani said there was an agreement with Baghdad
that each side could continue signing such contracts
until the oil law was passed. The Exxon deal also
encompasses areas whose control is disputed by Erbil
"As for places that are called disputed territories
by others, for us they are part of the Kurdistan
region," said Barzani. "If they have got any
disagreement with this then let them come and
implement Article 140 as it says in the
By Jon Hemming - Reuters
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