Iraqi Kurdistan is on the verge of an historic proposed referendum on independence. In an exclusive interview with Manish Rai, editor of ViewsAround, Kurdistan’s foreign minister, Falah Mustafa Bakir, outlined how an independent Kurdistan would co-exist with Baghdad and its other neighbors.
How will you persuade powerful neighbors like Turkey and Iran to support Kurdistan?
We assure our neighbors that this step will not go against the interests of these nations. We have always wanted good-neighborly relations based on mutual respect, understanding, and benefit. We are for building bridges, and we can assure them that the future independent Kurdistan would be a partner and ally.
We want our neighbors and the whole world to understand that we have always stood for peace. Now the time has come for (Iraqi Kurdistan capital) Erbil and Baghdad to … admit that we have failed, and if we continue to insist on failure, we will not bring about a different outcome. Therefore we believe that friends and partners should not insist on a failed one-Iraq policy. In order to prevent future confrontations, we need to address this issue now. We need to … address it in such a way that it would bring about stability and security because the current situation is only a recipe for further violence and instability.
After the independence of Kurdistan, what relations will you pursue with Baghdad?
We need to communicate with Baghdad. We need to ensure that they understand our ambitions and plans. We do not want conflict with Baghdad, but we want friendship and partnership. We believe that we can become better partners as two sovereign states. Kurdistan can become Iraq’s corridor in its relations with Turkey, Europe and beyond. Likewise, Iraq can operate as Kurdistan’s corridor in communicating with the Gulf countries and beyond.
It will not be the end of the world when we decide that we cannot live together under one ceiling. Looking back at history, there are other nations that have accepted to be separate peacefully, through dialogue, and now they enjoy very good relations. It’s a fact of life that the Middle East region in the last hundred years has not seen stability and prosperity because of the wrongdoings of the past, denial of identity, and lack of social justice.
Today there is an opportunity for us to be courageous and to admit that we have failed in bringing about a genuine partnership. Therefore engaging in … negotiations and communication with Baghdad is very important so that we … don’t make room for provocation. This is a national demand for the people of Kurdistan, not a political demand. We want Baghdad to be our partners in addressing this issue so we can … secure a long-term strong partnership with Baghdad. Our belief is that Baghdad is important today and tomorrow.
What will the governance structure of the proposed independent Kurdistan be? Will it be a democratic secular republic?
The decision about the future governance structure of Kurdistan will be decided during our planning period [after the] referendum. The political parties with the rest of the communities here will work together in the establishment of a new form of governance.
Most important, as a nation that strongly believes in democratic principles … we will make sure that our government is a democratic and representative one. We will make sure to stand for an inclusive society adhering to rights of all of the communities in Kurdistan. Religious, cultural, and educational rights of the different communities in Kurdistan will be respected.
Learning from our past experiences, we want to build a society where all of the communities are equal partners. Whether we decide to have a parliamentary, presidential or hybrid system, will be dependent on our political agreements … Nevertheless, principles of human rights, empowerment of youth and women, protection of minorities, etc, will remain the cornerstones for our governance. Good governance and transparency, values and principles will be enshrined in our constitution.
How will the constitution of Kurdistan be drafted? Will common people have a say?
The draft constitution … was prepared by a committee, then it went through the parliament, and then it was supposed to be approved by the people through a referendum. We will make sure that the people of Kurdistan have a say in their future constitution.
Will all the Kurdish parties accept the outcome of this referendum?
The referendum is a democratic process. All parties are obliged to respect the will of the people. There will be people who vote yes and there will be people voting no; both are acceptable in a democracy, and the majority vote needs to be respected by all components of government.
How will the issue of disputed territories between Erbil and Baghdad be solved?
People of Kurdistan in areas outside the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] administration as well as in the diaspora will get a vote. This vote is a yes [or] no answer to the question: “Do you want an independent Kurdistan?” This vote is not to resolve the issues of the disputed territories. Baghdad’s failure to implement Article 140 of the constitution [which promised a referendum on the future of these territories, among other things] leaves the issue of disputed territories in Iraq unresolved. However, the KRG will through peaceful, constructive attempts of dialogue with Baghdad or a secondary referendum in the future work on resolving the issues of disputed territories.
Some Iraqi politicians, especially former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, have declared this referendum unconstitutional. How do you react to this?
Iraq’s politics began to take a wrong direction toward unilateral rule and instability during former prime minister al-Maliki’s time. During Nawroz [Kurdish new year in March] 2012, my president sent an alarming alert to everyone in Iraq that the political process of the country was taking the wrong direction. Unfortunately, no serious attention was paid to the president’s warning.
On the same note, Baghdad is unconstitutional in regards to being responsible for not establishing the necessary institutions and laws for a healthy federal system. For instance, Baghdad is to be blamed for the lack a federal council, a hydrocarbon law, a revenue-sharing law, status of the Peshmerga, resolving Article 140, etc. In addition to the aforementioned breaches to the constitution, the budget of Kurdistan was cut.
In the preamble of the constitution it is clearly stated that, “Commitment to this constitution is a guarantee for Iraq to remain united.” Therefore, adherence to the constitution is a prerequisite for Iraq to be united. Unfortunately, despite our voluntary commitments to remain united, Baghdad breached the constitution on many occasions through exclusion of Sunni Arabs in the decision-making process, being hostile to the Kurds and minorities, among other marginalization attitudes and policies.