| INTERVIEW WITH HEMIN HAWRAMI, DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT OF THE KURDISTAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Even though in the Middle East, the Arab Spring is the current focal point, the withdrawal of the US soldiers from Iraq is, as well, a very significant development. The crisis brought about by the withdrawal may directly affect the developments in the region. One of the fears that had been indicated regarding the post-withdrawal period was the possibility of emergence of a conflict between the Arabs and the Kurds in Iraq. We talked about these issues as well as the recent developments taking place in the Kurdistan Regional Government with one of the most authorized figures being Director of External Relations Department of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Hemin Hawrami. Hawrami shared his views on the role of Turkey in Iraq and its relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
ORSAM: Can you introduce yourself very briefly?
HAWRAMI: My name is Hemin Hawrami. I am member of KDP’s leadership council and I am the head of the foreign relation office.
The Prime Minister of KRG had changed and Nechirvan Barzani became the new Prime Minister of KRG. Should we expect any internal and foreign policy change of KRG?
First we have strategic agreement with PUK. We ran election together with PUK and won election together. We formed the cabinet together called sixth cabinet. According to strategic agreement we are rotating the Prime minister and speaker of the parliament every two year. So we don’t have radical changes in foreign policy or economic policies that we have. It is a normal rotation of position of Prime Ministry. But definitely the context has changed. The political context and the strategic environment that we have in 2009 have changed. For example, we have not had the Arab Spring at that time, we have not had the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, we have not had the Syrian demonstrations which are very serious and strategic issue for us, and we have not had the political deploy in Baghdad. So the context with itself will bring more proactive foreign diplomacy and more engagement from the KRG and definitely Mr. Nechirvan Barzani, as the Prime Minister is ask by the parliament on Thursday to form the government. He is going to put more forward Kurdish position in the every issue I mentioned before.
How do you foresee the strategic alliance between PUK and KDP? Do you think that it will also in effect in the next election?
First of all, we are two political parties. We have the burden of responsibilities toward our nation, our people; we are responsible for lives of the 5-6 million the people. And we are locating in very important and challenging geographic area and we are in the transition period in Kurdistan and also in Iraq. So that is why we always prefer as KDP to put the Kurdish interests above the party interests. And that is why KDP and PUK agreed on having this strategic alliance to leave aside the party politics and to focus with whole our energy on Kurdistan. With all respect to the all other Kurdish parties in Kurdistan region, if there will some differences, some misunderstandings among themselves there is no common policies to solve this. But if there is any differences or misunderstandings between KDP and PUK, definitely we will treat case as Kurdish case as a whole. That is why KDP and PUK, and especially I can talk on behalf of KDP; this strategic alliance will continue to protect the Kurdish case and interests, to protect the unity, Kurdish discourses and Kurdish representation in the political equation inside the Iraq or outside the Iraq.
After the US withdrawal, there is ongoing crisis in Iraq, especially between Shias and Sunnis. Maliki, got the upper hand in country and shows some authoritarian tendencies. How do these new developments affect KRG politics. What do you think about increasing strength of Shias in Iraq?
First of all, we do believe that the withdrawal of US forces happened earlier. Before the withdrawal, during the withdrawal and after the withdrawal Kurdish position is very clear. We do believe that Iraqi security forces is not ready to protect Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi borders, are not capable of protecting the civilian lives in front of the terrorist organizations and armed groups. Iraq does not have a navy or air force. Iraq is now open to the neighbors to violate it. Our assessment, and this is also assessment of Iraqi national security officers, that is why we did and do believe that the withdrawal of US forces without having a loyal army is going to create more political and security challenges for the governance and political process in Iraq. And it true and clear enough. Just one day after the last American soldier left Iraq, we have seen the Hashimi’s case which has been politicized. We have seen deadlock in Iraq. we can describe the atmosphere in Iraq with the mutual lack of trust, non-commitment to the constitution and Erbil Agreement. We do believe that only the half of the Erbil agreement has been achieved. But the most important part has not achieved. For example 19 points of that we have as the Kurdistan region with state of law to be implemented the establishment of a council for the higher policies and that Mr. Allawi to head it. And also the Council of Ministers to keep the balance of representations between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds on the ministerial, general directorate levels and within the army also. So these are important issues, the withdrawal of US forces, non-commitment to constitution and Erbil Agreement has left to the security challenges, instability and political deadlock.
You mentioned that the security forces are not capable to control Iraq. There are disputes areas in Iraq. Kurds live nearly in all of these regions. Do you think that there might be a conflict in these areas after the US withdrawal, especially in Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk?
To be honestly, we thank the presence of US forces and their participation and contribution to Iraq, because without them, Saddam would be in power. But the presence of Us forces has not let to the security stability in those disputed areas to say that withdrawal of US Forces will leave a vacuum. We do believe that even they left Iraq after 20 years, we, as Iraqis should take responsibility to protect those areas. In order to protect those areas, we have a constitution and constitutional article. That is why we manage also to establish a three-lateral committee with Iraqi army, US forces and Peshmerge forces to put a security message to protect those disputed areas. Now the American side is out of this three-lateral Committee, the other two security forces still working together. We do believe that the most serious challenges and threat to those areas are not security threats, but they are these political threats and lack of trust and lack of implementation of these constitutional articles that %80 of the population were voted for.
There are some statements from Maliki regarding Kirkuk which disturb Kurds. Beside there is a ongoing crisis in Diyala province between Kurds and central government. So, do you think that this process might lead to close relations between Kurds and Sunnis?
That is a reality in Iraq. We have two nations; Kurds and Arabs. We have three groups; Shias, Kurds and Sunnis. This is the reality in Iraq. But our policy in Iraq as the Kurds, we never support Shias at the expense of Sunnis or we never support Sunnis at the expense of Shias. Our vision for Iraq is pluralism, inclusive state that all parties are representation in Baghdad, and our vision for Iraq is to protect these. We ask Sunnis to part in the political process but also our support for Shias is not at the expense of Sunnis as I said. If we have done that it would much easier for us, but, look at the election result. We haven’t ally with Shias without Sunnis and we haven’t ally with Sunnis without Shias, because it is impossible to run Iraq. You cannot eliminate or marginalize a very important of the Iraq either part, whether it is Shia or Sunni. But definitely between Sunnis and Shias there are different point of views. And one of the issue with the Sunni groups is the lack of the leadership to deal with and also Shias, don’t have one united leadership. But according the population and election result create somehow unification.
Our policy again for example in Diyala, they ask to establish their own federal region. We have a constitutional procedure for establishing a federal region and we ask the central government to respect that constitutional procedure. 2/3 of the provisional council members in Diyala voted to create a federal region and Iraqi government must transfer that request according to that procedure to the High Commission of Election to conduct a referendum. If the majority of that region voted for that region they should accept the establishment of the region. And in the constitution there is no limitation on the timing. Maliki argues that it is not the right time to establish a region. But he has not such a power according to constitution. Maybe Shias try to convince the Kurds to form a block with them without Sunnis, or Sunnis try to convince us to form a block without Shias, but we believe that none of them is the right policy. Any of the components of Iraqi society should not be excluded and everybody should be represented and everybody should respect the constitution.
In recent weeks there were some news that the KRG is prepared to declare its independence. Is there such a process? And if it is true, will it happen after the resolution of the disputed areas?
These are baseless media reports. Kurds are not Arabs or not Persians. Kurds are different ethnic group and have the right of self determination. Our parliament and leadership decided that our self determination in this stage is within this federalist pluralistic constitutional democratic Iraq, and the most of Kurdish population support this. So as long as Iraq is going to be pluralistic constitutional democratic that is not ruled by one party, one man, one ethnic group or one sectarian group, the Kurds are proud of being part of this country. if the other partners in Iraq, Sunnis or Shias, decided not live together and not to accept us to be part of them, then that time in every stage, there would be different assessments. But now, our stragey in Kurdstan region is to stay within federalist pluralistic constitutional democratic Iraq. and concerning the disputed areas, these areas are historically and geographically parts of Kurdistan. They have been Arabized, the Turcoman and Kurdish people have been deported and replaced by arab population. So we want to have back whatever has been taken from us by force according to democratic constitutional mechanisms. That is why we agree on the Article of 142 on disputed areas to normalize, to have a census of to know who is who in that provisional areas and then leave the decision to the people of these areas whether they want to be a part of Kurdistan region, whether they want to be federal region or stay as a provision as part of Baghdad administration. But whole Kurdistan region is part of Iraq. Even if the people of Kirkuk and people of other disputed areas decided to become a part of Kurdistan region, the whole region is part of Iraq.
Do you want to go to referendum?
Definitely, this is the constitution Article 142 has three stages; normalization, census and referendum. With the referendum if the Kirkuk people decides to be part Kurdistan region within the free election, why cannot this take into consideration? If they decided not to be part of Kurdistan region, we have respect that right as well.
What do you think about the reflections of Arab Spring in KRG? At the beginning there were some demonstrations led by Goran movement. Are there any reflections of Arab Spring in KRG?
If we look at what is happening in Arab World in the context of Arab Spring, it happened in 1991 in Kurdistan region to get rid of authoritarian regime and dictatorial regime; a regime based on loyalty, nepotism and regime that did not have legitimacy. We have done that in 1991. And the Kurds are proud of having their own spring. And actually, in spring of 1991, we are so thankful to Turkey to provide us a safe heaven. We have never forgotten the positive actions and position of Turkey at that time. If a society transforms from a dictatorial period into a democratic one, it must goes with a transitional period. Part of the particularity and symptoms of this transition period is to establish constitutional institutions and to spread the mechanism and the culture of democracy, definitely you are going to face ith corruption, lack of governance and mismanagement and the political differences, but you are on the right way to go to democracy. That is a process. It takes time, takes generation but you have to have a vision. In this regard, the current government in Kurdistan has not imposed by any outside power, or has not come to power by a military coup, by inherited power from a family. We have an election. Out of 110 members of the parliament KDP and PUK as the two historically largest parties in Kurdistan region only won the 59 seats in the parliament. And that is how we formed the government. And opposition groups all together won the 36 seats. We asked the opposition groups three option; to form a national unity government composed of all parties to bring all reform projects to implement together; if not, early election; and finally if not respect the government until we are timing another election. But definitely in Kurdistan region, neither for the parties in the power and either for the parties in the opposition, still we are so early in this democracy. We don’t exactly know how opposition functions in a democratic system, we might have some mistakes but we absolutely have a vision. The majority of Kurds people are with stability, security and they are not violence. If there is a need for change, we have ballot box for this, we do not need the use the power of the streets.
How does the KRG perceive the ongoing protests in Syria, especially in terms of Syrian Kurds?
First of all, the situation in Syria is very important for us, because there are more that 2 million Kurds and we have long border with Syria and any development in Syria will affect the Kurdish question in everywhere. That is why we are looking Syrian Kurdish issue very strategically. We do believe that change will come to Syria with or without Beshar Esad, but for us two things are important. First is the nature of the regime that is coming and second is what king of reforms will be applied by this regime for Kurdish population rights to adopt to current system. Our strategy involve our support to Kurds in Syria in peaceful ways, territorial integrity of Syria which is very important for us, and to ask achievable demands not to exaggerate in asking something is not possible geopolitically and internationally. Decentralization, autonomy, federation or what else is possible and decided by Syrian people and Kurds within the Syrian regime and Syrian territorial integrity is supported by us. But we believe that the Kurds in Syria have to unify their political discourse and their line to speak with one language with political vision for current developments. If the Syrian regime is able to achieve these demands, why not? But personally I have doubts about this. If the Syrian opposition groups are not going to accept the Kurdish vision for future Syria, so Syrian Kurds have to support the current opposition but not through armed struggle. We are against armed struggle. The world has changed, the context has changed, communication is much easier right now. You can now have diplomatic and media channels to achieve the aims.
Can you evaluate the Turkish foreign policy to KRG and her role in the Middle East?
For us, in Kurdistan region, when we are looking at politics of regional countries, Turkey is very strategic for us. We want to have close relations on the people of Kurdistan and people of Turkey. Because we are neighbors and we have lived together. Turkish foreign policy is very important for us in establishing cultural, political and economic ties. We have seen a lot of developments in Turkish relations with Kurdistan region. For example when Prime Minister Erdogan came to Erbil, he said that the era of denying Kurds is over. This is very important for us, because previously what we have been hearing is the nonexistence of the Kurds. Democratic package that started in Turkey and the opening of TRT6 are very positive signs. Starting official relationships with Kurdistan region and having a consulate in Erbil are very positive signs. Having Turkish companies in Kurdistan economy is very important for us. There are a lot of strategic interest between Turkey and Kurdistan region, we can work together in order to have regional stability. Everybody should accept that Kurdistan region is an element of stability in the region not the instability. We can contribute economic boom in Turkey, in Iran, in Arab world and positively in the area. That is why we perceive Turkey strategically in the region and the relations between Kurdistan region and Turkey is very strategic.
Thank you very much.
* This interview was made on February 17, 2012 in Sochi, Russia where the Valdai Forum was held. The interview was conducted by ORSAM Director Hasan Kanbolat and ORSAM Specialist Oytun Orhan.