Baghdad used the independence referendum as an excuse to attack the Kurdistan Region; the plan was prepared a long time before the vote, Kurdish President told American network CNN on Friday.
“I wasn’t surprised that Iraqi forces attacked Kurdistan [Region], but what surprised me to a great deal was the fact that the group whom America lists as terrorists, attacked us. [They did so] with American weapons under the eyes of the American officers and officials,” said the outgoing President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani in an interview, referring to the Iranian-backed Shia militia: Hashd al-Shaabi.
On Sep. 25, a referendum on independence was held in the Kurdistan Region and the disputed territories in which about 93 percent of the voters favored secession from Iraq. Baghdad labeled it unconstitutional and illegal. The Shia militias along with the Iraqi forces invaded Kirkuk and other disputed territories on Oct. 16 which had been under the protection of Peshmerga Forces in the past few years.
“The people of Kurdistan cannot wait forever until this and that country agrees. This is our natural right. We practiced our right in a democratic and peaceful way. We didn’t say we will declare independence the day after. We said allow the people of Kurdistan to express their views. We will conduct negotiations. No matter how much time it will take. We will create better relations with Baghdad through understanding and away from violence.”
Barzani stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region chose to lose some territories temporarily rather than lose their will and honor.
“If we would have lost our will, it would have been much bigger than losing some areas temporarily. But if we had to choose between losing our will and the hope of our nation or to bear some losses, we chose not to lose our people’s will and honor. We chose to lose other things,” he said.
The Kurdish President mentioned that a few days before the referendum, a delegation consisted of the US, UK, and UN officials suggested postponing the vote for two or three years, saying they would then respect the results of the referendum.
“They didn’t say they will support, and they didn’t promise us support. For this reason, we were not convinced. We thought delaying it would do more harm.”
He noted that now the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has asked to negotiate with Baghdad to resolve the issues, adding that war and violence was not a choice of the Kurdistan Region, but it was forced upon the region.
Barzani expressed his disappointment regarding the lack of strong response and action from the international community.
“This became clear that the suppressed nations have to depend on themselves. And the claims of the human rights, the rights of nations, freedom, and democracy, they are all baseless,” he continued.
“The Peshmerga fought bravely and diminished ISIS, and the people of the Kurdistan destroyed the myth of ISIS. We thought that the people who were verbally telling us they were our friends that they would have supported us or, [at least would] stay silent. But it was clear that we were alone with our mountains. Unfortunately, not only they didn’t support the Peshmerga but the Peshmerga is getting martyred with their weapons, and they were looking without doing anything. This is what upsets me.”
Barzani, who have been fighting Iraqi regimes and dictatorship for decades as a Peshmerga and a Kurdish leader, called on the Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi to engage in dialogue with the KRG to resolve the problems peacefully.
“My message [to Abadi] is that last year we helped you a lot in Mosul [operation]. If it wasn’t for the Peshmerga, you wouldn’t be able to liberate Mosul. Go back to the logic and wisdom and solve the problems with the KRG through negotiations because war results in bloodshed and destruction for all the people of Iraq and nothing else,” he concluded.