Critical messages from Barzani’s aide
I met with Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani in Istanbul right after their critical meetings with President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara July 14. Hussein was in Washington last week where he visited U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden to discuss their bid for independence. He answered all of my questions during our two-hour conversation.
Hussein started by saying that 1,035-km of Kurdistan’s 1,050-km border is now with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We woke up one day with three entities in Iraq, terrorists along our borders and new neighbors,” he said.
When I asked him about the content of their critical meetings in Ankara the day before, he said one of the crucial aspects of the Ankara-Arbil relationship is security. “In the past, Turkey used to perceive Kurdistan as a threat. Today, both of us are cooperating against our common threat posed by a third party, ISIL.”
Apparently security has been the top item at the meetings in Ankara. Even though he did not reveal the details, he underlined that both counties are working together to cooperate on security matters.
Is Ankara not against their independence? He explained that first the internal and external grounds need to be ready: “We need to prepare the external ground, in other words, our neighbors. Their support is our top priority.” He signals that they would take the next step only with the support of Turkey.
According to Hussein, there is a big change in Turkey’s reaction toward Kurdistan compared to the past: “The Turkish government is realistic. It sees, understands and accepts the facts on the ground and what we tell them.” Does this mean Ankara is not against their independence? Hussein smilingly replied: “You asked that. I said the government accepts the facts and what we say.” I replied to him: “You look like you are trying to make me say what you want to say!” He smiled.
What about the U.S.? Washington has been endorsing the unity of Iraq and advised the Kurds to first wait until the formation of the new government. Hussein said the U.S. is not asking them to wait anymore and only suggests them not to undermine the political track in Baghdad. According to him, Washington has also eased the pressure on oil trade between Turkey and Kurdistan.
Apparently, the KRG is following the U.S. and Turkey’s advice to wait until the formation of the new Iraqi government and not to lose their support. However, this means waiting only a little longer for their triumphal moment. “If the new prime minister also doesn’t apply federalism in a democratic way, then we will use our right for self-determination,” Hussein said, adding that they are not hopeful about the new Iraqi government at all.
Despite their advice to Kurds, obviously it would be first the U.S. and Turkey recognizing an independent Kurdistan. This was also what I was told many times during my meetings with various groups and officials in Washington last week.
Last but not least, Hussein added that they do not see Baghdad as an enemy and have to have good relations with them in any case. According to him, their relations with Iran are very good and important.
He said Arbil, Baghdad, Ankara and Tehran have to cooperate with each other to combat their common threat, ISIL, and that they are working on that.
Obviously, Kurdistan’s top priority is now securing this four-footed regional cooperation before taking any other step.