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Kurd sees 'very bad signals' from Baghdad

Masrour Barzani, the Kurdish region's security chief, criticizes the failure so far to implement an article of the Iraq Constitution concerning control of oil-rich Kirkuk.

March 28, 2009|Ned Parker

SALAHUDDIN, IRAQ — Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan regional government's intelligence service and internal security agency in northern Iraq, rarely speaks in public. He is the powerful son of Massoud Barzani, the region's president, and is seen as one of the next generation of Kurdish leaders expected to defend the autonomy Iraqi Kurds gained after years of war and instability.

As tensions deepen between the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Baghdad and the Kurds in the north, Masrour Barzani is a key player in the conflict over land in northern Iraq, including the oil-rich region of Kirkuk.

The Kurds are struggling with how to respond to an ascendant Baghdad, which is reluctant to accede to Kurdish wishes on holding a referendum to settle the fate of the disputed territories. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution called for such a referendum to be held by December 2007, but the vote was never held. The 40-year-old leader recently spoke with The Times about the impasse, the chances of an Arab-Kurdish conflict and America's obligation to both Iraq and the Kurds.

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How do you view the status of Article 140 and efforts by the Iraqi government to replace Kurdish officers with Arab leadership in the Iraqi army in the disputed territories?

Are we ready to go ahead and implement the constitution as it is and not be selective in the articles that serve our purpose and those articles we don't like? . . . We all have compromised to have reached that constitution, which we believe is the best way to help all of Iraq, from Kurdistan all the way to Baghdad and the south and the west. We don't see the same intention by some people in Baghdad.

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President Massoud Barzani suggested recently to the Los Angeles Times that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was acting in an authoritarian manner. Why do you think Maliki is not implementing Article 140?

We respect Mr. Maliki as prime minister. He is as an old ally, an old friend. It is not against him. It is against the entire approach of how to deal with the new Iraq. This [political] system is lacking a mechanism of following the constitution. There are things happening in Baghdad that are unconstitutional but still they get away with it -- the creation of different institutions and different, let's say, offices, alternative to other official government bodies. These things are happening, and no one is really complaining about it. . . .

And now we have an article [140] that is constitutional and people are refraining from doing it. . . . That sends very bad signals to even the Kurdish people. If Kurds are part of this country, why treat them differently. . . . So now I don't think it's only one prime minister who is doing this. It's the entire approach of not really believing in the new Iraq. And this is the new Iraq that we have sacrificed for. This is the new Iraq that we have promised to defend and be part of. But if the constitution is not respected, if the Kurds are treated differently then, I don't think the Kurds should be the ones to be blamed for whatever consequences . . . might appear.

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Is there the potential, if things continue on the same path, for a Kurdish-Arab conflict to erupt?

There is already a Kurdish unrest or unhappiness with the decisions that the Kurdish politicians make in this regard because they [the Kurdish people] think the Kurdish leadership has been very soft and very compromising because they have all the rights to defend their constitutional rights, yet the delay and postponement of implementing those rights is becoming unacceptable to the public. I think there will be a time when the people might not listen to the solutions proposed by the leadership. So once they are fed up, you never know how they will react.

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Do you think it's realistic that these issues will be solved by August 2010, when U.S. combat forces are scheduled to withdraw?

Once you agree on solving these issues on a political level, and once you have the intention of solving these things, the rest of it is easy. Finding a mechanism and implementing it is all easy. It's the intention, it's the political solution to the problem. I think the Americans could do that. It's not difficult. It's very realistic.

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Are the Americans engaging enough to solve the problem of Kirkuk?

I don't know. What I could tell you would be the perceptions that most of the Kurds have, which is they don't think that the Americans or any of the coalition forces are coming forward and fulfilling the promise they gave. Whether that's true or not, I think American officials might be in a better position to answer that.

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What do you think? What is your analysis?

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