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KURDISTAN IRAQ: President Jelal Talabani

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Although the interview was conducted before President Talabani was sworn into office, the Kurdish leaders opinions and concerns remain equally relevant in the building of a new Iraq.

You warned the Americans about getting into a war in Iraq; did they listen to you?Jelal Talabani

Jalal Talabani : When the Americans came to liberate Iraq, they left a vacuum — no government. A country like Iraq cannot be ruled without government. We told the Americans before the war that it would be very easy to topple Saddam Hussein. We said we needed only three weeks in Washington, the Iraqi opposition was there. But to rule Iraq is a very different matter, it is a very difficult country to run. It is also a very important country. Its situation affects Arabs, Turks, Iranians, in fact all the area. The regional dictatorships are especially worried about democratic development in Iraq. For the first time two oppressed Iraqi communities are on top. The Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Shi’ites in the south and west were both oppressed by a minority.

Do you mean the Tikritis?

JT: The Tikriti family and particularly Saddam Hussein’s branch of it. It was one person rule. What has happened now is that some are afraid of the Shi’ites in the south because it might affect their own Shi’ite populations. They are afraid of both democracy and of Shi’ites. And of course, we know many others are afraid of the Kurds. For the first time in history, Kurdistan is liberated and ruled by the Kurds.

Jelal TalabaniAlso, there has been an ending to national and religious oppression not only against the Kurds, but also against Assyrians and Turkmens. Religious oppression was not only against the Arab Shi’ites but also against Kurdish Faylis and Turkmen Shi’ites, who number about half the Turkmen community. Ending this policy of national and religious oppression was a huge event.

The other very important thing for the Kurds is ending the ethnic cleansing policy. Kurds are no longer deported from towns and villages, on the contrary, they are now returning to places they were once forced to leave. This is also a very big achievement for the Kurdish people. It has been our dream for decades.

Now, for the first time in history, both coalition and central government officially recognise the Kurdish administration. According to the law, Iraqi Kurdistan Governments, KRG, are the official government of the area. This is a very big thing for us.

For the first time in history, coalition forces are recognising Peshmerga forces as a part of the coalition forces. Peshmergas now have a right to be here and to bear arms. For the first time we have tanks, we have artillery — armoured cars, katyushas, we have all these things.

For the first time in history, instead of bureaucrats from the United Nations coming here and obstructing our development in the name of this or that, this money is now being given to the regional government to spend.

The economy of Iraq is liberated also. It is now a free economy, which has really helped development. I can give you an example: Professor Abdul Hamid, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a Sunni has been a professor at the university for 32 years, until recently receiving a salary of around $15 a month. Nowadays a university professor is receiving $400, $500, even $1000 a month. A policeman was receiving $3. He is now receiving $300.

Jelal Talabani at DokanThere have been all these important achievements but there has also been chaos in Baghdad and other vital areas.

JT: Let’s look at the negative side. Because of the problems with democracy, and with the Shi’ites, all the terrorist groups came pouring into to Iraq: Al Qaeda, Wahhabis, fundamental Salafi Muslims, a group of Baathists also — all started to work against the Kurdish people, against the Iraqi people, against the new developments. Because we had no Iraqi government, no real police force, the American army cannot be the police force, the American army cannot be traffic police, the Army finished its job within 20 days, Saddam Hussein was kicked out, and one army claiming to be one million was — pouf — finished. But to achieve security is the duty of the Iraqi people, unfortunately this duty was not given to the Iraqi people.

So this is how chaos evolved?

JT: Let me tell you something and it is self-criticism: Iraqi forces committed a big mistake. Two months after the collapse of the regime, General Garner came to Dukan and asked me to call Massoud (Barzani). He told us to go to Baghdad and form a government. We gathered Iraqi opposition forces — Ambassador Khalilzadeh was there, a political adviser of (US Secretary of Defence) Rumsfeld was there, they said ‘please choose among you a prime minister, a government and we will recognise it’.

The Iraqi opposition could not reach agreement among themselves, for one month they discussed how many Shi’ites, how many Sunnis, how many .etc. etc. A month went by; the Americans cannot wait like this.

Then came UNSC 1483 (the United Nations Security Council resolution to lift sanctions). The UNSC changed a lot of things. First of all, liberation was changed to occupation. And occupation is hated by all Iraqis, including your old friend Jalal Talabani. Who likes occupation? Everyone welcomed liberation, then we were deprived of our rights, of money and so and so...

Criminal gangs are using these things in their interest. I must give you the example of Muqtada Sadr. Muqtada was ruling in Bagdad as if he were the government, occupying towns, preventing people from coming and going and telling women what they must wear. They (Sadr’s supporters) killed many Christians and many Yezidis, everywhere shops selling wine were destroyed, and even Christian girls were asked to wear the chador. Then everything changed. Now, by the way, I have a letter from South, sent with approval of Sadr, asking me to mediate between him and the government...

So we have chaos in the Arab part of Iraq... How long can you...

JT: It is easy to kill. John Kennedy was killed, they tried many times to assassinate General de Gaulle... There is a kind of exaggeration in the media about the negative side...

Are you willing to live with an Arab part of Iraq which is in such a chaos?

JT: Yes, because we are obliged to live. There is no other way. First of all, we are able, if the government is formed in a right way, to end this chaos.

Believe me, if the rule is given to the main Iraqi forces, it is possible within three to four months to end this chaos, depending on the people.

You are not afraid of a civil war?

JT: No, not at all. Take one example, Fallujah. Fallujah was war, chaos. People came to me from Fallujah, I went to the Americans and I told them there are people who are ready to cooperate with you to secure the area, why must you fight all the people just because there are some terrorists there. They (the Americans) said it was a good idea to think again. The Islamic party also came to me in the same way, they wanted me to mediate... I will tell you the story of Fallujah in detail when you come back…

And the new government? As the leader of PUK, as a Kurdish leader, who do you want to be the prime minister of the new government?

JT: The new Prime Minister must be chosen by the Governing Council.

OK, you are member of the Governing Council, which name will you support?

JT: There are many names...

But do you think it should be a Kurd, a Shi’ite, a Sunni?

JT: It is not a matter of whether to choose Kurd, Sunni or Shi’ite, but rather to select a man who can hold...

Are there a large number of candidates?

JT: Yes, there are. For example, SCIRI has its own, Dr Adel Abdoul Mahdi, one of my best friends, and a very good man; Dawa, they have Ibrahim Jafaari.... Then there is Dr Baher Al Ulum; Ahmad Chalabi and 15 small groups of Shi’ites. Jalal Talabani, they say he can do it. Let me tell you, the Sunnis also, many of the Sunnis are thinking that Talabani can play this role, and Massoud Barzani supports the same idea. But Jalal Talabani is not supporting this idea, for many reasons...

There are good people, for example Adel Abdul Mahdi he is a good man, and also there are other people. For us, the Kurds, I think we must strengthen our position. We must take into consideration many possibilities, what will happen in Iraq if the situation deteriorates; if animosity between Sunnis and Shi’ites will continue, it is very difficult for Iraq...

When will there be a solution?

JT: This is the question

So if this problem between Sunnis and Shi’ites goes on, what will happen?

JT: The Kurds must mediate because we have good relations with both of them.

And you say you must reinforce your own area?

JT: Yes, we must strengthen it, in all ways, politically, economically, agriculturally, culturally. We must reinforce our identity. Something is happening here, it’s like Syria and Lebanon... Syria got lots of benefits from the chaos in Lebanon. The Kurdish area of Iraq has suffered in the same way. Now people are coming to this area because it is quiet and calm, large companies who want to work in Iraq come first to Suleimania. Trade between Iran and Kurdistan, via Suleimania, is very strong and the same is true of Turkey, China and Germany. Now, for the first time, this area is going to be prosperous and for the first time in history, the Kurds are thoroughly united.

You are a political leader, you are a Peshmerga commander, you must also have considered the worse case scenario. If the government is unsuccessful; if conflict continues; if there is civil war in the Arab part of Iraq, what will the Kurds do?

JT: The Kurds will first take steps to protect and develop their area, then try to mediate between the Arabs to solve the problem. We must not sit down and watch the Arabs killing each other. It is our country, while we are Iraqis we are responsible for the security of Iraq, we are responsible for solving problems between Arab brothers, both Sunnis and Shi’ites, because we have good relations with both of them.

So you will try to mediate and bring them together?

JT: Yes, we are doing our best.

How do you see the make up of the future government?

JT: Well, there is a problem. We have two posts, president and prime minister but we have three communities: Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

You have a third post, the Speaker of Parliament

JT: Not yet. If we had it, it might be possible to solve the problem...

So how will you solve it?

JT: It is very difficult. Three people for two chairs, there must be a reconciliation between them. These three communities must sit down and reach an agreement...

But you will have a president and two vice-presidents, maybe this is a way of solving the problem?

JT: No, the problem will be the first two seats.

Which are the first seats?

JT: President and prime minister. The Kurds say they will never accept, as we have previously, the role of deputy or vice-president. It is impossible. This is the decision of the Kurdish group. The Sunnis cannot be neglected for ever. They say they will not agree to give the post of prime minister to the Shi’ites.

They say that?

JT: Yes, they say they would prefer to see a Kurd as prime minister, not a Shi’ite. You know why? First, they don’t want to see a Shi’ite in the first post, second because the Kurds are Sunnis. They look to the religious...

Which is the most important post? Prime Minister or...

JT: Prime Minister!

(The Middle East Magazine, May 2005)

 

 

 

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