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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, said Turkey remained a “friend” despite its failure to open a supply route for Kurdish military aid to reach the besieged Syrian town of Kobane.

 

 

In a weekend interview with Sky News Arabia, Barzani expressed disappointment that Ankara had not taken a stronger position against Islamic State but he acknowledged Turkey sent an arms shipment after the Kurdish Region was attacked by ISIS in early August “but they asked us not to make it public.”

 

Close relations between Erbil and Ankara have been strained by differences over confronting ISIS and a perception in the Kurdistan Regional Government area that the Turks failed to live up to promises to come to the region’s aid in time of Danger.

 

Barzani said a referendum on Kurdish independence was still a goal but the priority now was the fight against ISIS.

 

“We are fighting a terrorist organisation that possesses the capabilities of a state and the Peshmerga is currently the only force that is standing in the face of IS and stopping its advance,” he said. “Our plan is to stand up to IS to the last drop of our blood.”

 

Some analysts have criticised the Kurdistan Region for quickly occupying the disputed territory of Kirkuk after ISIS made its rapid advance across northern Iraq in June. But Barzani denied the Kurds were “eying anyone’s land.”

 

“The idea of a referendum is still there and will never be cancelled. At the moment the priority is fighting IS but our right to self-determination is something that nothing can take away,” he said. “Kirkuk will be included in the referendum and the people of Kirkuk themselves will decide.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border remained under siege by ISIS militants.

 

“We sent humanitarian assistance which Turkey allowed in. I wish we had the military capability to reach Kobane within hours by air,” Barzani said. “The only way to reach there is via Turkey and I don’t think Turkey is willing, up to this point, to allow any military force to pass through its land to Kobane.

 

“We called on the United States and other countries to give them air support and they did.”

 

Fighters loyal to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turkish-Kurdish movement, and the PYD, the Syrian-Kurdish party, were not the only ones fighting to defend Kobane, he said.

 

Relations between Barzani’s KDP and the Syrian-Kurdish party have often been strained but Salih Muslim, co-leader of the PYD, was expected for talks in Erbil on Tuesday.

 

“The PKK has a great role in defending Kobane but not everyone who fights there is PKK. There are many independent people defending the city,” Barzani said. “Anyone who has a weapon is now fighting there.”

 

The Kurdish strategy in the war against ISIS meant working with Baghdad as well as the US-led coalition, he said.

 

When asked why US-led air strikes started after ISIS jihadis came within miles of Erbil but not when they closed in on Syrian and Iraqi cities, the president spoke of shared western values such as tolerance and protection of minorities.

 

“There are hundreds of Europeans and Americans among the IS and some of their dead bodies have fallen to the Peshmerga,” he said. “It is likely that part of the Western fight against IS here is protecting their own security. Fighting IS in Kurdistan is easier for them than doing so in their own countries.”

 

The president said he believed one of the main goals of ISIS was to weaken the Kurdish cause.

 

“It is a violent, vicious terrorist organisation. They have fighters from Europe, the US, Africa, Australia, Asia and many different countries. A few days ago after a battle, among 40 dead bodies IS left behind there were Africans, Somalis, Chechens and different nationalities.”

 

 

 

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