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The Kurds signed up to the new government in Baghdad this week under great US pressure, confessed Mawlud Bawamurad, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) minister for parliamentary affairs. He said the US had made its stepped-up military support in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) conditional on there being a government in Baghdad. In an interview with Rudaw, Bawamurad said that, although the agreement signed in Baghdad is not perfect for the Kurds, it is enough for now: “What is important is that our participation in it is conditional and the witness to our conditions is America.” An edited transcript of his interview follows:




Rudaw: Do you think the Kurds did the right thing in joining the Iraqi government?


Mawlud Bawamurad: First of all, the latest round of negotiations was very difficult compared to past negotiations. It wasn’t that easy for the Kurds to decide to participate in the new Iraqi government. But I think that, all in all, it was a good decision. I also must say this: if the Kurds need America, then America needs them to join the Iraqi government, too. If the Kurds want America for security and a huge international campaign against the Islamic State (IS), then the Kurdish participation in Baghdad is as significant.


Rudaw: Does that mean the Kurds joined the Baghdad government by American demand?


Mawlud Bawamurad: Certainly and 100 percent. It was clear that, without Kurdish participation, the government in Baghdad wouldn’t be an inclusive and unity government. The US president, his vice president and most of America had made it a condition that, unless there is an inclusive government in Baghdad, they wouldn’t be willing to fight terrorist groups and the IS in Iraq. So the Kurds had to go to Baghdad.

  if the Kurds need America, then America needs them to join the Iraqi government, too. 



Rudaw: America says that the Kurds should join the Iraqi government, but what guarantees are there that the Kurdish demands will be met?


Mawlud Bawamurad: The Kurds have achieved great posts in Baghdad, but more important than that is to see how we conducted our negotiations and who were the people we were talking to in Baghdad. We were dealing with Shiite leaders who had very negative views of the Kurds. The Kurds had caused Nouri al-Maliki’s removal. The Kurds’ stance on the situation in Mosul wasn’t to their liking. The Kurds are receiving huge international support and they are not. The Shiites did their best to make sure the Kurds wouldn’t participate in the government in order to put the Kurds in a bad position in the eyes of the West and Europe. The Shiite leaders had a long list of complaints, basically.


On the other hand, the Kurds didn’t really have an eye on what posts they may secure in Baghdad. Besides, in Kurdistan, there is this feeling: “Why should we join Baghdad? We have regained all the disputed territories and if we have to fight Iraq we might only lose the same number of fighters that we are losing now in the fight against the IS.” That is how the ordinary Kurds feel and think. So, against this background, Kurdish negotiators in Baghdad were on no account ready to compromise on any demand or condition whatsoever. 


Rudaw: What guarantees are there that, with the formation of this new government, the international community will not henceforth bypass Erbil and send all its help to the Kurds through Baghdad?


Mawlud Bawamurad: Well, so far they have given us enough help to be worth participating in Abadi’s government for three months. The world has given us enough to let our untrained, unequipped and unarmed Peshmerga resist the IS thus far. Their support has been good enough to make the Kurdish leaders say, “Okay, we will join the Baghdad government conditionally for three months.”


Rudaw: Baghdad owes the Kurdistan Region the budget of the past eight months. The Kurds have now asked for at least two months of that money to be released and Baghdad has not responded.  So, if America is so persistent on Kurdish participation, can’t they at least guarantee two months of our budget?


 So far they have given us enough help to be worth participating in Abadi’s government for three months.



Mawlud Bawamurad: I don’t think America has anything to say about local finances. It is Iraqi leaders and the finance minister who think Kurdistan has done them wrong by trying to sell its own oil. Iraq’s finances have collapsed, and they blame it all on the Kurds and their inability to produce 450,000 barrels of oil a day.


Rudaw: Don’t you think the Shiites were also in a weak position in the negotiations, given the fact that half the country is now under IS control?


Mawlud Bawamurad: Well, exactly. Do you think the Shiites would have been willing to negotiate with anyone had it not been for American pressure? I think there was more American pressure on the Shiites to form a government than on the Kurds.


We should always remember that the Shiite leaders want Iraq and its government to have a Shiite identity and image. So we shouldn’t have too many expectations of them. What is important is to use our participation in Baghdad in the interest of Kurdistan.


Rudaw: Do you think Abadi’s government would be any different from that of Maliki?


Mawlud Bawamurad: I don’t think Abadi’s government would be able to do that much for the Kurds or for the Iraqis themselves, and that is because other Shiite leaders will not allow him much influence and power. But I believe our own participation there would do us great good here in Kurdistan.


Rudaw: What can really be achieved in the three-month trial period the Kurds have given Baghdad?


Mawlud Bawamurad: Many things. The global insistence on Kurdish participation there, the threat of the IS and terrorism in the region, the plight of more than 1.4 million refugees and the war against the IS -- which is spearheaded by the Kurds -- would convince the international community that if Baghdad fails this time, the Kurds will have the right to go for a referendum. And that is the biggest achievement. Foreign envoys and ambassadors, that I have talked to, have said that the Kurds can pursue their right to a referendum and a solution through Baghdad and constitutionally, not unilaterally in Kurdistan. And they have said that they will support any united Kurdish decision on this issue.


What is important is that our participation in it is conditional and the witness to our conditions is America.  



Rudaw: What if Baghdad doesn’t agree to all this?


Mawlud Bawamurad: There is no “if.” This time all the calculations are different in the Middle East. As I said, we shouldn’t expect much from this new Iraqi government. What is important is that our participation in it is conditional and the witness to our conditions is America.


Rudaw: Don’t you think the Shiites have been trying to flatter the Sunnis in order to get them into the government?


Mawlud Bawamurad: Without a doubt. They have been wooing the Sunnis in order to distance them from the IS. Let me tell you this: if the Sunnis themselves do not turn against the IS, all the Shiites of the world will not be able to defeat this group, because in that case it will become a full-scale religious and holy war between Shiites and Sunnis, which is exactly what the IS wants. Unless the Sunnis are satisfied in the government, this war with the IS will go one forever. The Sunnis have to get together, form their own army and tell the IS, “Please leave this country. It is not your country, but mine.”




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