In an interview with the Norwegian VG newspaper, Masrour Barzani, the Advisor of the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council touches upon the recent events in Iraq and the ISIS gains. The following is a Q&A with him.
Do you have information about foreign ISIL fighters operating in Iraq who are coming from Norway? And do you have information about foreign fighters from other Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden and Denmark?
Masrour Barzani: There are foreign fighters with ISIS who first came to fight in Syria, and many have now moved to fight in Iraq. We do not have any specific information about Norwegian citizens as many have changed their identities on the ground. However, there are indications that some of them have come from the Scandinavian countries.
§ Do you have any information or estimates of how many men from Norway are fighting for ISIL in Iraq? Are there any female fighters?
Masrour Barzani: It is difficult to estimate the number of those currently in Iraq, but our information indicates hundreds of foreign fighters, mainly from Europe, have joined ISIS. The chilling statements recently published by the group directly threaten the security of European capitals.
§ What are the main causes of the serious situation we see in Iraq today?
Masrour Barzani: There are a number of factors that have led to such a chaotic situation, and chief amongst these is the Iraqi government’s reluctance to abide by the Constitution and inclusive power-sharing agreements. This, coupled with continued marginalisation of political parties, has centralised power into the hands of a single man resulting in a sectarian government.
The reality is Iraq is a failed state. It represents inconceivable corruption, chaos, lack of basic services and millions of refugees in and outside of the country. Rather than call for unity, begin a new chapter and address its shortcomings, the Iraqi government has called on volunteers to fight ISIS, resulting in new armed militias roaming the streets of Baghdad. This undermines the rule of law and will only lead to more bloodshed and disorder.
This is not the Iraq we agreed to be a part of in 2003.
§ Did you expect ISIL would do such quick advances in Iraq as the group has done?
Masrour Barzani: We notified the Iraqi government about the deteriorating situation in and around Mosul as well as ISIS activities in the area months ago, but unfortunately our warnings were not heeded. The shocking collapse and surrender of the Iraqi army played a considerable role in the astonishing and swift ISIS advance.
§ How serious security threat is ISIL for Kurdistan?
Masrour Barzani: It’s important to emphasise that ISIL is not merely a threat to Kurdistan, but to the international community as a whole, including Norway. ISIL possess the arms, finance and network to shake European capitals and its success in Iraq will certainly impact the international community.
Today, due to the incompetence of the Iraq army and security forces, we share a 1,000km border with a terrorist state committed to destruction, and the deployment of the Peshmerga is to secure our borders and protect and defend Kurdistan.
§ In a recent interview with France24 you were quoted as saying that Kurdistan is now a de facto state. Could you please briefly explain what makes Kurdistan different from the rest of the state of Iraq?
Masrour Barzani: Kurdistan represents an oasis of stability in a sea of unrest and chaos. We have preserved a remarkable sense security for our citizens in spite of the chaos in Syria, daily suicide bombings and attacks in the rest of Iraq, and now a new state ruled by a terrorist group all on our borders.
Our economy surpasses Iraq despite the financial embargo imposed on our Region and people by the Iraqi Government. Today, our GDP per capita is higher than Iraq’s, and the quality of life in Kurdistan outranks Iraq in all indices. Iraq continues to be amongst the world’s most corrupt and unstable countries, and Kurdistan pays a price for being part of this country.
We practice a developing democracy and have a stable political setting based on understanding and forgiveness, not revenge and score-settling. More importantly, we continue to defend the rich culture of tolerance and coexistence that has existed for over a century, and we are looking for a much brighter future.
When do you think Kurdistan will receive international recognition as an independent state?
Masrour Barzani: I hope the international community will recognise Kurdistan as a sovereign and independent state as soon as the Kurdish people have decided in an upcoming national referendum.
§ Would it be easier for the government of Kurdistan to fight back ISIL if Kurdistan was recognised internationally?
Masrour Barzani: Absolutely. Kurdistan has, over the past decade, been held hostage to a failed government and system in Iraq, and the recent developments demand a new approach. The new Iraq today does not represent the same territorial country that existed prior to before 9th June; Iraq is more divided now than ever, and to insist on the same political structure will only bring renewed instability and chaos.
Iraqi leaders and the international community ought to recognise that the post-2003 venture of a federal and inclusive Iraq has failed. In fact, this country has not witnessed any stability ever since its modern foundation and millions have paid the ultimate price.
Kurdistan will not be obligated to fight an international terrorist group if the ultimate result is a continuation of the status quo in Iraq, and we cannot be asked to fight a group armed with sophisticated weapons – given to Iraq by the international community – without practical means of support