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Baghdad is ready to talk with Kurds — Iraqi ambassador to Russia

TASS exclusive interview with Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi
Ambassador of Iraq to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi Mikhail Japaridze/TASS
Ambassador of Iraq to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi
© Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

On the 25th of September Kurdistan region of Iraq held referendum on independence. Federal government of Iraq considers it illegal. In the interview for TASS Ambassador of Iraq to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi told how Baghdad going to manage resulting situation. Among the other themes were fighting against terrorism and the perspectives of cooperation between Moscow and Baghdad in rebuilding of Iraq after the imminent defeat of ISIS (terrorist organization, prohibited in Russia). 


— Mr. Ambassador, my first question - maybe it is a little straightforward, a little provocative - is there any possibility of open conflict between central government of Iraq and Kurdistan?

You mean military conflict?

— Yes.

I don't think so. It is unlikely, because there is high level of coordination between Iraqi forces and peshmerga in fighting terrorism, in fighting ISIS (terrorist organization, prohibited in Russia - TASS). And I think both sides know that such conflict will not be good for both sides. Plus both sides are Iraqi, it will mean Iraqi - Iraqi conflict. We hope it will not reach that level. So I would say no.

— Could you say that this completely out of the question?

I mean, for now that is out of the question. Iraqi government has every means to force the stability and unity of Iraq. And Iraqi Parliament actually authorizes the Iraqi government to use every means necessary including military measures, but that's out of the question. 

— But there are some territories which cause some concern. What about Kirkuk?

Yes, Kirkuk is very sensitive issue. I think the Constitution made it clear about Kirkuk and other territories that have to be agreed by the Federal government and Kurdistan government to have a shared power in them. And that will be up to the Federal government to make sure that happens. And that is one of the points that Parliament of Iraq authorized the government to do, authorize Prime Minister to do, which is to send troops to Kirkuk to stop any military movement there. And that's what will happen.

— But all that will happen, as I can understand, will happen within the framework of the Constitution?

Of course. Everything, all the government measures will take in accordance with Constitution and legal frames set by Iraqi government.

— My next question concerns territories which are held by the Kurdish forces after the recapture of Mosul. They liberated some territories that are not part of Kurdistan during the fighting with ISIS. Do they withdraw from them?

Yes. I mean that Prime Minister made it very clear to the leadership of Kurdistan that they need to withdraw from these areas that were captured after the invasion of ISIS to these parts. As I said, the government will use all measures under Constitution, all legal measures to make sure it will happen.

— But the Kurds - are they agree with the withdrawal? Do you have any problems with them withdrawing?

They need to obey by the Constitution. They were part of writing of Constitution back in 2005. When there was the referendum in 2005 to see what Iraqi think of the Constitution, the provinces of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk voted 'yes' with the percentage of about 99%. This percentage was much higher than in any other Iraqi province. That means they themselves wrote the Constitution and they need to obey by it. The referendum we witnessed on the 25th of September was the clear violation of the Constitution in writing of which they participated. That's what the Iraqi government is trying to say: we have to go back to the Constitution, then we can sit down and talk to resolve any issues we have. There are few major issues that need to be resolved and they never are resolved unilaterally just like what happened at the referendum. Both sides need to sit down and agree on resolving these issues.

— And are those major issues from your point of view?

They are the issues of Kirkuk and the other areas that were captured after the invasion of ISIS. It's the oil export, the Kurdistan leadership export around 900 000 barrels a day without the approval of Iraqi government. The Iraqi government doesn't know where the revenues of these exports go. They are not going to the people of Kurdistan. So the Iraqi government needs to know it because all revenues have to be distributed equally and the beneficiary should be the Iraqi people. When you export 900 000 barrels a day and you don't know whether the revenues go to the Iraqi people - and by the way, Kurdish people are Iraqi people, Prime Minister made it clear that the Kurds are part of Iraq, they are Iraqi, they will be treated as such and the Federal government has the constitutional and the moral obligations to the Kurdish people. And the tensions now - they are not between the government and the Kurdish people, no, they are between the government of Iraq and the Kurdish leadership.

— As of now, are there any changes to the scheme of oil purchases and oil transportation from Kurdish territories to the central part of Iraq and other countries?

Iraqi government has made steps to get control over of all oil exports and also of the borders with other countries like Syria, Turkey and Iran. This is responsibility of the Federal government, it needs to control them in coordination with the Kurdistan region. In the past unfortunately the Federal government was not involved in oil exports from the region and export of goods through borders. But now Prime Minister made it clear that Federal Government will have a say in these areas, on these and other borders, airports. That's also under the Constitution.

— Has this situation caused drops in oil export or are you expecting such drops?

Iraqi government’s exports - it is business as usual. There are no drops. There are also some talks... To be honest I read interview that the Sputnik did with the Deputy Head of Parliament of Kurdistan region. Unfortunately there were a lot of false accusations against the Iraqi government. One of the things he said is that the Iraqi Government is punishing the Kurdish people and that is not true. The Prime Minister Heidar al-Abadi made it clear: the Kurdish people are Iraqi people. There are free movements of goods, domestic flights are still open for operation and there were no stoppage to domestic flights. There are flights from Baghdad, Erbil, Baghdad - Sulaymaniyah,  Basra, Najaf, Sulaymaniyah So there is no stoppage to that.

Only suspension - and this is temporary - is to the international flights until transition of control to the Federal government. Then the flights will resume. So there is no blockage, there is no siege of any kind. The Iraqi government has obligation to the Kurdish people. So the problem, the tension we have is with the Kurdish leadership. Not with the Kurdish people, not even with the Kurdish political parties, because according to our information there is a division between Kurdish parties. Some political parties are sceptic about what's happening, they are sceptic about the referendum and the things that behind it. They have fears of control by one party after the referendum. So there is a problem in Kurdish political process. This proves that not everyone in Kurdistan wants to be separated.

I have talked to a few friends from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and they were totally against it. Some political parties publicly said that they are against it. There is also a movement in Kurdistan, I think it is called "No to the referendum movement", and they were publicly opposed to the referendum.

— There is a lot of talk by (Head of Iraqi Kurdistan) Masud Barzani about some kind of negotiations with central government of Iraq. Recently I have read about plan by Vice President Ayad Allawi which was presented to the Prime Minister of Iraq Heidar al-Abadi about negotiations. Are they the same talks that Barzani proposes or do you see them differently?

Mr. Masoud Barzani proposing to go to Baghdad and engage to the negotiations with results of the referendum, and that is totally opposed by the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Doctor al-Abadi is ready and opened to the negotiations but first they have to announce that referendum is against the Constitution, that it is illegal, that there is a problem with the legitimacy of the referendum. And not only Iraq said that: most of the countries, the major countries including Russia, United States, Turkey, Iran, United Kingdom, France, Germany - they all want the unity of Iraq. I had the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and he made it clear to me that position of the Russian government lies with the unity of Iraq, unity of its territories and engaging in direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Unfortunately some Kurdish media trying to present the position of Russian government as supporting referendum, but no, it's not true. That's from Russian officials, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They were opposing of what was happening in Iraq. They were always strongly announcing they with the unity of Iraq and it is clear to us that they are against the referendum. So all this countries, the international community is against the referendum. So only way to resolve those issues is by going back to the Constitution. We don't want any conditions and the negotiations have to be without any preconditions.

— But as I can understand you want Masoud Barzani to say that the referendum was illegal?

Yes, because it is illegal, the referendum is against the Constitution, the Constitution they wrote themselves including Mr. Masoud Barzani. We are not against the wishes of the Kurdish people, we are with them, but there is way to do it. It means you have to go through the Parliament, and there are Kurdish representatives there. All they need to do is submit the official request: we have to do the referendum, and then it will be discussed in the Iraqi parliament. The referendum they did was only in the three provinces. What about the other provinces? Iraq consists of 18 of them. Any referendum in Iraq has to include all Iraqis, not only three provinces. And without any observers from international community, from the Iraqi Federal government we are not sure if the percentages of the votes are true, because there is nobody to verify the results. The said 93% (in support of independence - TASS), but is that true?

So it has to go according to the Constitution, through the Parliament. There are steps to be discussed before any referendum could take place in Iraq.

— How do you see the resolution of this whole situation? What are the aims of Baghdad in this crisis?

Now we are fighting the vicious war, we are fighting terrorism. We have international support in this. We are fighting terrorism - Kurdish forces with the Federal government forces together. In some parts they fought together, in some parts federal forces fought. The referendum is clear violation of the government efforts and danger to the war against terrorism that is creating unstable situation. That is what we don't want to happen. So Baghdad position is very clear - we want the things to be done legally. Unfortunately the referendum was illegal, it was unilateral decision, not bilateral, plus there is international rejection of the referendum, of the separation of Iraq. Every country, even Arab League voted unanimously against the separation of Iraq. UN Security Council voted unanimously against the separation of Iraq. You have al-Azhar in Egypt, the religious authority, religious authority in Najaf in Iraq which also against separation of Iraq. So the whole world is against the separation, any illegal and unilateral actions. We hope that this message will get through and the Kurdish leadership will accept to engage in negotiations with Baghdad without preconditions to resolve all issues.

— Do you see any international help in negotiations as useful? I saw the USA proposed help as mediators in those talks.

The USA made their position very clear. Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson few says ago said at the press-conference said that the United States don't accept the results of referendum which happened in Kurdistan and they against any separation and support the unity. He had even said that the referendum was clear violation of the efforts against terrorism, that it can slow down the pace of fighting in Iraq, so the United States totally against it. Russian Federation is totally against it. Other countries are against it. They are with the unity of Iraq. If they had a choice between Baghdad and referendum, I think everyone would choose Baghdad. That is a clear message from international community for the unity of Iraq. The same is with Iraqi government - we are for the unity of Iraq and the Federal government will take all measures necessary to keep Iraq united.

Plus one of the things the Kurdish leadership said that they were unfairly treated by the Iraqi government and that is why they went for the referendum - I would argue against this. They are an important part of Iraqi political process since 2003. Unfortunately yesterday we witnessed the passing of the former President Jalal Talabani, and he was Kurd, even current president (Fuad Masum) is the Kurdish. We had Foreign Minister from 2003 until 2014 from Kurdistan. We have ministers, we have ambassadors, deputy ministers, members of Parliament from Kurdistan. 17% of the federal budget goes to Kurdistan. So I don't see where they were unfairly treated. They are very important part of the political process, the real partners. So there is no base to these allegations.

— Do you need any international help for the negotiations between central government and the Kurds?

No, we don't need international help. It is an internal issue and we are capable of resolving it. Any international support would be appreciated but we believe it is an internal issue and we are capable of resolving it. The Kurdish leadership has to go before the 25th of September, before the referendum, so we can go and have real and objective and positive negotiations.

— I saw announcement about the stoppage of the financial operations between central government and Kurdish regions. What does this mean?

This mean that the Federal government will take its responsibilities to the Kurdish people. The Iraqi government job will be to provide salaries for them, to provide everything because these seems to be a problem when money given to the regional government. So the government now will take it's responsibilities and have control over the borders, goods going in and out and have control over the airports and the financial support. As i said before, the Kurdish people are Iraqi and the Prime Minister is the minister of whole Iraq. So he will be responsible for looking after Kurdish people. So there is no fight, no blockade between, no problem between the central government and the Kurdish people. There is a problem between central government and the Kurdish leadership. They made it very difficult be going to the referendum.

— Just to be clear - people of the Kurdish region will not stay without salaries and pensions?

 No. The Iraqi government has been paying regional government, so it is a moral responsibility even towards the Kurdish leadership to make sure that the Kurdish people get paid. So now Iraqi government is stepping forward to take this responsibility because unfortunately this did not happen previously.

— I want to ask few questions which are not directly concern the Kurdish referendum. The fight against terrorism - how is it going after the liberation of Mosul? What are the main goals now?

Our Prime Minister recently had press-conference where he pinpointed the main developments in the war against terrorism. It is going very well. Now we are at the last stages of fighting, of liberating Hawija, the last stronghold of ISIS fighters. Once we liberated Hawija hopefully whole Iraq will be ISIS-free. There is high coordination between different Iraqi forces, the military, federal police, peshmerga and the popular mobilization units. Everyone is working together to win the war against ISIS.

We won the war against ISIS, now we are hopefully within days when in a very short time the Prime Minister will declare that the war against the terrorism has been won by Iraqis. We managed to win the very difficult war and that proves the determination of Iraqi people, proves the will of Iraqi people for the stable country. We are looking forward for stable, united Iraq.

And while us talking about the victory I have to mention the Russian part in this victory. To be honest the Russian Federation played big part in winning the war against terrorism as well as the international community. As the Iraqi ambassador to the Russian Federation I have to say that Russia was the vital partner to us with the information center in Baghdad, also through the military supplies, military training. So Iraq and Russia are the strategic partners in the war against terrorism.

— My congratulations with this great victory. But now that the war is almost over i guess Iraq will not need any direct Russian help in this fight?

Of course we will need Russian help. After we win the war we will have to rebuild Iraq. We will have to rebuild all the areas destroyed by the ISIS, by the war. Iraq will need the expertise of the Russian companies. I had the meeting last week with Iraqi-Russian business council. We discussed the cooperation between Russian companies and Embassy to support Russian companies to play a big part at the Iraqi market. There's going to be a lot of business opportunities, especially in the areas destroyed by the ISIS. So we will continue to need Russian support and so it will not stop.

— To continue the theme - recently we have witnessed reopening of direct flights between Moscow and Baghdad. What do you think it could bring to both countries?

It was a great achievement in Iraqi - Russian bilateral relations. The last direct flight between Baghdad and Moscow was in July 1990. After 27 years we managed to reopen direct line. Today probably in about 15 minutes the plane will arrive, as every Wednesday. Hopefully in future it will be twice a week. This will open the doors towards more business opportunities. This - direct flights - proves that the relationship between Russia and Iraq is strong. So having direct flights brings not only the economic benefits. It will also benefit Iraqi students - we have 5 000 Iraqi students studying in the Russian Federation. It is also good news for them.

— When Vice President Nuri al-Maliki visited Russia recently he said something about purchases of Russian military vehicles, even something about Russian military presence in Iraq. Was there any continuation to these ideas?

No, no. There is military support for Iraq from Russia through military supplies, through training. But on the ground there were only Iraqi fighting the war against the terrorism, and the Prime Minister made it clear. But we are open to any kind of air support, any kind of support that will help us. But in the war on the ground there are only Iraqi forces.

— But even for air support you need to invite...

We are issuing visas to military personnel, they are going to Iraq to train Iraqi forces, Iraqi pilots how to use Sukhoi and other equipment. So there is coordination and working relationships between two countries.

— If you inviting Russian personnel for training you are buying Russian vehicles?

Exactly, we are buying them as I said. We have military attaché here and he is in charge of all military deals. Former Prime Minister al-Maliki, I think back in 2014, signed 4,2 billion (dollars) military deal with Russia. So we buying weaponry, buying tanks and everything... so there is military cooperation between the two countries.

— Are there plans for any new military deals?

That’s continuous meetings, continuous work. Current contracts are still being executed. Hopefully in the future there will be more contracts because the relationship between our countries goes back more than 73 years and most of the weaponry we have is Russian. So there will be continuous support as long as we have military attaché here in Moscow and embassy in Moscow and Baghdad there will be business relationship.