dissabte, 27 de juny del 2015

“We are confident in our Peshmerga’s ability and their will to defeat ISIS”

Daban Shadala is the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) from Iraq in Spain. For seven years he was the representative of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Austria but now he follows the situation of his country from Madrid.

Early June about a year ago Daesh occupied parts of Iraq, how do you assess the development of events and the current situation?

In short, it exposed the fragile make up of the Iraqi Army as an institution and its lack of a sense of national identity and unity. For a group of some 700 terrorists to be able to overrun the second largest city of Iraq shows the weakness in the chain of command, the lack of coordination and that the previous Iraqi government was unsuccessful in adopting the required policies to be inclusive of various sects in Iraq. With the ISIS onslaught, the KRG was required, in the absence of the Iraqi army, to deploy its Peshmerga forces to protect Iraqi citizens where the Iraqi army was unable to do so. This meant that a defensive line had to be secured stretching some 1,000km and due to the fact that ISIS had captured large amounts of advanced weapons from the fleeing Iraqi army, our forces were in need of urgent military support.

At present, the KRG has been successful in drumming up support from the international community, however we are in need of stepped military and humanitarian assistance to defeat ISIS and support those seeking refuge in Kurdistan. We are confident in our Peshmerga’s ability and their will to defeat ISIS and we see it as only a matter of time before we defeat them once and for all. We have since recaptured large amounts of territory from ISIS but there is still a lot of work to be done. We have managed to secure the SInjar mountain range and free the Yazidi Kurds who were trapped with no escape, we have managed keep ISIS at bay in Kirkuk and we defeated them in the southern city of Jalawla.    

What impact has the conflict had on Iraqi Kurdistan from a social and economic perspective?

Well we have had to deal with a huge number of IDPs and refugees (from the Syrian Civil War) which has required us to spend a large portion of our finances to support them. We are currently housing some 2.2million in total and it is proving to be a huge financial strain. Moreover, with the freeze of our share of the Iraqi budget, we were in a very difficult position. On the one hand we are fighting a war against ISIS and on the other we are providing for refugees and IDPs with very little financial help. This has proven to be very difficult, but our people and government have done a great deal to support people affected by this conflict.

What was the impact of the decline in oil prices to the public budget?

Of course the decline in oil prices has affected the Iraqi budget overall. It has most certainly made things that more difficult. We have agreed to produce and export more barrels of oil per day in order to make up for the decline in prices. But to put in frankly, the decline in oil prices have had a negative effect on our economy.

Are you slowly becoming a country too dependent on oil? What alternatives do you consider as KRG to diversify income?

It is important for one to know that although oil is currently the main driving force of our economy, and will be for some years to come, it is certainly not the only force that we depend on to generate revenue. Our construction sector has been booming over the last decade and we have strategic plans in place to ensure food security and a strong and resilient agricultural sector, which contains a long term plan to help establish a more sustainable economy. 

And beyond its borders, what is now the relationship with Baghdad? Is al-Abadi and Masum have introduced remarkable changes over its predecessors?

They have inherited an Iraq that is in tatters, they have assumed a huge responsibility in trying to improve the country and guarantee security for the population.  They have an extremely difficult job at hand, but I have faith in Prime Minister Al-Abadi. Fuad Masum is the President, and the President of Iraq is a largely ceremonial position. He does not hold power over the government, therefore the responsibility falls on Al- Abadi, who has shown signs thus far of his will to work and include all sects in the political process, unlike the previous government which was run on sectarian lines. He has made positive steps so far in trying to rekindle the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad, and he took a major step in coming to an agreement with the KRG over oil and restoring our share of the budget. That being said, I believe he has a long way to go, and still feel it is too early to determine whether or not he has made, or will make, great changes.  We have still not received the 17% of our share of the Iraqi budget; we hope Baghdad honours our agreement, as we have honoured our part so far.

Oil extraction has strained relations between the KRG and Baghdad?

Of course they have. But since the agreement was made between Baghdad and Erbil over the production and exportation of oil, the two have begun to rekindle their relationship and are working in a more cooperative sense now. There were many things that, with the previous government, we disagreed upon and were unable to resolve. Since the formation of the new government, with time, we have been able to sit and resolve the outstanding issues that arose because of our exploration, extraction and exportation of oil. The relations between Baghdad and Erbil are far better off now than before. 

The international community seems to see a great ally in KRG, is it true?

Considering that the KRG is a secular and democratically formed government, the international community has come to realise that supporting the KRG and the Kurdistan Region would suit their interests. We have proven to be a formidable force in the global fight against terrorism, we have become the front in the fight against Islamic terrorism, and we do not intend to let terrorism win. We are fighting on behalf, and in defence of, the free world. We are defending democracy and by supporting the KRG the international community knows it would be defending its values and principles in a region of the world that has been troubled by dictatorships and civil wars. We have managed to provide security to citizens, and shelter for those who fled the area’s most affected. We have avoided the rest of the violent chaos that scared the rest of Iraq after the 2003 liberation, and our economy has really taken off. We have a liberal investment law which allows international companies a tax free period, the ability to repatriate profits and allows for the movement of capital without paying stamp duty.

In July 2014 the President Masoud Barzani seemed determined to hold a referendum on independence. Is this the end of the borders of Sykes-Picot?

Well the dynamics of the Middle East have changed. The borders that were established by the Sykes-Picot agreement still exist, there is still a sovereign state called Iraq, with which we are a part of, and there still exists a sovereign state called Syria. We will work our hardest with Baghdad to try and make things work. Kurds and Arabs must be partners in Iraq, but until now it has been very difficult to form this and consolidate this partner
ship. We will keep working our hardest and continuing in our efforts to help solve the current issues that Iraq faces, but it must also be noted by the international community that self-determination is a right that the Kurds of Iraq can exercise. However seeing that we are in a war battling ISIS alongside the Iraqi army we must hold off this referendum until the war is won and over.

The future Middle East should redraw its borders to find some stability. How this could be applied for the case of Iraq with its paradigm of mixed ethnic and religious groups?

Well we have signed a constitution that guarantees we remain a part of a federal and democratic Iraq. In so far as it remains federal, democratic and inclusive of various sects we will work with our colleagues in Baghdad to achieve cohesion between the different ethnic and religious groups that exist within the country. But the Middle East is an extremely complex region, and full of many ethno-religious sects. Bringing them together under one state, as one nation has proven to be very difficult. Libya has become a failed state, Lebanon has held together through a number of weak coalition governments after its bloody civil war, Syria and Iraq were held together by dictators and in their absence both countries have slid into civil war. After all the efforts, over one hundred years, these states are still not working and it is time for leaders to start thinking about the future shape of the Middle East. Once its leaders have figured out some sort of alternative, it should then be left to the people to decide the future of their children and grandchildren, and of course, what the people wish should be respected by all. Think tanks should be researching into the possibility of a new model for the Middle East, they focus their energies on trying to determine new ways in which the ethnic and sectarian groups of the region can live together, and so far they have not provided the world with any insights into the possibility of a New Middle East.

Do you have an interest in opening a delegation from the KRG in Barcelona?

Due to the current crisis we are not intending to open new offices around the world, our activities are severely limited and we will have to manage our relations with regional governments in Spain out of our Madrid office. We enjoy great relations with the region of Catalonia and intended to maintain and expand them as we enjoy the support that the Catalan people show towards the Kurds.

Would the KRG recognize an independent Catalunya?

I must say that firstly we are not in a position to recognise the independence of any nation. We are ourselves a federal region of Iraq, and therefore would not be able to say that we recognise the independence of any other nation. I also believe that an independent state is up to the people of that nation to decide, and it should be achieved through democratic measures. We would not like to interfere in the internal politics of Spain, but we support the right to self-determination if the people decide on it via a democratic and legal process. 

Interview by Marc Español i Escofet 

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