The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a public event Monday with Omar Fatah, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, to address the role of Kurds in the new Iraq.
Fatah began by briefly recounting salient portions of Kurdish history, saying that it is important to know this for understanding views on Iraq today. “We have been attacked, persecuted and threatened by our neighbors, and made to fell unsafe and unwelcome in the lands of our birth,” Fatah said, referring to the plight of the Kurds.
“Nowhere was the brutality more severe than when Saddam Hussein spent most of twenty years trying to liquidate our people,” he added. “Through the horrors of Halabja, the Anfal campaign and a merciless military campaign, the Ba’athist regime sought our complete elimination as a people.”
Fatah continued: “We have survived and today we are recovering in every sense of the word – economically, culturally, politically and socially.”
Fatah said that when the coalition forces went in to Iraq in 2003, “we were happy beyond belief.” Their arrival brought the end of the Ba’athist regime and the Kurds made a decision to rejoin Iraq, but with certain conditions, he said. Fatah explained that these conditions were sought because of the decades of suffering Kurds experienced at the hands of Baghdad.
“We were determined never again to fall victim,” he said. “We insisted on a federal constitution, one that guaranteed our rights to self-determination and preserved the freedoms we had died for.”
Fatah argued that while many believed that the goal with those actions was independence, it was instead was federalism. “We want to be a part of a federal, democratic and secular Iraq that respects our rights, and the rights of all groups in the country,” he said.
Iraqi Kurdistan has now passed a hydrocarbons law and begun establishing contracts with interest parties to enhance oil and gas infrastructure. These steps will bring much needed development to the region, Fatah said, adding that they will ultimately assist Baghdad, as 83 percent of the Kurdistan’s oil revenue is slated to go to the national treasury.
On the subject of the current situation with Turkey, Fatah said: “We regard the Turks as our friends,” adding, “they sheltered us and provided us comfort and resources when the rest of the world had abandoned us.” He also noted that Turkey is the largest investor in Iraqi Kurdistan and called attention to social and cultural ties.
“We do not want conflict with Turkey and we do not allow our territory to be used for attacks on Turkey,” Fatah said, adding: “The Turkish Army has for twenty years tried to defeat the PKK within Turkey, and has not been successful, and it is a mistake to insist that we defeat them with far fewer resources and capabilities. We are doing what we can, and we will do more, to restrain the violent actions of the PKK, which threaten not only Turkey but also the Kurdistan region.”
Fatah stressed that a solution to the crisis will only come through dialogue. “We want to work with Turkey and other interested parties to find a long-term political solution, which can bring peace and cooperation back to the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey,” he said.
In concluding, Fatah told the audience: “Today the sacrifices you [the United States] have made have not been in vain. Iraq is free today, and at least one part of Iraq, the Kurdistan region, is becoming the kind of peaceful, democratic and tolerant society that America and its allies hoped for when they committed to the liberation of Iraq.”