Falah Mustafa Bakir heads the Department of Foreign Relations of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He spoke with Washington Times special correspondent Seth J. Frantzman the day after Sunday’s vote on why the region’s nonbinding independence referendum deserves international support.
Question: How do you respond to the hostile foreign reactions to the independence referendum?
Answer: Today is a new era, and we are proud of democratic process and [that it] ended peacefully. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that happened where people go to ballot boxes and vote for independence. People did want to be part of history and people exercised [their] human and democratic right peacefully, and that was the right to self-determination. I urge the international community to respect the will of [the] people of Kurdistan who want to be free and suffered a painful past and are a nation of victims of genocide and chemical gassing. We did not ask for the impossible and didn’t commit a crime or violate any rules; [the referendum] is in line with the U.N. Charter, and that right to self-determination is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Q: Haven’t those reactions — from Baghdad, from Turkey, Iran and Syria — been quite harsh?
A: There is some overreaction and exaggeration with this matter. Our aim is to have good relations with Baghdad the day after and [a] good partnership of shared borders and shared history. We live in an interconnected world; [although] we failed to live together does not mean we cannot be good neighbors as equal partners. The credibility of the international community is at stake. We know we cannot see a 180-degree shift overnight. We want [Iraq and its neighbors] to deal with the new reality [and] new era. There is no way back to the old arrangement, and [they should] support Kurdistan and Iraq to achieve objectives peacefully and democratically. We will be patient and we will wait for neighbors and the international community to adjust to this new reality. Peace, friendship and partnership is our message; we are not a threat to neighbors.
Q: Is there a timetable on declaring independence?
A: We want to be pragmatic in addressing this issue. We were part of this country for 100 years and we failed, and now [is the] moment of history we decided to split. We asked for a referendum on independence so we can become independent. We are flexible and open, but it will not be open-ended timing — minimum one year, maximum two years. [The process] needs confidence-building measures and sensitive issues to be put on the table and concerns to be dealt with and fears to be allayed.
Q: The White House and State Department were opposed to this referendum. What is your response?
A: We are close friends, allies and partners of the U.S. and built a strong partnership, started in the mountains in 1991 when the U.S. came to lead the international coalition to help rescue our people. We will never forget that. In 2003 the U.S. came again to liberate us from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. We shed blood together and fought together. Now we have some differences on timing, but that will not divide us, and we believe in this partnership and alliance.
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