Barzani: Do you really believe that I would instrumentalize such a critical issue, one that concerns the fate of millions of people, after all the suffering they have endured, all the sacrifices they made, just to advance my own political future? I have come to this decision after all the very bitter experiences of these long and hard years because there is no other path. I ask you, what other way do we have? Let us look at our relations with Baghdad. There are roughly two periods. The first was from 1922 to 2003. During that time, 2,500 of our villages were destroyed; 182,000 people perished; 12,000 Kurds remain unaccounted for; 8,000 members of my own family, the Barzanis, were killed; 5,000 people were gassed to death in Halabja. There’s the balance sheet of that first period.
In 2003, we took part in the overthrow of a regime that brutalized all Iraqis and we looked forward to living together in a new Iraq based on a new and democratic constitution with full and equal rights for all of its citizens. We helped write that new constitution and voted in favor of it. We showed goodwill and acted in good faith.
It was clearly said in the constitution that committing to its principles was the key to Iraq’s unity. But the Iraqi prime minister, with a single stroke of a pen, put an end to this. The [central] government froze the Kurds’ share of the budget and failed to uphold its commitments to us on numerous critical fronts. So now we are faced with two options. This first is that we abjure all our rights — that we give up on federalism and become just another province in Iraq. The other is that we go to our people with a referendum and ask them what they want. The status quo is not sustainable. If things continue as they are, we will descend into the bloodshed and destruction of the past.
Al-Monitor: And what will the question to your people be?
Barzani: We have not yet finalized it. We are still having discussions about this.
Al-Monitor: What are the options?
Barzani: There will be one question.
Al-Monitor: You mean whether the people want independence for Kurdistan or not? Or will the proposed referendum be held in the disputed territories as stipulated in the Iraqi constitution, asking people there whether they want to remain part of Iraq or be part of an independent Kurdistan?
Barzani: This is part of the process as well
Al-Monitor: Are you saying that you may put these two separate questions during the same referendum?
Barzani: We haven’t decided yet. The questions may be put concurrently, or separately. But there will be a referendum
Al-Monitor: But will it happen for sure this year?
Barzani: I can say with utter conviction that, barring circumstances beyond our control, that yes, we are trying to do it this year.