“Awene” runs in-depth interview with former PM Nechirvan Barzani
Among other issues discussed, the former PM responded frankly to a question about smuggled oil: “We have to act transparently in the oil issue or it will trouble the KRG.”
Former Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani described the latest oil controversy in the Region as a consequence of “non-united” statements by top government officials. Barzani, in an interview with Suleimaniya-based “Awene,” clarified his opinions on several timely issues such as the Region’s rising oil developments, reformation within the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the party’s relations with the Kurdish opposition movement, Gorran.
Barzani does not hold a governmental position; but he was appointed KDP Vice President months ago. As the Prime Minister of the KRG’s fifth Cabinet, Barzani was a leader who governed a unified administration and nurtured the development of oil in the Region; additionally, he was responsible for several reconstruction achievements. During his era, the KRG signed several contracts with foreign companies to explore and produce oil in the region despite continued objections by Iraqi Central Government officials. Now, as the oil is partially reaped, local and international media reports have recently raised accusations about smuggling oil to Iran.
What they call smuggling oil is not smuggling in fact, said Barzani in the interview. The oil is exported in daylight by tankers. “Smuggling is something you hide from people.” Barzani continued: “The KRG, toward this issue, didn’t have a united policy… everybody was commenting as they wished. For this, the KRG is responsible,” he said, adding, “Also the KRG was not able to explain this issue for people through the media.”
What is export, he explained, are oil derivatives that are not only useless inside the Region, but also hurt the environment if it is not sent out. And this exportation stays outside the sanctions imposed on Iran, he said. “This type of exportation has been going on for years; but when sanctions were imposed on Iran, a ‘New York Times’ reporter in Erbil published a report and caused this big argument.” He explained that the derivatives are given to companies on clear contracts and the income goes to a KRG credit.
Furthermore, Barzani confidently announced that the KRG will soon be able to produce white oil; meanwhile, the KRG now is able to ensure the required amount of locally consumed black oil that used to be provided by the Central Government. Black oil feeds electricity plants and other factories.
The former KRG Prime Minister declined to reply when “Awene” asked if he or any other KDP official sustains personal interests in the oil industry or has shares in foreign companies. On the revenues of Kurdistan Region oil, he responded: “It is true that the money hasn’t yet been added to the budget that comes from Baghdad. It is kept in a KRG credit untouched because we always expected one day to recount this issue with Baghdad. We transparently will talk about this money with them [the Baghdad government],” said Barzani, noting that total benefits have reached about US$200 to 250 million.
“Oil now makes the most influential card in the hand of Kurds for developing their entity. This issue also is like a double-functioning sword; if wrongly used, it will behead you. But if it is properly used, it can take Kurdistan to another phase much--better than now,” Barzani explained what oil means for the region. He also described the KRG’s oil policy as “successful” so far. “We have been able to insert Kurdistan on the map of the world’s oil providers.” Both inside and outside Iraq, there are many who stand against the KRG oil strategies, he said; thus, “we have to act transparently in the oil issue or it will trouble the KRG…any corruption in this issue creates a big disaster for Kurdistan.”
KDP relations with PUK and KRG
On the current relations between the two Kurdistan ruling parties, KDP and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), which are allied through a strategic agreement signed in 2007, Barzani assured that both parties are committed to their agreement and keep friendly relations, which is in the best interests of the Kurdistan people. “It is a policy of the KDP to develop this relation with the PUK day by day,” he said, noting that the KDP supports a project by the KRG that will reorganize funding Kurdistan political parties, NGOs, and the media.
Concerning the performance of the current KRG Cabinet led by Dr. Barham Salih, a PUK leader, Barzani said it is too early to assess the work of a government whose age is only eight months. But he remains optimistic. “If we generally look at the Kurdistan situations and the difficulties it faces while working, I think it [the KRG] has been successful in its performance.”
KDP conference in November
About the KDP internally, Barzani announced that they are working hard to hold a conference this coming November. Electing conference members begins immediately after the Ramadan month, he noted. What is important about this conference, he added, is that “the KDP, from the president of the party to the lowest level, agree on reforms to be achieved. The reforms, for sure, include the internal program and the leadership of the KDP.” He explained that the current program the KDP works on dates back to an outdated phase; therefore, the party wants to fit with the future. On a question about rumors that a group has split from the KDP, Barzani responded: “This is false and baseless news.”
KDP supports a budget for Gorran
On how the KDP looks at the Gorran movement, Barzani responded: “When Gorran appeared for the first time, I always said that we should deal with this movement realistically. They have 25 seats in [Kurdistan] Parliament. We must respect the will of the people who voted for that list. Now it is a party and led by Mr. Nawshirwan [Mustafa]. I have already said in media statements that whenever they are licensed by the KRG, then we as the KDP will officially sit with this party. This policy has not changed.” On worsening relations between the two parties, Barzani complained to the Gorran movement because they acted biased against the KDP on the issue of murdered journalist Sardasht Osman. “They preceded court and interrogations…and accused the KDP about this issue. Unfortunately, I think this was a strategic mistake Gorran has committed,” said Barzani, adding, “Gorran has missed the opportunity to become a pragmatic opposition that can aid the government in the field of reformations.”
But Barzani’s speech indicated that this is not the end of the story. He said they’ve noticed that Gorran members are participating with other Kurdish leaders on Kurdish issues in Baghdad. Gorran must receive a budget the same as any Kurdistan political party does, Barzani said, defending this message in meetings of KDP and PUK politburos. “President Barzani has firmly defended that this movement should be given a budget, and has ordered the prime minister to allocate them the budget as soon as possible,” he added. Nechirvan Barzani also suggested that both “Mr. Nawshirwan and President Barzani meet” to help calm the situations and assist in reformation. “Now we are working on this,” he concluded.
Media must be reorganized
“Awene” allocated part of the interview to talk about the condition of the media in Kurdistan. Barzani described it as “chaotic,” and suggested the KRG issue a law that could help and support the media. “Such a law can help the media to act responsibly. This does not mean only to fund them, but make them work more professionally,” said Barzani, explaining that some newspapers and magazines are working to increase their circulations for additional revenue. “Just to increase circulation, one should not say everything bad. If the government helps the media so as they don’t have financial problems, then they would work with responsibility.” The funding should not mean that the media do what is asked by the government, but that “the government and media must complete each other.” On the media agencies funded by the political parties, Barzani admitted that most of these are superfluous and must be reorganized. Instead of spending money on media such as this, it is better to conduct service projects in the interest of Kurdistan people, he added.
On freedom of press, Barzani assured that his party still supports the Kurdistan Region press law and “doesn’t intend to set back the law.” He also denied rumors that Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, also president of the KDP, attacked the free press. But he noted that the Region’s President is worried about the media that works “irresponsibly” and those who “insult everyone and see everything pessimistically.”