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Prime Minister Masrour Barzani interview with Al-Jazeera

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (GOV.KRD) – In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani stressed the need for the International Coalition to maintain a presence in Iraq as terrorist threats continue to jeopardise peace and security gains in the region and that the KRG will continue to meaningfully engage in the ongoing strategic dialogue between Iraq and the United States.


ISIS Threats

Delegates from the Kurdistan Region and Iraq participating in the strategic dialogue have shared concerns that terrorism remains an ongoing threat to the country. Prime Minister Barzani warned, "Iraq needs the help of the Coalition forces" and stated that it requires a general agreement between the federal government, the United States, and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The Prime Minister added that ISIS remains a threat to the whole world. "ISIS is not defeated, and its ideology is still effective as it is continuous to attract fighters. The group can raise $150 million annually, which proves that it is active and has many members, and this threat must be eliminated."


Kurdistan Security Situation

Prime Minister Barzani stated that the region's security forces are not alone in facing the challenges posed by ISIS and assured that the Kurdistan Region is the safest place in an area rife with many problems and challenges.

"The Kurdistan Region has become an oasis of stability for many. This does not mean that threats from the terrorist groups are absent. Recently, an ISIS cell was planning to launch an attack in the Kurdistan Region but was fortunately intercepted. This is a reminder that we must not underestimate terrorism."


Iraqi Security Vacuum

Prime Minister Barzani expressed concerns about forces operating outside the scope of government institutions and how these groups threaten Iraq's relationship with the United States.

"What is happening does not represent the government's views, and we cannot generalise nor accuse the institution as a whole. There is a group that has broken out and is not part of the Iraqi government. It is challenging the authority of the government, and the state must rein in these individuals."

Noting the security vacuum present throughout the country, Prime Minister Barzani warned that the disputed areas are the most vulnerable targets of outlawed groups and that these attacks are aimed at Erbil and Baghdad, Iraq, and the international community.

"This matter does not serve the interest of the Iraqi people nor the Iraqi Government, and we must address these issues through the federal government. The Kurdistan Regional Government is ready to assist in reducing these threats."

He highlighted the Kurdistan Region's proposal to Baghdad to bridge the gap by deploying joint security forces to prevent terrorist infiltration and enhance security in those areas.


Iran Relations

Prime Minister Barzani affirmed the Kurdistan Region's will to maintain the good relations with Iran, pointing to shared borders, security, and economic interests. He expressed hope that this relationship will be strengthened and improved upon based on mutual respect and non-interference.


Erbil - Baghdad Relations

The Prime Minister remains hopeful that ties with the Federal Government of Iraq will continue to improve following the passage of the federal budget law as the implementation of the budget agreements remains stalled.

"The Kurdistan Regional Government is fully committed to its obligations, and we expect the Prime Minister and the Federal Government of Iraq to fulfill its financial commitments to the Kurdistan Region. There are no legal impediments to prevent this."


PKK Presence and Turkish Relations

Discussing the failure to implement the Sinjar Agreement as a missed opportunity for Erbil and Baghdad to coordinate on several security priorities, Prime Minister Barzani noted that the concentration of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and militias in the area will continue to pose a challenge to the federal government's authority.

Prime Minister Barzani clarified that this issue is separate from the conflict between the PKK and Turkey, which spilled over to Iraq during the war against ISIS. The PKK's expanded presence in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq has prompted residents of those areas to leave.

"Most Kurds do not belong to the PKK, and Turkey does not have problems with most Kurds."

The Prime Minister called on the PKK to withdraw from the Kurdistan Region, respect the KRG's authority, and asked for greater security cooperation with the Turkish Government and withdrawal of its forces. The Kurdistan Region and Turkey maintain good relations and are open to strengthening commercial and economic ties.


COVID-19 pandemic

Prime Minister Barzani stated that infection rates in the Kurdistan Region are still manageable and that the Kurdistan Regional Government continues to coordinate with the World Health Organization and the Federal Ministry of Health to fight the spread of the virus. He noted that the arrival of vaccines is slow and in small quantities.

"We need additional vaccines to help improve the situation. We expect to obtain more vaccines and for the Iraqi Government to pay more attention to the health sector to support the Kurdistan Regional Government in this matter.”