SALAHADIN, IRAQ – The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region has warned that he would view as a “declaration of war” if the federal government cuts funding to the region in a dispute over oil sales to Turkey.
In an interview with Al Jazeera this week, Massoud Barzani also said his region would take measures to counter any military threat from the Iraqi government.
The comments, in the Kurdish leader’s first international interview in months, appear to serve notice to the government in Baghdad that he does not intend to back off on the escalating dispute over its authority over the region.
Speaking at his presidential palace outside Erbil, Barzani said the issue could be solved if political parties agreed to pass an oil and gas law. Hostility by the Iraqi prime minister and others towards the Kurds was holding it up, he said.
“And of course cutting the budget of the region from Baghdad we would consider it as war, a declaration of war and Baghdad will be held responsible for the consequences,” he said, speaking in Kurdish through his official interpreter.
Asked to explain what that would mean, the Kurdish president said: “It’s obvious what it entails. It’s premature [to talk about that now] but certainly the moment they do that [cut budget] then we consider it a war declaration.”
Disputed oil contracts
The Iraqi government considers the Kurdish region’s contracts with oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and its plans for direct oil exports illegal. The Kurds argue that the contracts are in line with the constitution and say they have been forced to sell crude because of delayed revenue transfers from the central government.
“Instead of having such an animosity to Kurdistan and the Kurdish people they should respond to the Iraqi people,” Barzani said. “After spending $27bn on the electricity sector can they respond to the Iraqi people and tell them what happened to that money?”
Barzani said he would not accept the current political situation to continue and said his region would find ways to counter any threat arising out of the Iraqi government’s purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States.
“If Baghdad or the federal government thinks about the usage of such things then we will be obliged to go back to the times when we had to think about how to target the F-16s… We hope this will not be the case but we have to get ready,” he said.
“For us, F-16s do not differ from MIG 19s or MIG 21s. We have seen them being used against us. We have seen tanks, artillery and other weaponry being used against our people. We have seen large numbers of troops being used against our people. Our fear is not of that. Our fear is the mentality that still believes in using planes, artillery and tanks to solve the problems.”