Iraqi Kurdish politician, Kamal Kirkuki, is a senior politician in the semi-autonomous northern region’s most powerful political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP. Formerly the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, he is now the commander of Kurdish forces fighting in the Kirkuk area. As such Kirkuki is playing a major role against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which has threatened not just Iraq’s Kurdish population but much of the rest of the country too.
Kirkuki has been fighting for the Kurdish cause for most of his life and as a soldier, he is known for his staunch and nationalistic views. In an interview with NIQASH, he talked about why he thinks the fight to clear Iraq of the Islamic state, or IS, group is taking so long and how he believes the disputed territories should be dealt with. The area his troops are in –Kirkuk – has long been a disputed territory. The Iraqi Kurdish believe the disputed territories should be part of their semi-autonomous region whereas the Iraqi government in Baghdad think they should be part of Iraq proper. Somewhat unsurprisingly Kirkuki wants any disputed areas the Iraqi Kurdish military are defending, and dying for, to remain in Kurdish hands after the security crisis is over.
NIQASH: What’s the latest news from the fight against the IS group on the western Kirkuk front?
Kamal Kirkuki: The IS group have been defeated many times since March. At some stages there were only 50 to 80 metres between us and them and we’ve been able to push them out. But it’s also clear that extremist fighters are hiding among the civilian Arab populations in some areas.
NIQASH: You often talk about how great the Iraqi Kurdish military is. So why have you not been able to expel the IS group from Sinjar yet?
Kirkuki: There is a plan for the liberation of Sinjar but it’s been put on hold. This is because some of the people who live in the Arab-populated villages in this area support the IS group. I don’t want to go into details but there will be some movement on this soon.
NIQASH: You are also always saying that the IS group is losing. Has anything changed for your forces? For instance, did you get better weapons or more support somehow?
Kirkuki: The IS group has always had better equipment than us because of all the Iraqi army weapons and equipment that fell into their hands after the Iraqi army withdrew. What makes us strong is our will and our capacity. We also have good contacts with the international coalition for airstrikes. It has been the will of the Iraqi Kurdish forces that has stopped the IS group from establishing their pagan, pre-Islamic nightmare in Kirkuk. It is the will of the Iraqi Kurdish military that will continue to defend and protect Kirkuk, and the rest of the Kurdish region.
NIQASH: There have also been rumours that the Iraqi Kurdish military are getting weapons from outside the country.
Kirkuki: We have received very little from outside the country. The Iraqi government hans’t sent as much as a single bullet to the western Kirkuk front. But we are hoping that the decision that was recently made by the US Congress [to send weapons to separate Iraqi factions, [rather than go through the federal government] will see more equipment come our way.
NIQASH: What are your thoughts on the relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and the federal government in Baghdad: Will it ever improve?
Kirkuki: After 2003, everyone said it would be better for the Kurdish to be part of federal Iraq. But now, thanks to a lack of weapons and money, it feels like the threat of genocide is again real to the Kurdish people. Basically we don’t trust the Iraqi government and the Iraqi government doesn’t trust us. Because of this the Kurdish should declare independence – this would solve all our problems. If we stay as we are, we are doomed.
NIQASH: Do you know of any plans to declare Kurdish independence in Iraq?
Kirkuki: The President of Iraqi Kurdistan [Massoud Barzani] has gone to the Kurdish Parliament and asked it to start to prepare the legal basis for this. The first steps have been taken. But no political party should tell the people of Kurdistan when and whether they can or can’t vote for independence. The people must decide, whether the politicians like it or not. A society cannot move towards democracy when one party is imposing its will on the people.
NIQASH: Rumour has it that the idea of Kirkuk becoming a special kind of region within Iraq was discussed during Barzani’s recent visits to the US. Do you know anything about this?
Kirkuki: Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan and it cannot just be cut off from Kurdistan. The planned future map of an independent Kurdistan contains Kirkuk. If anyone tries to take Kirkuk out of the equation, the people of Kurdistan won’t allow this to happen.
NIQASH: Along the same lines, a lot of Iraqis wonder if the Iraqi Kurdish military will ever withdraw back to areas they used to protect, before June last year. After all, they are currently positioned in some of the “disputed territories”. If they do not withdraw this is likely to cause more problems between the Arabs and the Kurds in Iraq.
Kirkuki: The Iraqi Kurdish military will not withdraw, It wouldn’t be logical. The Iraqi Kurdish military are protecting Kirkuk and its people as well locals living in other disputed areas, and they’re doing so fairly and without discrimination. So these forces will stay in position and continue to do this work.