President Masoud Barzani addresses Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, sets election date for 25 July 2009 | |

Translations of the full text of the speech delivered by President Masoud Barzani

at Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, 5 May 2009

Dear Speaker of the Parliament,
Dear Members of Parliament,
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
Dear Ministers,
Dear Guests,

I am very pleased to be here with you to talk about the issues facing the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the wider region in general. I am also here to announce a date for general elections in the Kurdistan Region.

I believe you have nominated the 19 of May for elections, but after many consultations with the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission, it transpired that it would be impossible for them to make the necessary preparations and hold elections on that date. However, Faraj Haidari, the head of the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission officially informed me on 2 May 2009 that all technical and financial issues have been resolved and that they would be able to supervise the Region’s elections from the 20 July 2009 onwards. I hereby proudly announce that we are heading towards our elections and the 25 July 2009 will be Election day. I wish the people of Kurdistan and all competing parties success.

On this occasion, I would like to ask all participating parties to respect the principle of political diversity, as this will strengthen the Kurdistan Region. I would also like to ask the people of the Kurdistan Region to participate in this election in large numbers and freely vote for whomever they believe is better capable of serving the people. I request that public and religious places be spared publicity campaigns. I also call on all competing parties to fully cooperate with the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission so that we have a fair and problem-free election.

As I have been informed, 40 political entities have registered with the Electoral Commission to participate in this election. They are all entitled to freely campaign. However, no one should engage in smear campaigns or incitement to violence in this election.

In the popular uprising of March 1991, in the town of Koye, I promised the people of Kurdistan that we must have elections so that people can freely elect their representatives. For us, having elections is a fundamental principle and we fully believe in the right of the people to decide their future. Our struggle has always been for the freedom of our people. Every person in Kurdistan enjoys this freedom and we are proud of what we have accomplished.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
There have been many developments and changes in the world and especially in the Middle East since 1991. Kurdistan has not been spared from these developments. Let us take an objective look back at where our people were before and where they are today. Our Region is of significant importance and it is highly regarded around the world. This achievement has not come cheap; it is the result of the struggle of our Peshmerga, the people of Kurdistan, and the blood sacrifices of our martyrs.

We have attained big achievements and safeguarding these achievements is the responsibility of every person in Kurdistan, including the political parties. It is true that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have had to shoulder the lion’s share of this responsibility. This means they are responsible for any ills and for any achievements. They both need to work to uproot the ills. It is quite natural that complaints are levelled at these two parties. However, their role must be fairly assessed. When people talk about problems, they should also talk about positive developments. Thanks to the freedom that has been achieved, people are free to criticise these two parties and their leaders.

I would like to remind the people of Kurdistan that these two parties have played a pivotal role to bring about the freedom that we all enjoy today. These two parties obtained a mandate by the people of Kurdistan. They can maintain their mandate or lose their mandate only by the will of the people.

General allegations of corruption are not helpful. Such allegations should be pinpointed and specific so that they can be dealt with and uprooted. I urge that the proposed public finance watchdog and public finance integrity bodies be established soon and take on their work effectively.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,
The rule of law must be respected. Everyone should be subject to law. I don’t believe local parties should form ties with foreign governments. They can have relations with international parties or organisations. The forming of official international relations is only the prerogative of the Regional Government.

Constructive criticism is of course welcome and I am confident that most criticism that is levelled [against the Kurdistan Regional Government] is constructive criticism and comes from those who have the best interests of our country in mind. But I am also certain that some critics have ulterior motives and have external forces behind them. This is not an accusation; we have full evidence of this. We are open to calls for reform that emanate from inside, but no one can force upon us anything from outside. We believe in justice, in co-existence, and in pluralism. We believe in these principles and strive to consolidate these principles in our society. Unfortunately, I find it surprising when I hear that we believe in these principles because of external pressure and not through our own belief. These allegations are far from the truth.

Respect for human rights, especially respect for women’s rights, has always been a priority for us. The killing of women [honour killing] is a deplorable practice in our culture and we must all work together to uproot this appalling practice.

We don’t consider anyone more patriotic to Kurdistan than ourselves. Thankfully, we no longer suffer from internal fighting and this has been our biggest achievement. We need to focus on our national interests. The injustices committed against us were a result of our national tendencies.

It is natural to have differences in opinion; but when faced with threats, our national strategic interest must come first and we must be united. We are fully aware of the external threats and their attempts to undermine us and prove us a failure. We still face many external threats. Those who think we no longer face external threats are wrong.

Some people talk about violations of human rights. I would like to inform everyone that I have asked for a thorough investigation into these allegations. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) must not in any way behave contrary to the principles of human rights. I would be grateful to anyone with information on any political prisoners held in Kurdistan. We always aspire to serve the people of Kurdistan and we consider this our sacred responsibility.

It was reassuring to learn from a report, published by the federal Iraqi government’s Ministry of Planning, that poverty levels in the Kurdistan Region are much lower than other parts of Iraq. This is an indication that the KRG has sought to improve the living conditions of the people. The report says that only 4% of people in the Kurdistan Region live below the poverty level whereas in Iraq as a whole the ratio is 23%.

The KRG provides services in all areas of the Kurdistan Region without discrimination. It has recently announced a number of projects for the Region including reconstruction projects worth 200 million US dollars for the Garmiyan area, [this area suffered tremendously during the military operations of the former regime in 1980s]. The KRG has also started work on the construction of 1000 homes for the families of the victims of the Anfal [military campaign conducted by the former regime in late 1980s which destroyed 4,500 Kurdish villages and during which over 182,000 Kurds disappeared]. The KRG must carry on undertaking such projects.

We do not discriminate against any community in the Kurdistan Region. Arabs, Turkomans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians are all important components of the Kurdistan Region and their rights are guaranteed. We are all equals and there should be no discrimination. The rights of all communities are guaranteed in the draft constitution of the Kurdistan Region. Eleven seats have been allocated to these communities so they can freely elect their representatives. No one should interfere in their internal work.

We have received a copy of the UN report [on the disputed areas] from de Mistura [UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq]. We have formed a committee to study the report and present feedback. Their feedback will be sent to the Parliament [Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament] for review and for further discussion. Your comments and views will be taken into account.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
There has been talk for a while about problems between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal Iraqi government. I once again reiterate our commitment to the permanent Constitution [Iraqi] and its Article-140. We will not accept alternatives to this article. We have the right to be concerned. Let us look at how chauvinists in the city of Mosul have antagonistically treated the Kurds. I don’t understand what logic they use to totally ignore the Kurdish community, who obtained a third of the votes [in the recent January provincial elections]. The principle of consensus is followed everywhere in Iraq. Either Mosul will be governed by consensus or we will not allow this list [Al-Hadba list who won 19 of 37 seats on the Mosul council] to govern the Kurdish areas [in the Mosul province]. We have the right to ask why they behave like this in Mosul, whereas in Kirkuk they ask for participation and consensus.

There has not been any progress on the draft Iraqi oil and gas law. The oil ministry [Iraqi] is a failure and they have blocked us from working. In February 2007, there was agreement on a draft oil and gas law and together with an accompanying letter, an annex. The annex letter said that if the draft law was not passed by the Iraqi Parliament by the end of May 2007, then the Kurdistan Regional Government would have the right to sign contracts. This draft law was approved by the Iraqi Council of Ministers and it was sent to the Iraqi Shura Assembly [state council which oversees certain legislative matters] for approval. Under the pretext of rephrasing language in the draft, all the provisions of the draft were fundamentally modified.

At the time of drafting the Iraqi constitution in Baghdad, there was a lengthy discussion on the powers of the Kurdistan Region on oil and gas. We agreed that the Iraqi federal government would manage the existing oil fields together with the Regional Government; and, new oilfields would be managed by the Regional Government [together with the federal government].

They were against the use of the word “together” or coordination in the draft and had scrapped all occurrences of the word. Because of this, we did not accept the changes to the draft and they ignored the draft. I do not want to go into further details, however they had their motives. But we have not engaged in any unconstitutional conduct. We have signed oil and gas contracts based on the provisions of the aforementioned annex letter. Our contracts are constitutional, because no legislation was passed for oil and gas in the Parliament. We are still prepared to accept that draft law.

We believe that revenues from oil and gas belong to all the people of Iraq. There are no disagreements on this. Just today, the KRG Natural Resources Minister [responsible for oil and gas] informed us that an oil field in Zakho is capable of exporting 100,000 barrels per day. Furthermore, the KRG is ready to use the Iraq oil pipeline that goes through Turkey to export from this oil field. All the revenues would be distributed among all the people of Iraq.

The problem is that they [the federal government] are not willing to cooperate on the issue and they are not willing to allow anyone else to work either. For these reasons, we are not responsible for the oil and gas problem. We have not done anything against the Constitution. They have ignored the Constitution. We have repeatedly said that the Constitution should be the guide and we have demonstrated our commitment to the Constitution. We are ready to cooperate to resolve all the outstanding issues, including the oil and gas law.

The Kurdistan Region currently enjoys much better relations with neighbouring and regional countries, especially with Turkey, and we are pleased about this. In recent months, I visited Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, and the United States of America. I also paid a visit to several European countries. I can say that we have good relations with our neighbours. Our relations with most Arab countries are improving.

The recent visit by the President of the Palestinian Authority to the Kurdistan Region, the meeting with US President Obama [in Baghdad], the visit to the Kurdistan Region by the United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the telephone call by US Secretary of State Clinton, the visit by the new US Ambassador to the Region all reflect our desire for friendship and cooperation.

The message from the Obama administration is clear in reaffirming their commitment to Iraq and especially the Kurdistan Region.

We are working hard to stage a conference in which political parties and academics from all the different parts of Kurdistan will participate. The aim of this conference will be to come up with a unified Kurdish message calling for peace and friendship. This will be in the interests of the people of Kurdistan.

We are very concerned about the sporadic military bombardment of our borders. We are working hard to put an end to this. Our people along the border areas have suffered a lot of hardship as a result of these bombings.

I have full faith in the people of Kurdistan. I am confident our people know what is best for their future. The freedom that we have in Kurdistan will allow them to vote freely in this election. I once again call on the people of Kurdistan to participate in large numbers. I also urge the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission to invite independent and international observers to monitor this election. We would like this election to be transparent so that no one can later question the results.

I also request that electing the President of the Kurdistan Region be through direct voting and I ask the Parliament to make preparations for this.

Let me now present to you and the people of the Kurdistan Region some data on the services and projects that have been completed in the Kurdistan Region since the popular uprising of 1991.

At the time of the uprising, there was only one university in the Kurdistan Region, namely the University of Salahaddin, which had 7 colleges and 31 departments. It had a student population of 7,754 and teaching staff of 489.

In 1991, there were only 3 technical institutes in the three cities of Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Duhok, which together had 14 departments.

During the academic year 2008-2009, there are six public universities with 105 colleges and 382 departments. Today there are 20 technical institutes and 3 technical colleges in the Region. Furthermore, 17 new colleges and 12 technical institutes have been opened to further develop science, the arts, the social sciences, and economics in a number of district and sub-district towns. There are also today several research centres in our universities that did not exist before: research centres in all the universities such as the Kurdistan Institute for Strategic Studies and Scientific Research; Medical Board.

There are now 4,017 teaching staff with Masters and PhD degrees who teach 76,371 students at our Universities and Institutes. Higher education is free for all students; the KRG funds the education centres. There are also now 6 private universities and two private colleges with about 7,000 students. These private universities and colleges are accredited by the KRG Ministry of Higher Education.

Education has improved significantly since the days of 1991. Back in the1990-1991 year, in the Kurdistan Region, there were only 1,320 schools, some 21,291 school teachers, and 531,970 school students.

In the 2008-2009 year, the number of schools has quadrupled to 5,482 schools, the number of teachers quadrupled to 83,314 teachers, and the number of students more than tripled to 1,329,542 students.

In the reconstruction and municipalities sectors, some 4,120 kilometres of new roads have been opened, and 8,690 kilometres of road have been paved with asphalt. Since 1991, safe drinking water has been run some 8,900 kilometres. During this period, more than 4,030 water projects have been completed including some strategic ones: the Ifraz water project to supply Erbil, the New Dokan water project to supply Sulaimaniya, Mezne water project for Mezne and Mergesor districts and the water projects in both Soran and Zakho. Since 1991, some 6,800 kilometres of sewage network have been completed in cities and towns across the Region.

The health sector has also seen its share of development since 1991. Back then there were 27 government-funded general hospitals in the Region. As of the end of 2008, there were 49 such hospitals. In 1991, there are a total of 163 health centres; in 2008 the number was 740. In 1991, there were only 42 surgical wards in hospitals; today there are 149 such wards. Before 1991, there were no private hospitals in the Region. Today there are 30 private hospitals offering treatment in a variety of specializations. In 1991, there were 1153 doctors. Today there are 3,226 doctors.

Regarding electricity, in the period from 1991 to 2007, 11 new power stations were installed with capacities of 29, 15 or 10 mega watts of power. In 2008, the new Erbil power plant produced 500 mega watts of power. It is expected that the first stage 750-mega watt plant at Cham Chamal will also start operation this month. It is also expected that other phases of these two power plants will start producing electricity by the end of this year. In the next month, a 51-mega watt station will contribute to the grid in Tasloja. In Duhok, work is underway for two fuel-powered power plants as well as a Hydropower plant. In the Khabat district, the construction of a 300-mega watt thermal power plant is under implementation. Once complete, all these power plants will significantly reduce the shortage of electrical power in the Kurdistan Region.

The KRG is working on a number of other projects to further develop and increase power production. Since 1991, some 96 power distribution stations and 3,410 kilometres of power lines have been installed. So far, 3,450 district, sub-district and villages have been connected to the power grid. Power generators have been provided for remote villages and communities.

I wanted to mention this data because many people may not be aware of these facts.

Finally, I would like to thank you very much for your attention.

I am quite surprised no one has so far blamed the KRG for the dust storms we have been suffering from!

Thank you.