Kurdish diplomat concerned about Mosul displacement and governance


KRG representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

Washington – The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, said that the Kurdish people have shown remarkable patience and resilience hosting thousands of displaced civilians in the ongoing war against ISIS. But, she says, slowly the Kurds are reaching their limits.

“We have to recognize this is not endless and that’s why we have been pushing for much better preparation for the displacement that could happen as a result of the Mosul operation,” she said in an exclusive interview with ARA News.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq hosts over 1.8 million Iraqi IDPs and refugees from Syria, and the population of Iraqi Kurdistan has been resilient despite being in a state of war for over two years, an economic crisis, and sacrificing many lives, according to the KRG official. But over one million are expected to flee Mosul and many are likely to head towards the Kurdistan region.

Rahman said the Kurds have been able to host so many refugees and IDPS due to their own experience of being refugees as people without a state. “I know almost no Kurds who have not been displaced at least once. I, who you could argue comes from a privileged background, have been displaced as a child, and I have been a refugee twice,” she said.

“There is this recognition that the people that are coming to Kurdistan are desperate and didn’t choose to leave their homes, or have their kids not going to school,” she added. “There is a deep empathy, not just a superficial sympathy, among the people of Kurdistan for the IDPs, and that’s why we have been able to absorb so many displaced people.”

“I don’t know which country, city or state in the US would not have social unrest,  protests and criticism of the decision-makers,” she said. “The people of Kurdistan have been remarkably patient, resilient, and understanding, but we in the government should understand that this patience is not endless, and we have to respond to what the protestors are saying,” she said about recent protests in Slemani and the town of Halabja against the delay in wages for public employees.

She warned that Kurdish patience has reached its limit, and that they cannot host another half a million civilians fleeing Mosul without additional support from Baghdad and the international community.

“We recognize there is a limit to what the KRG can do and we are very clear about the displacement from Mosul: we are not going to turn people away, and we recognize that people need to be safe, but we also recognize that we are at the limit of our capability,” Rahman told ARA News.

Lise Grande, the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, speaking last month in New York, said shelters need to be provided for at least 700,000 displaced people from Mosul. But the KRG representative said that until now there are only shelters for 200,000 civilians, which is a bad sign for the future.

“Kurdistan can’t do more, we can make sure that they are safe, but we don’t have the capacity to give food, shelter, or anything else. This is the responsibility of the UN, Baghdad and the international community,” she said.

The Kurds are also worried about the post-ISIS governance plan for Mosul. “I am not aware of any clear post-liberation governance agreement. Everyone agrees there needs to be an agreement or a discussion, but I am not sure we are really at that stage, maybe now during the drive towards the liberation of Mosul, maybe it will gain momentum,” she added.

“The tightening of the noose around Mosul started some time ago and since March we have had tens of thousands of newly arrived displaced people due to these operations,” she said. “But the military operation should not be ahead of the political agreement: by whom and how Mosul is going to be governed? How can the Assyrians, Yezidis, Christians and other minorities go back and live in peace after genocide, knowing that some of their neighbours and neighbouring villages were responsible for beheadings, and mass graves?”

“The Yezidis and Christians, here [in Washington] and in Iraq and Kurdistan are lobbying to have autonomous zones and provinces. Two provinces carved out of Nineveh, one in Sinjar for the Yezidis, and one in the Nineveh Plain for the Shabaks, Christians and others. There is some support here in congress, but there hasn’t been a proper discussion on what is going to happen [in Mosul and Nineveh Province] in terms of governance. The whole problem began because of poor governance. We are ignoring the elephant in the room, this has been the KRG position for a long time. Iraq agrees, America agrees, Erbil and Baghdad agree, but what has been done on the ground?” she said.

The Kurdish President Masoud Barzani on Saturday announced that Baghdad and Erbil have also agreed to establish a joint higher political committee whose task would be to supervise the affairs of Mosul after the liberation, and that the conditions are ripe for launching the Mosul offensive against ISIS.

While this fight against ISIS continues on Kurdistan’s borders, the Kurdistan Region has been facing difficulties due to internal Kurdish disunity, an economic crisis, wages of public employees being cut and delayed, and an ongoing disagreement over the Kurdish presidency.

The KRG representative in the US did not shy away from acknowledging that the Kurdish disunity in Iraqi Kurdistan makes it more difficult to lobby for the Kurds in Washington. Although many in Washington are more focused on the Kurdish contribution to the fight against ISIS, and possible problems between Baghdad and Erbil.

“The majority [in Washington] don’t have this detailed knowledge and they look at Iraq and Kurdistan through the prism of ISIS. Are the Peshmerga going to participate in Mosul? Will Erbil and Baghdad cooperate in the fight against ISIS? This is where much of the focus is,” she told ARA News.

The Kurdish parties that used to be kingmakers in the elections of 2005 and 2010 are now so divided in Baghdad, that some Kurdish MPs voted for sacking Hosyar Zebari, the Iraqi Finance Minister and a member of Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), last month. Moreover, there are huge internal differences inside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and also between the opposition parties, and the KDP over Barzani’s presidency.

“It presents difficulties when the political situation in Kurdistan is not great, it makes it more difficult for all of us, not only for the KRG representatives abroad, but for all KRG officials and for all political parties,” she stated. “Kurdish disunity doesn’t serve the Kurdish cause, and certainly doesn’t serve the Kurdish cause to the outside world,” Rahman said.

Nevertheless, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that now will take a major part in the operation to take Mosul from ISIS remain committed in the fight against terrorism, she said.

“Throughout the terrible political crisis we had a year ago and even the disunity we have now, the Peshmerga have remained focused on fighting ISIS,” she said. “There has been no disunity among the Peshmerga and this has made us very proud. I hope we can all follow the example of the Peshmerga forces.”

Interview by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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