Son of Iraqi Kurdish leader calls for aid to battle ISIS

Masrour Barzani said many Kurdish fighters are not being paid

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A senior Iraqi Kurdish leader on Tuesday called for international aid to help finance the war against ISIS, saying it’s a “miracle” that underpaid Kurdish forces are still on the front lines.

Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region has seen its revenues plummet because of low oil prices, a dispute with Baghdad over petroleum revenues and an economic downturn driven by the war with ISIS.

Iraqi Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga have long been close U.S. allies, and are among the most effective ground forces battling the Islamic extremists.

But Masrour Barzani, son of the regional President Masoud Barzani and head of the region’s Security Council, told The Associated Press that many Kurdish fighters are not being paid.

“I think the international community should understand that these are, at the end of the day, human beings and they all have families,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the entire world to come to the assistance of the peshmerga to win this war.”

With oil prices hovering around $30 a barrel, the region is pulling in around $450 million a month, less than half what’s needed to cover $1.2 billion in expenditures. Kurdish officials say they need oil to return to $50 a barrel in order to pay salaries.

A Kurdish delegation visited Baghdad last week to ask the Iraqi government for aid but no deal was reached. Iraq’s central government is also struggling to make ends meet, for the same reasons.

Under existing agreements, the Kurdish region is entitled to 17 percent of the nation’s oil income, but Baghdad stopped payments in 2014, saying the Kurds were illegally exporting oil in pursuit of independence.

Barzani said the largely autonomous region still plans to hold a referendum on independence, but did not provide a timetable.

“We try to stay in this country, but if the authorities in Baghdad do not consider Kurds to be equal partners and if they keep pushing the Kurds to stay away, then they shouldn’t blame the Kurds for seeking other, better solutions,” he said.

The region has been largely autonomous since the early 1990s, when the U.S. and allies set up a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein. With a population of about 5 million people, it has its own government, parliament, security forces, and flag. But Kurdish officials say the lack of statehood prevents them from taking certain actions to alleviate the financial crisis, like issuing government bonds.

Any immediate move toward independence is unlikely, given the financial crisis, splits among Kurdish political parties and the threat posed by ISIS militants dug in 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the regional capital, Irbil.
“We will not declare independence right now,” Barzani said.

“We’re just talking about a right that the Kurds, like every other nation, have. Whenever they feel it’s time to exercise that right we expect the world to understand that.”

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