Iraqi Kurd leader threatens secession unless power share demands met


The president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region has demanded that officials agree to their demands or face consequences of a secession from Baghdad by September.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani demanded that the Shiite leaders agree on sharing power with their political opponents.

“What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule,” Barzani said in a 45-minute interview in his sprawling office outside of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region he leads in northern Iraq. “If Iraq heads toward a democratic state, then there will be no trouble. But if Iraq heads toward a dictatorial state, then we will not be able to live with dictatorship.”

He called it a “very dangerous political crisis in the country” and said the impasse must be broken by September, when voters in the Kurdish region may consider a referendum for a state independent of Iraq.

“They have to decide if they are willing to accept to live under a dictatorial regime or not,” he said. “They have to make that decision. It is their natural right.”

Barzani’s warning speaks of fears about a Shiite domination in Iraq’s government and how it has revived secession dreams the United States military had tried to contain.

The leader however, said that he is still committed to negotiating a compromise before promoting secession. He said he would hold on to it if the government logjam continues for much longer. He is the highest-ranking Iraqi official to disavow Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government for sidelining its political opponents and, in some cases, persecuting them in what critics call an unabashed power grab.

Critics are seeing Barazani’s statements as an attempt by the Kurds to place pressure on Baghdad and force the central government to follow the Kurdish way instead of a real pursuance of secession.

Iraqi central government has oil disputes with the Kurds, specifically Baghdad’s blacklisting of ExxonMobil from bidding on new projects as punishment for plans to work in the Iraqi Kurdish region - have been at the heart of recent feuding between the two sides.

Maliki's media adviser, Ali al-Moussawi declined to comment.