If Map Of Middle East Is Being Redrawn, What Lies Ahead For Kurds?

Jul 3, 2014
Originally published on July 3, 2014 5:26 pm

Violence in Iraq has many wondering if the map of the Middle East is being redrawn before the world's eyes. If so, Iraqi Kurds might stand to gain, with an independent Kurdistan finally within reach. Fuad Hussein, a strategist for the Kurdistan Regional Government, joins Robert Siegel to speak about Kurds' hopes and fears.

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So is the map of the Middle East being redrawn before our eyes? And if it is, will we also see the emergence of an independent Kurdistan? Iraq's 6 million Kurds live mostly in the autonomous region in the north of the country. Most are Sunni Muslims. Kurds are not Arabs. They have their own language. They also have their own militia, the Peshmerga. Fuad Hussein is a strategist for the Kurdistan regional government. He's officially chief of staff to the region's president. This week he's in Washington, where the U.S. government has been urging the Kurds to help keep Iraq together, and he joins us in studio. Welcome.

FUAD HUSSEIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Secretary of State Kerry says don't break up Iraq. Both Turkey and Israel have signaled they would welcome an independent Kurdistan. Will the Kurds declare independence?

HUSSEIN: First, we didn't break up Iraq. The others, they broke up Iraq. The others - I mean the sectarian fight and the policy of Prime Minister Maliki led to a more sectarian fight. And as a result, terrorists entered this - became part of the sectarian fight, and they control part of Iraq. So geographically, Iraq has been divided, now, in three parts. And Secretary of State was urging the Kurds and Kurdish leader to be part of the process - political process in Baghdad so that we can build, again, a new government in Baghdad. So it is about, first, building a new government in Baghdad.

SIEGEL: But you feel that you've been part of that process - that the Kurds have tried to be constructive and that it has failed. Where does independence figure, in the future as you see it and as Kurds see it?

HUSSEIN: The current situation and the current reality provide us the chance to think about our future because at the end, we have got, now, a new state between Kurdistan and Baghdad. And that state is the so-called Islamic State. And it's ruled by a terrorist organization. So being far away, geographically, from Baghdad - and Baghdad didn't offer in the last years, anything to Iraqi people nor to Kurdistan. Baghdad couldn't offer democracy when we agreed about that. Baghdad couldn't offer federal structure when we agreed about that. Baghdad couldn't offer security when we agreed about that. So the Kurds has the right to protect themselves, to establish themselves and exercising self determination - the right of self determination.

SIEGEL: If the Kurdish region of Iraq were to become either formally independent or de facto independent, wouldn't that naturally lead Kurds in Syria, Iran and the much larger Kurdish population of Turkey to say, we want autonomy or independence, too?

HUSSEIN: We are responsible for Kurds. I mean our leadership, our political parties, our Parliament is responsible for the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. And when we are talking about exercising the right of self determination, we mean the right - exercising it in Iraqi Kurdistan. But at the same time, we are Kurds. We have sympathy with other Kurds in other parts of Kurdistan, and we hope that they, through negotiation with their own government - through peaceful way, they can reach their target.

SIEGEL: You've mentioned that the Maliki government did nothing for the people in Kurdistan - or, I believe you said, anywhere in Iraq. Is there anybody on the Iraqi political scene who you think is capable of actually uniting the country?

HUSSEIN: To be honest, it is not about the individual, but Maliki was extreme failure.


HUSSEIN: But I think it has to do with the culture, with the mentality, with the ideology, with the background. I don't see the culture of democracy in that area. I don't see the culture of tolerance in that area. I don't see the culture of sharing the power with others in that area. I see sectarian culture. I see sectarian ideology. We will try, once again. We tried the last 10 years. We failed to build democracy in Iraq. We tried the last 10 years to build federal structure in Iraq. We will give it, once again, a try, although we know we will fail because the others, they are not ready to...

SIEGEL: When you say once again, do you mean another time or one last time?

HUSSEIN: It is the last time.

SIEGEL: Fuad Hussein of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, for now, but perhaps not for long. Thank you very much for talking with us.

HUSSEIN: You are welcome. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.