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Karwan Faidhi Dri
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani speaks during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2020. Photo: Rudaw TV
DAVOS, Switzerland – Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday that the recent non-binding Iraqi parliament resolution to expel foreign forces from the country was not backed by Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers.
Barzani made the comments during a panel discussion titled ‘An Unsettled Middle East’ at the annual forum taking place at the Swiss ski resort.
Fuad Hussein, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs and minister of finance, also participated in the discussion, which was moderated by Robin Niblett, director of the UK-based think tank Chatham House.
Barzani highlighted the necessity of the US troop presence in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group (ISIS).
“We believe that this goal [of preventing terrorism] will not happen without support from the international community, especially the US. Therefore, the US troops have to remain,” the president added.
Shiite lawmakers pushed for a resolution to expel foreign forces from Iraq following the US assassination of elite Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and several pro-Iran militia members at Baghdad Airport on January 3, leading to a spate of rocket and missile attacks by the US and Iran on Iraqi soil.
“Iraq has been caught in the conflict between Washington and Tehran,” Barzani said.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, US Special Envoy for the Global Coalition against ISIS James Jeffrey said America’s military operations in Iraq are still “on pause”.
“Coalition operations have been primarily on pause in Iraq as we focus on force protection,” he said.
“There is of course a dialogue between our people in the coalition and the Iraqi forces, and we exchange information at various levels but again … the operations are primarily on pause.”
Jeffrey reminded reporters that Kurds did not vote for the expulsion of US troops in Iraq.
In response to Barzani’s earlier comments on the ongoing threat of terrorism in Iraq, Jeffrey said “the risk of the resurgence of the ISIS is a very big problem”.
Regarding the status of US troops in Kurdistan Region, Jeffrey said “the Region has been a “safe zone” for US troops since 2014 when ISIS emerged.
“Kurdistan has been a safe zone for us to operate in since 2014 … because there is very little Iraqi insurgency in Kurdistan up to the period of our military departure in 2011, and there is not a significant presence of pro-Iranian militias there.”
The recent Iranian missile attack near Erbil Airport, however, shows American forces are not totally safe in the Kurdistan Region either, Jeffrey cautioned.
Absence of loyalty
The situation for young Iraqis, many of whom have been protesting across the country since October 2019, was also discussed at the Davos summit.
“When they go to the polls, the results [of elections] do not meet the expectations of this generation,” Barzani told the panel, referring to those under the age of 23 who have grown up under the ruling Shiite establishment and who do not remember life under the Saddam regime.
Iraqis have been protesting against the lack of basic services, unemployment, and corruption since October, demanding root and branch reform of Iraq’s post-2003 constitutional order. More than 500 people have been killed and thousands injured in clashes with the security forces and pro-Iran militias.
Iraq has changed irreversibly since October, Barzani said, something that must be accepted by those in power.
“It is very important for the Iraqi politicians to understand this. Iraqis will not accept the return to the situation of before October 1. They deserve a better life and they have conveyed their message to Iraqi officials in the protests.”
Barzani added that the lack of a unified national identity is a key problem in the country.
“I believe that the problem is that there is no loyalty to Iraq. You see that there are Sunnis, Shiites, Turkmens, and Christians.”
“However this is not an issue, as Switzerland is like that as well,” he quipped, referring to the European state’s own linguistic and cultural mix.
“We have to think logically and find a formula for this country to see how we can all live in a country called Iraq. Iraq has to be the gathering point of all of us,” he added.