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Summary: Conversation with the Kurdistan Regional Government

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Conversation with the Kurdistan Regional Government 


Speakers:

  • Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister, Kurdistan Regional Government
  • Karim Sinjari, Minister For The Interior, Kurdistan Regional Government
  • Michael Gordon, The New York Times

Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Qubad Talabani and Interior Minister Karim Sinjari, joined the New York Times’s chief military correspondent Michael Gordon for a discussion of the Kurdish future.

Gordon began the conversation by noting the “severe economic crisis,” facing the Kurdish Regional Government. “There’s no other way to put it, with the Peshmerga not being paid for three months, with schoolteachers not being paid for four months, with construction and foreign investment pretty much at a halt,” especially due to low oil prices, the government appears to be “approaching bankruptcy, really.” And yet, they must continue to wage war against ISIS.

He began by asking Sinjari for an assessment of the situation on the ground in Mosul.

“Mosul really is catastrophic, the situation is very bad, ISIS control everything. They started recruiting now from there, especially teenagers, twelve years old, kids,” recruiting them for the militia. He suggested that, because the economic situation is so bad, locals are susceptible to being, “recruited to go and work with Daesh for 200 a month, to survive.”

Meanwhile, the Peshmerga, after three months without pay, are losing numbers due to troop desertion. “We start to see some deserter, some of the Peshmerga when they go home for holidays…some of them doesn’t come back. Because they have to pay rent for their houses, they haven’t. They have to pay for their kid’s school,” and other necessities. For now, he said, “the number of deserters is not high.” He estimated that it was about 1%. “But if this should continue for more than two of three months, the number will increase, and it will affect the fight.” 

On this theme, Deputy Minister Talibani stated that the Kurdish Regional Government was now seeking “direct budgetary support,” from the U.S. Government. “A year ago, weapons were our only request,” but, “in this year our economic situation has declined drastically.” He attributed this decline to falling oil prices and to policies of the federal government of Iraq.

“A war is always costly and as a result of this war, Kurdistan is now home to 1.8 million internally displaced people and refugees. This adds further social and economic burdens on the Kurdistan region.” And if “we cannot resolve,” the crisis, he said, it will “undoubtedly impact the ability of our forces to keep the front line the way that we have them.”

Being “among friends,” Talibani said, he felt he could be blunt: “we need direct budgetary support. We have a gaping hole in our economy. We have a massive deficit,” and they’ve told their “friends in the U.S. government,” that they would accept “any conditions” that they would put on those funds.

“In fact conditions would actually help us” push through critical but publicly unpopular “strategic reforms” that the KRG plans to use to implement to address the financial crisis. 

Talibani acknowledged that the large amount of public spending and public sector jobs the KRG provides would also have to be trimmed.

He added that if the Kurds were to attain statehood they would have “levers” that they currently do not have to address their economic crisis.  States can, “borrow…issue domestic bonds, print money, devalue currency,” and pursue several other options that are “off the table,” to the Kurds, Talibani said, because they do not have a state.

At the end of the discussion, Gordon asked the Kurdish representatives whether they would accept Iranian help in the eventual campaign for Mosul.

“Iran is a big country and neighbor to Iraq,” Sinjari siad, “they are helping the Iraqi government a lot and at the beginning when Daesh attacked us, they helped us too.”

“At the beginning they helped us to defeat Daesh, now we are not asking their help because the coalition help us.” When asked if Iran was a helpful force in the region in general, he responded very carefully: “For the time they [were] being with us, they helped us,” Sinjari said.

“What’s important to realize,” Talibani added, “Is that we’re a sub-sovereign entity, but we’re facing challenges that even large powers would have difficulties dealing with. We have this massive financial crisis. We’re at war. We have this humanitarian crisis which we believe only will get worse with any attempt to liberate Mosul.” Meanwhile, they struggle for military and humanitarian assistance, he said, and no budgetary support. “This places us as the most vulnerable entity in this coalition against ISIS.”