ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has resigned with the message that he remains a Peshmerga, committed to the Kurdish cause and confident that one day Kurds will see independence.
His last months in office saw the Kurdistan Region reach elevated highs after the independence referendum, but tumble to disastrous lows when Iraqi forces took over disputed areas and internal disputes erupted.
In a televised address three days before the end of his term as president, Barzani reiterated that he refuses any extension to his time in office beyond November 1, but he pledged to remain with his people, serving as a Peshmerga in the struggle for independence.
With respect to Baghdad’s military maneuvers this month, Barzani opined that such events would have occurred even without the referendum. He said that Baghdad postponed the Hawija offensive intentionally in order to build up forces ready to mobilize against Kurdistan.
“Even if the referendum wasn’t held, there was a plan to attack Kurdistani areas and destabilize the situation in the Kurdistan Region. The culture in Baghdad hasn’t changed,” he said, adding that the central government does not believe in federalism.
He said the use of Iraqi forces in a political struggle is unconstitutional and a continuation of the same mentality and culture of genocide against the Kurds.
Barzani offered that Kurdistan sought dialogue and still favours dialogue, but “vain” authorities in Baghdad sought war, especially the Shiite militias, and the Peshmerga were forced to defend themselves.
“We don’t want bloodshed. We want the problems to be resolved through dialogue. But if you intend to wage war, we will choose death and won’t allow our honor to be broken,” Barzani said, adding that he hopes Baghdad will be ready to talk.
He blamed the quick Kurdish retreat from the majority of the disputed areas on “treason,” saying Kirkuk was handed over to the Iraqis.
“The Peshmerga and all the people of Kurdistan were stabbed in the back by a poisonous dagger,” he said.
Despite the problems, he said that no one can erase the voices of three million people calling for independence.
The Kurdistan Region, some of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by Erbil and Baghdad, and the diaspora participated in the September 25 referendum to support independence. Nearly 93 percent of ballots indicated ‘Yes’ for independence.
Iraqi forces including the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries began taking control of the disputed areas on October 15. They want to impose federal control on borders, waterways, and oil fields.
Barzani emotionally campaigned in favor of holding the referendum despite calls from the international community to postpone the vote.
His term was last extended in August 2015 until such time as elections are held. Barzani called for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on November 1 – a date that was subsequently postponed by parliament.
He submitted a letter to parliament on Saturday, announcing his resignation.