Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Between 2002 and 2004, Rubin worked as a staff advisor for Iran and Iraq in OSD/ISA/NESA at the Pentagon, in which capacity he was seconded to Iraq. He also worked as lecturer in Salahadeen, Sulimani and Duhik universities in Kurdistan region of Iraq.
By: Abdulla Hawez
Abdulla: Let me begin with the latest event which is Iraq’s election law, Masoud Barzani the Kurdistan president said that he fails down its demands over Iraq’s election low, because U.S.A. Promises him that they will push Iraq’s Gov’t to implement the 140 article over disputed lands, What’s your opinion do you think USA promises going to implement, or it was just to win Kurds vote over election low? What are the possible scenarios over Kurkik province?
Michael Rubin: I would be cautious about placing too much hope on American promises. Masud Barzani should understand this because of Henry Kissinger and the events of 1975. Henry Kissinger was a realist, and so is President Obama. Obama wanted an immediate deal with the Kurds over the elections, and this is what Masud Barzani gave Obama. Next year, if the situation will change, White House policy will change irrespective of President Obama’s promises.
Personally, I support Article 140 and think the Iraqi constitution should be followed, but I do not expect the status quo to change in Kirkuk. The next time Obama needs something from Baghdad, he’ll compromise on Kirkuk in a way that will not be to the benefit of the Kurds.
Abdulla: Do you think over the new election law, Kurds are going to lose some of their chairs in the Iraqi parliament?
Rubin: Perhaps the Kurdistani list will lose some seats, but not the Kurds. The ‘open list’ will hurt the PDK and PUK more than other parties because of public anger at corruption in the PDK and PUK, and public anger at the tendency of both PDK and PUK to prioritize family over competence. Barzani is fond of warning that voting for other Kurdish parties, be they Goran or Yekgertu will undercut the Kurdish position in Baghdad, but I do not accept this. From my experience in Kurdistan, both the Goran and Yekgertu support the Kurdish position on issues such as Kirkuk just as much as the PDK or PUK. They differ only on approach to corruption, which both Goran and Yekgertu approach in a more serious fashion and, in the case of Yekgertu, some social issues.
Abdulla: According to PUK and PDK’s agreement, a couple months before they exchange some of their top position’s like: Dr. Barham Salih became KRG prime minister after Nichervan Barzani’s primary for long period? Do you think Salih can success in his new position or no? (Or do you think PDK like Salih as Prime minister or no?)
Rubin: I like Dr. Barham and think he is extremely competent. But he is in a difficult position. He has very little support within the PUK, and even less in the PDK. There is no way Masud Barzani or Nechervan Barzani will let Dr. Barham accomplish more than Kak Nechervan, which is to say nothing. Everyone knows that Masud Barzani has passed a directive to all PDK members to limit their cooperation with Dr. Barham. The Barzani’s have not let Dr. Barham select even his own staff. It seems Dr. Barham’s main job is to keep the seat warm for Nechervan.
Abdulla: How do you see Kurdish-Turkish relations? In the latest months Turksih foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and interior Minister Bashir Atalay visited Kurdistan region, in your opinion what’s the possible cases that maybe they negotiated with Kurdish leaders?
Rubin: I am happy that Iraqi Kurdish-Turkish relations are improving. Much of the relationship is commercial: Barzani and Erdogan both have commercial interests and use the relationship to enrich themselves. While I think both Turkey and Kurdistan deserve governments which are less corrupt and more transparent, I support Turkish investment in Kurdistan since it leads both to improvements in Kurdistan and creates a disincentive to war. Much of the talk was commercial.
Some of the talks were political, relating to amnesty for the PKK members living in Iraqi Kurdistan. Alas, as Erdogan’s popularity slips, he will increase his rhetoric toward the PKK, DTP, and other Kurdish organizations in Turkey and this may cause renewed tension.
Abdulla: According the agreement between USA and Iraq, coalition troops are going to withdraw in Iraq this year, do you think Central government and KRG are compromise their issues or the problems become worse? Which scenario you anticipate?
Rubin: I expect the problems to become worse, especially in Mosul. But make no mistake: The U.S. troops will withdrawal. And it will be difficult for U.S. troops to stay in Kurdistan. Masrour Barzani may be one of the reasons why the United States cannot stay in Kurdistan. If the United States were to keep personnel in Kurdistan, the Pentagon would require there be no political interference. Masrour Barzani, however, puts personal interests ahead of Kurdish interests. When he ordered his agency to ban me from Iraqi Kurdistan, he forgot I still work for the U.S. military, and so he demonstrated that the Kurdistan Regional Government and security forces cannot be trusted to refrain from political interference with employees of the U.S. military.
Abdulla: How do you see the cold war between Change (Gorran) movement’s Nawsherwan Mustafa and PUK’s Jalal Talabani? Do you think this rough debate between them is going to weak Kurds in Baghdad after upcoming election?
Rubin: Almost every Kurds I have ever met, regardless of their political affiliation, agree on issues such as Kirkuk, so I do not think the debate itself will weaken Kurds in Baghdad. The Kurdish parties will hold out for the best deal.
I do expect Mam Jalal’s position to be hurt, however. Many Iraqis question his health and whether someone so unhealthy should be president. And many Iraqis question whether Mam Jalal, who has been so unable to lead his own political party effectively, should lead Iraq.
Abdulla: Are USA count Kurds as its ally or no? How Kurds can become USA allies?
Rubin: The Kurds are U.S. allies, for now at least. Americans are naturally sympathetic to the Kurds. But the Kurds are not solid U.S. allies for two reasons:
• First, the Kurds do not understand that the United States will want good relations, not just with Iraqi Kurdistan, but also with Iraq and Turkey. Too often, the Kurds demand that the United States choose between its allies and, if forced to do that, Washington will not choose Kurdistan. Remember: The United States is allies with both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia demand the U.S. minimize relations with the other, so why do the Kurds demand that the U.S. choose sides in fights with Baghdad or Ankara?
• Second, the Kurds’ representation in Washington has not done a good job. It has not been able to escape the Kurdish mentality. In Kurdistan, want good relations with one political party or the other political party. But in Washington, it is important to have good relations with both political parties. To be friends with the Democrats, however, the Kurds have attacked Republicans. This is not the way to make friends. What the Kurds should have done is leave U.S. politics to the Americans and tried to be friend with both Democrats and Republicans.
Abdulla: How do you see the future of oil contracts? Do you think DNO scandal going to weaken Kurdish position over gas and oil law in Iraqi parliament?
Rubin: I don’t know how this is going to work out, and I’ll stay out of my dispute between Erbil and Baghdad on this one. What bothers me are three things:
• The corruption involved in the Kurdish oil contracts, with payoffs of millions of dollars going to Barzani or, in some cases, Talabani. I’ve seen several oil contracts, and they are disgusting examples of the corruption of the major Kurdish families.
• The involvement of American officials is deeply embarrassing. Many American officials-whether former military officials or even a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq-have entered into business relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government. Many of these officials like to suggest that they are in Erbil with the blessing and endorsement of the U.S. government. That is not true. They are in Erbil because of their own greed, and that is a black mark against the image of all Americans.
• My criticism of DNO and, by extension, Peter Galbraith was not about oil, but rather about human rights. Peter Galbraith should be honored for his work in the 1980s and early 1990s advocating for the Kurds, especially after the Anfal. But once he decided to do business, he stopped caring about human rights. He remained silent as the Barzanis began abusing Iraqi Kurds. He remained silent when the PDK attacked the Yekgertu office in Duhok ahead of the 2005 elections. It was Peter Galbraith’s silence which shows just how corrupting Kurdish oil money can be.
This interview published in Yakgrtu weekly newspaper in Kurdish.