Atlantic Council
A Conversation with H.E. Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
H.E. Masoud Barzani,
President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council
Ambassador William Taylor,
Acting Executive Vice President,
U.S. Institute of Peace
Falah Mustafa Bakir,
Foreign Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Time: 10:00 a.m. EDT
Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

FREDERICK KEMPE: Mr. President, no surprise, we have a full house. Good morning, I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. On behalf of the Atlantic Council and the United States Institute of Peace, and a salute to Ambassador William Taylor – Bill Taylor, very good to do this event together with you – it is our pleasure to welcome you to this joint event in his honor of His Excellence Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

A special welcome to the members of the president’s delegation as well. And I am going to cite them by name. This is a historic visit. This is an important visit. So please bear with me as I do that: Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, welcome gentleman; Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani, welcome to you; Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Sayid Qadir; Chief of Staff to the President Fuad Hussein; Minister of Natural Resources Dr. Ashti Hawrami, we – always happy to host you at the Atlantic Council and also in Istanbul; Minister of Housing and Reconstruction Darbaz Rasul; Head of the Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir. It’s very great to have you all here, and also, of course, the Representative to the United States Byan Sami Abdul Rahman, you’re a great addition to the diplomatic world here in Washington, and the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily, it’s wonderful to have you here as well.

I also wish to salute the many ambassadors, Atlantic Council board directors and members who are here. I particularly want to salute my friend David Phillips of Columbia University, who pioneered an early Atlantic Council contact with the Iraqi Kurds in 2009 through a trilateral dialogue supported by the Norwegian government involving Turks, Americans and Iraqi Kurds. We produced a visionary report – David produced it – “Confidence Building Between Turks and Iraqi Kurds.” So thank you for that, David.

Our new Kurdish initiative in our Patriciu Eurasia Center will build further upon that good work, as does our annual Atlantic Council Energy and Economic Summit in Istanbul, where Kurdish leaders have been leading participants, including several officials in this room. In short, Mr. President, members of the delegation, we are truly honored to have you all here with us on this historic visit to the United States. Your success has rarely had such important regional and I would say also global consequences.

Today’s special event, as I said, is co-hosted with the United States Institute of Peace. And I’m delighted that we’re joined here with Ambassador Bill Taylor, the acting executive vice president USIP. And of course, thank everyone for joining us here in the room and for watching us live on television or over the web. Thanks for tuning in. Don’t hesitate to join the conversation online using the Twitter hashtag today, #BarzaniDC.

It’s an underestimate to – understatement to say President Barzani is visiting Washington at a critical juncture. Our meeting today at the Atlantic Council comes the day after President Barzani’s meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden, with whom he had breakfast again this morning. U.S.-Kurdish cooperation has perhaps never been closer or more vital as we join in common purpose against Daesh, better known by the misnomer Islamic State.

The Kurdish peshmerga, under the leadership President Barzani, bear the brunt of the battle and have shown bravery and determination in fighting back ISIS’ medieval brutality. To date, more than 1,200 peshmerga have fallen and 7,000 have been wounded in the current conflict. President Barzani himself is often at the front lines personally commanding his troops, just one manifestation of his unique brand of leadership. He is also known to personally visit the homes of fallen soldiers.

President Barzani and his government are dealing with a severe humanitarian crisis, as there are around 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons, including the Yazidis and Christians. The battlefield challenges and the refugee crisis are compounded by an economic crisis due to low oil prices and ongoing budgetary disputes between Erbil and Baghdad. In this context, the president’s visit to Washington offers a significant, perhaps historic, opportunity.

These conversations are critical as the United States updates its policy in Iraq in a manner that should include a more robust and forward-leaning strategy for the Kurdish region as well, which holds outsized importance among its neighbors as a source of stability for the region and one of America’s most reliable allies. It’s worth remembering just a little history before I turn over to President Barzani.

President Barzani, you were born on the same day that your father founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party, on August 16th, 1946. Given your historic role now, it’s worth remembering your father’s role as the revered leader who founded the Republic of Mahabad, battling forces then – battling the forces then of the shah and Iraq. You inherited the Kurdish cause from your father and, indeed, you said, quote, “I was born in the shadow of the Kurdish flag in Mahabad. I am ready to serve and die for the same flag,” unquote.

You have fought your entire life to advance the rights of the Kurdish people. You joined the peshmerga at the age of 16. In 1979 you were elected president of your political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and you led that party and the peshmerga through decades marked by internal strife and frequent incursions by the Iraqi army. The first free and fair election in any part of Iraq was held in the Kurdistan region in May 1992, establishing the first Kurdistan National Assembly and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

After the liberation in Iraq, you were appointed to the Iraqi governing council and held the rotating presidency in May, 2004. You helped to achieve official recognition of the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistan Regional Government. President Barzani was elected as president of the Kurdistan region in 2005 and re-elected in 2009.

Finally, Time Magazine, in nominating President Barzani as runner-up in 2014 for person of the year, described him as, quote, “A powerful president whose life encapsulates the history of a people whose time finally appears to have come. The legacy of Masoud Barzani is still being written,” said Time Magazine, “but as the hordes from the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria swarmed north from Fallujah in the first days of June 2014, conquering Iraq’s second-largest city in four days and then pivoting toward Kurdish lands, one thing was clear: Iraq’s Kurds and perhaps 22 million other Kurds around the region were that turning point.”

At this turning point for the Kurdistan region, it is my pleasure to give the podium to President Barzani for his opening remarks. Ambassador Taylor will then moderate a discussion with the president. This event will close promptly at 11:30. We ask you to remain seated and allow the president and his delegation to leave the room at that time before you get up.

Mr. President, the floor is yours. (Applause.)

(Note: Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir provides interpretation for President Barzani.)

PRESIDENT MASOUD BARZANI: Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, it’s my pleasure and privilege to be here to give me this opportunity to address you. So the purpose of our visit to Washington is to convey and communicate the message of thanks and appreciation from the people of Kurdistan to the president, vice president and the U.S. administration, and the people of the United States, for the support and assistance that they have provided to the people of Kurdistan last year when we were confronted with fighting the brutal terrorism of ISIS, and also to have an opportunity to exchange views about the challenges that are facing us – to many challenges facing us in the area that we live in.

As you may know, that last year in August 2014, Kurdistan came under huge attacks from the terrorists of ISIS with huge capabilities that they were able to acquire from the Syrian army, as well as the Iraqi army. We, the KRG, adopted a twofold policy. The first policy was to stop their advances and be on the defensive, second, to be on the offensive and to take the initiative in order to attack the terrorists. So once again I would like to express our thanks and appreciation for the support that was provided in the air cover and the airstrikes by the United States and other coalition members that was able to help to change the equation on the ground immediately, and also to confront with ISIS and ISIS to suffer huge defeats and losses.

ISIS is not a new, emerging organization. It’s the extension of al-Qaida. Of course, al-Qaida, like many of the trend of the jihadi takfiri groups, while ISIS benefited from that, in addition to chauvinism to be added to that equation, which is a developed version of it. Of course, this group has proven to all that they are against humanity, they are against the past, they are against history, they are against the future, they are against freedom and all human values and democratic values that we all believe in. Of course, they have proven by exercise that in anywhere that they have controlled there will be no meaning and no room for democracy, for freedom, for religious freedom or for any kind of democratic principles.

We are proud of what we have achieved because we believe we are in the front lines fighting on behalf of the free world this brutal terrorist organization. And it were at the hands of the peshmerga forces that they were able to destroy the myth of ISIS being the invincible force. This has been a costly war. It has not been an easy task in this fight. We have suffered – we have given huge sacrifices. One thousand two hundred peshmergas have given their lives and 7,000 peshmergas have been wounded, in addition to other material and moral losses that inflicted upon our community. We believe in this and we believe that together with the coalition partners we have defended human values.

As I said, we were able to destroy the myth of ISIS, but at the same time to clear and liberate around 20,000 square kilometers which were controlled by ISIS. ISIS were thinking that they would be able – or their perception was such that they would be able to come and attack Kurdistan, control Kurdistan. And they would be able to implement the wider plan they had, realizing that the major block in their way would be the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Of course, the fight has got its own costs and it has been costly throughout the region, but also economically it has added a huge burden for the KRG, because as a result of the fight of ISIS we have received and we have been the safe haven for a large number of internally displaced people and refugees from Syria. Kurdistan region opened its doors for over 1 ½ million refugees and displaced people who belong to different national, ethnic, religious and sectarian backgrounds, including 250,000 from Syria. The number of IDPs and refugees are huge. As an example, Duhuk City, which is a province in Kurdistan region, the number of the refugee or IDP community is higher than the number of the local community.

Of course, we believe that we have a humanitarian as well as a national responsibility in order to assist those who needed our help and those who fled violence. But of course, the burden is huge and we cannot afford it alone. That’s why we call upon the United States and our friends in the international community to come and help Kurdistan region with these needs.

From the early days of the attack, it was a difficult situation, it was very tense. But I met with the representatives of the Christians, of the Yazidis, of the Turkmens. And I have assured them that this is a temporary situation. It will be over. We will win over the terrorists. And we do not want any of you to think about leaving the country, going to be asylum seekers abroad. I assure that we will be together. Either we live freely in our country or we will die together.

Therefore, that was the message. And now we are confident with what we have achieved so far. We’re proud of Kurdistan being the safe haven for all those who wanted to come. And today we hope that we will continue to count on our friends in the international community. With their support, we would be able to find the final solution of returning back to their homes. Yes, some of them have gone back, but still there are large numbers who are waiting to be sent back to their homes.

If we count the front line which the Kurds are in fight against ISIS from Kobani to Khanaqin, it’s about 1,500 kilometers long. We are proud of all peshmergas and what we have done, not only in Kurdistan region of Iraq that they defeated ISIS, but also they played a major role in helping defeat ISIS in Kobani as well. Of course, the airstrikes have been very effective and helpful, but still the peshmergas do need weapons and ammunition – necessary weapons and ammunition in order to end this war decisively and sooner.

We will continue our consultations with the federal government in Baghdad and also with our American friends and the rest of the coalition partners in order to lay down proper programs and implement it as required in order to finally defeat and destroy ISIS in the remaining areas. Of course, I would like to stress, this war is costly and this is a huge burden. It has cost our economy a great deal and it has been a heavy burden on the people of Kurdistan and the government. We are confident that we will continue to deal with this. And finally, we will aim to succeed in all the fronts that we’ve been fighting.

Thank you very much for this opportunity, grateful to give me this opportunity to address the audience. (Applause.)

WILLIAM TAYLOR: So, Mr. President, welcome on behalf of the United States Institute of Peace. And I echo Fred Kempe’s welcome to you to Washington, D.C. We are very pleased to be able to share this opportunity for a conversation with many of your friends in this room. I noticed that Ambassador Jones, Ambassador McGurk have joined us. You have many friends here and we look forward to this as a conversation.


MR. TAYLOR: And, Mr. President, I want to pay special thanks to Minister Bakir, who is the highest-ranking interpreter in the world, I think. (Laughter.)

MIN. BAKIR: Thank you.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, you were here three years ago. Many things have changed since then. You spent some time talking about Daesh and I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to explore those relations further and those challenges further.

There is a new government in Baghdad since you were last here. I would be very interested in our sense of the state of relations – you mentioned this briefly – state of relations between Erbil and Baghdad over time. It would appear that there are improvements since the new government has been there. You mentioned the security cooperation. There’s been progress on oil exports. There’s been progress on revenue sharing, political. Can you describe a little bit where you see these relations going over time?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, I need to say that for us and all the others concerned, the top priority is to focus on fighting ISIS. And that’s why I mainly focus on the issue of ISIS, not going to details of other issues.

Having said that, that doesn’t mean that there are no other issues – important issues to discuss or to talk about. Of course there are other important issues. And your question is very important. Yes, indeed, we have a new federal government in Baghdad. And at the beginning of this year we have reached an agreement which was reflected in the budget law of the region. Of course, I can – we are, from our side, the KRG is committed to that agreement. The relations between Erbil and Baghdad is now much better than what it was under the previous government.

But, at the same time, it’s not without problems. We have issues. We have problems. We have differences. But we believe that there is a joint desire from both sides in order to address these issues and to find proper solutions for them. But the spirit is to work together, to cooperate in order to address these issues. As far as oil is concerned, we have reached an agreement and the KRG is providing and exporting 550,000 barrels per day, as it has been stipulated in that agreement and as part of the budget law. Our expectation and waiting is that Baghdad – as well the federal government in Baghdad to honor that agreement and also to provide the KRG with its fair share of the revenues.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, the unity of Iraq – KRG, Baghdad – will be important for your top priority of fighting Daesh, as you’ve mentioned. And I’m sure in your nearly two-hour discussion in the White House yesterday with President Obama and Vice President Biden and then an additional time this morning with the vice president that that was the top priority. The unity of your country, important for that fight, is that something that was discussed among your topics of discussion here today?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: There is no question that confronting ISIS needs unity of role, the unity among all the peoples of Iraq who are there. And of course, Kurdistan region did play a leading role in that and Kurdistan has been the vanguard in confronting ISIS. They have played a role. But of course, the unity of Iraq depends on the other – the peoples of Iraq – how democratic Iraq will be, how far they will be convinced about peaceful coexistence, because that unity is voluntary and not compulsory. So therefore, the important thing is attempts to be made for everybody in Iraq to have that conviction, that there will be a voluntary union and not a forceful union.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, my last question before we open it up to your friends here in the room, who I’m sure will have a lot: You just talked about the importance of peaceful coexistence within Iraq. The Kurds have played a major role in the past in reconciling differences among various groups in – across Iraq, not just in Kurdistan. Will that role continue? Is there a role for you and others from the KRG to play a role in reconciliation in Iraq?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, right now Kurdistan does play a leading role and a major role in protecting those who have been affected by – as a result of the conflicts which are there in Iraq. Of course, this needs a collective effort of all. Iraq mainly has the three main pillars, three main components, which are Kurds, Arabs, the Shia and Sunni Arabs, in addition to other national minorities that we have – Turkmen, Chaldean, Assyrian and different religions and sects, because when Iraq was established after the first world war, it was on the basis that Kurds and Arabs will be partners in this country.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to – we have not been able to establish that partnership that’s required. We have been trying and we will continue our efforts, but that doesn’t mean that this will be an obstacle in the way of the people of Kurdistan to exercise their right to self-determination. That opportunity has to be given to the people of Kurdistan to determine their own future in a referendum. But that should be away from violence in a peaceful way, in a cordial way, and through understanding.

But until then, we will do our best and we will continue our efforts in order to do whatever we can to help solve the issues, the disputes in Iraq so that these problems will be contained and solved and not to expand further or escalate further.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, the Institute of Peace is very much in favor of kind of non-violent dispute resolutions, exactly as you’ve just described. So if these’ anything we can do to help.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Those who have been in war, those who have seen war, they do understand and appreciate how peace is needed and how valuable peace is.

MR. TAYLOR: Exactly. Exactly. Thank you, Mr. President.

Let me see if there – there are some people who would like to have a question. (Laughter.) You’re not surprised. Yes, right here. Go ahead, yes. And there are mics, I think, that are coming around.

Q: Thanks very much, Bill. I’m Barbara Slavin. I’m a senior fellow here at the Atlantic Council. And I coordinate a taskforce on Iran.

I wanted to get your view on the big picture in the region. There are a lot of moving pieces. How do the Kurds navigate in a situation where you have Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of Arab armies against Iran-backed groups in Yemen, where you have a nuclear agreement that looks like it’s about to be signed between Iran and the major powers? Is this going to affect your interests? And how do you keep from making more enemies? Thank you.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, we have a cause which is different from all the issues that you refer to. But we can’t say that it’s irrelevant to us. But of course, the top priority for us is how could we achieve a better future for our people? So we do hope that the current circumstances in the region, be it the atomic or the nuclear file or the situation in Yemen, would end through a proper solution and understanding. But certainly our policy is very clear, that we – as Kurds, we will try to avoid being part of any of the disputes which are there in the region. We have our own agenda, which stems from the interest of our people. And we do not implement other people’s agenda.

MR. TAYLOR: Let me go to the back here. We were in the front so let’s – yes, sir. All the way in the back. Yes. Please, and you’ll state your name and affiliation, please.

Q: My name is Aizen Marrogi. I’m a United States Army colonel, medical officer. And I had the privilege to serve in Iraq as a command surgeon for the Office of Security Cooperation.

And I traveled through the Kurdistan region. And I genuinely saw the like and appreciation for all the sacrifices that United States has done for the region. And I also saw the prosperity of the Kurdistan region has achieved under your leadership, sir, Mr. President. And I know of the desire of many Iraqis to see the same thing that their Kurdish brothers have seen. Where does his excellency see himself as a leader, not only for his people in Kurdistan but also for the people of your entire Iraqi population, that desire the same leadership that he bestowed on his people? Thank you, sir.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Had the rest of Iraq done what we have done in Kurdistan region, or even still if they are able to do it, they would be in a better shape than Kurdistan because in Kurdistan we had a clear vision. We opened a new page, and we want – we stayed away from violence. We went for tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and also we went to elections. We went to freedom and democracy, and we wanted to provide an opportunity for our people which their future would be better than their past. And we did not start killing each other based on religion, sect or doctrine. These are the reasons that we were able. And if the rest of Iraq would want to benefit from Kurdistan region, they would be able to do so.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, sir. There we are. There’s a mic right here, sir.

Q: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: So to give our very senior interpreter a chance to do this. (Laughter.)

Q: OK. (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you.

MIN. BAKIR: A question from Dr. Haitham (ph), who has been a displaced people in Erbil himself. He’s an academician and also a politician. He has been in Erbil and he’s aware of the large number of the displaced people who are in Erbil, and they appreciate the historic role of the president and the Kurdistan region in that. And indeed, he says that he has worked with a number of think tanks and research institutes here in the United States, and he has done an opinion poll among the leaders of the area which are controlled by ISIS. And he has been trying to get in touch with them and also to call them on the phone and to have some question. And he has questioned clerics, religious leaders, politicians, tribal leaders, and he has been asking them a simple question: What’s the way forward? What’s the solution for this? And indeed, there were many proposals or many things, but there was one thing that was repeated, that everybody has mentioned the name of Masoud Barzani in their answer. So of course, they wanted President Barzani to play a role in finding a solution for this.

His question is that, does the president think that there is an opportunity for Masoud Barzani to play the role that King Fahd has played in inviting all the Lebanese leaders to Taif in order to – Saudi Arabia – in order to address the issues and have them onboard? Because these people, for President Barzani to do the same thing, to invite all these leaders there so that they go on the same path, working for a solution for the sake of the displaced people, those who are suffering under the control of ISIS.

MR. TAYLOR: Well done.

MIN. BAKIR: Thank you.

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I believe these people are expecting me what’s beyond my capacity. (Laughter.) I will spare no effort in playing my role in helping, supporting and contributing in helping solve this problem. Of course, previously I had an initiative in 2010 when I did a similar thing, as a result of which we were able to form the previous Cabinet in the Iraqi government. And of course, that depends on a number of reasons, and I’m ready to play my role even if we were not able to solve the problem, but at least to alleviate the sufferings of the people. But certainly the circumstances, the change, and also the revenues from their side would be an important element in that.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, sir. The gentleman – yes, right here.

Q: Thank you. My name’s Said Arikat. I’m a Palestinian journalist, but also I was the United Nations spokesman in Iraq and I had the honor of meeting you a number of times in Erbil and Baghdad. Welcome to Washington.

(Continues in Arabic.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

Q: Are we likely to see the rise of an independent Kurdistan over the next year? And if not, why not? Thank you. (Laughter.)

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: I cannot say – (cheers, applause) – I cannot confirm whether it will be next year or when, but certainly the independent Kurdistan is coming. (Applause.)

Q: Follow-up question. Follow-up question.

MR. TAYLOR: Right here. Please.

Q: Thank you.

(In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MIN. BAKIR: Question is that do you think that you’re closer to that goal? As a follow up on the first question, do you think that you’re closer to that objective, that the Kurdish dream of independence has become closer as a result of the meeting that you had yesterday with President Obama and Vice President Biden, and also today with Vice President Biden?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, it’s a process. It’s a continuing process. It will not stop. It will not step back. But I don’t want to go into details of that. The main point that I want to stress upon is that this is a continued process. But certainly we want that to be not through violence, not through killing, but we want it to be through peace and through understanding and dialogue.

MR. TAYLOR: Very good.

Yes, ma’am.

Q: (Off mic.)

MR. TAYLOR: There is a mic coming.

Q: Oh. (Comes on mic.) (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

(Continues in English.) I’ll speak in English.

MR. TAYLOR: That would be good.

Q: Yes.

MR. TAYLOR: Actually, if the questions could all come in English, that would be –

Q: I will. And I want to thank Minister Falah for Arabic and Kurdish translations.

(In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: In English.

Q: As a Kurdish American, as somebody who is a daughter of a peshmerga who fought in Shar-Shaalude (ph) with your father, General Barzani. As the founder of Kurdish Human Rights Watch, I have witnessed firsthand the progress the Kurdish Autonomous Region, Kurdistan Regional Government has done with your leadership. So I bow my head for you, sir.

And I’m very proud as a Kurdish American to see that you have come with a mission, and that mission is not only a dream but a reality. And we have proven that Kurds are capable of running their own affairs. So as Kurdish Americans, we are here as your peshmergas to do whatever you want us to do. And there are many Americans who love Kurds and love Kurdistan, and we are here for you and we are proud to be here to help you in the progress. And I witnessed firsthand the first Kurdish elections, and I can assure you it was very democratic, what we witnessed then. So you are a good leader, and we are very proud of you, sir.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you very much.

Another question?

Q: Sir?

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, right in the back. Yeah. Yeah.

Q: I’m also Kurdish, but I’m going to speak in English, I guess.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you for speaking in English. This would be useful. And there’s a microphone coming.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: So, Mr. President, that was just a – that was a(n) expression of support. I don’t think you need to respond unless you’d like.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: Go ahead.

Q: I’m Namo Abdulla, the Washington correspondent for Rudaw, Kurdistan’s 24-hour news channel.

Mr. President, thank you very much for coming to Washington, and welcome to Washington. In your speech yesterday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, you said – you described your meetings with President Obama and Vice President Biden as “very successful,” quote/unquote. Can you elaborate more on that? For example, on the issue of arms delivery to the peshmerga, did you get any concrete promises from the Obama administration that those weapons will be delivered directly to the Kurdish peshmerga and in enough amounts that you need to fight ISIS?

Secondly, on the issue of self-determination, which your chief of staff had talked about prior to your arrival to Washington, D.C., he said you will – you are going to raise that issue at the White House. Did you raise that issue? And what was the response of President Obama and Vice President Biden? Thank you very much.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: As I stated yesterday, I would like to reiterate that the meeting was very successful. But of course, today the priority for us, for the United States, for all the concerned, all the coalition members, is fighting ISIS and also pushing ISIS away from our areas.

And of course, we have also realized and noticed that both President Obama and Vice President Biden, they are concerned and they also want peshmergas to receive the right weapons and the right ammunition. The important point here is peshmergas get these weapons. How they will come, in which way, that’s not as important as the fact that peshmergas need the weapons to be in their hands.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. President.

Yes, right here, and then we’ll go to the back. Yes?

Q: My name is David Phillips with Columbia University. Welcome to Washington.

You’ve promised to hold a referendum giving the people of Kurdistan a choice about independence. When do you envision this referendum occurring? What will be the follow-up steps to negotiate the implementation of the referendum results? And would you welcome international expertise in the design and monitoring of the referendum?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Right now our country is in a fight against ISIS. The fight is not over. But the – that’s why the issue of referendum has been delayed. Of course, the referendum will take place. The first step for that has taken place, when the parliament in Kurdistan approved the establishment of the Commission for Elections and for Referendum. That was the first step. It will take place when the security situation is better, when the fight against ISIS is over. And of course, the people of Kurdistan have to be given the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination for them to tell us and to tell the rest of the world what do they want, what’s their dream, what’s their aspirations. And certainly we welcome international support, international expertise to come and help us in that process.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, right here, standing up. (Laughs.)

Q: (Laughs.) Your Excellency, my name is Jacqueline Isaac, and I’m an attorney and humanitarian.

I’ve traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan three times since December, and I’ve traveled twice to the Sinjar Mountain, one time with members of the KRG Parliament. I will be testifying on Wednesday at a full Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Congress to speak on the preservation of the religious minorities and why it’s so important to support the KRG. I’ve met with the girls that were kidnapped and raped by ISIS, and I was so proud to see the care that they were getting. Your Excellency, would you share a little bit about the care that they are getting from the KRG? And what are the plans to rescue the over 4,000 girls that are still in the hands of ISIS? Thank you.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Calls to give more detail on that, we do not have a clear-cut sense of the statistics on that. But all the estimates suggest that there are more than 4,000 mainly girls and women who have been kidnapped by ISIS. So far we’ve been able to liberate 1,300 of them. And unfortunately – I’m saying unfortunately – what they have been through, some of it has been as the result of the betrayal of some of the Sunni Arab tribes who were living together with them in these areas.

These people could have been rescued. These people could have escaped to Kurdistan region, to areas under the KRG control and administration, but these tribes have told them, “stay here, we will protect you” when ISIS came, and this tragedy has happened. We will continue in our efforts and we will do whatever we can to rescue them.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, ma’am. Right here.

Q: Hi. Sarah Leah Whitson at Human Rights Watch.

President Barzani, do you think a change in leadership is a good idea? Your term expired two years ago. It was extended, and it expires in July. Do you expect a change in leadership in the KRG?

And also, what do you see as the risk to the KRG of Iraqi Shia militias who are fighting on a sectarian basis and carrying out atrocities in their war against ISIS? Do you see that as a potential risk to the KRG at some point?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, I have got evidence to share with you that back in 1990, when after the Kurdish uprising at the time, I called for elections, said that over – until now we have had revolutionary legitimacy; we have to turn that into constitutional legitimacy. And two years ago when the term was extended, I have written a letter, addressed it to the parliament in Kurdistan, told them that within a year they are required, in order to work on the issue of the constitution, for there to be an election for a leader for Kurdistan region to be extended, and whoever wins that election I would congratulate. Of course, that was not conducted because all of Kurdistan – all the institutions of Kurdistan were busy with the fight against ISIS. So now I have asked the parliament in Kurdistan and the political parties, in order to sort this issue out. Whichever way they decide, I will obey that decision.

Shias are our allies. We do not have problems with the Shiite community in Iraq. And of course, we enjoy good relations with both the Shia community and the Sunni community. As far as the popular mobilization units or the Hashd al-Shaabi‎, as they are called in Arabic, they are not –

Q: Yes?

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, any force, anywhere which is outside the structures and the security apparatus, we would have problems in dealing with. Therefore, all forces that exist have to be within the security parameters and structures. And of course, they have to be under the control of the civilian government, in that case the prime minister who is the – (inaudible). If they are under the control of the prime minister and they work closely with the Iraqi army, that’s not a problem. If they are outside the government security structures and they would do what they like, then that would be a problem for all of us, not only us.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, sir. Right here.

Q: Thank you. Tol Gathan (ph) – (inaudible). Thank you, Mr. President.

Can you please elaborate about the expectation from the administration in terms of the contribution that you can give for an upcoming operation, especially in Mosul, in terms of the fight against ISIL? In what extent the Kurdish forces can contribute to this upcoming operation in Mosul? Because Pentagon officials described as role for the Kurdish forces, with the three brigades which will be joining the siege in a non-combat role. Are the Kurdish forces ready for a combat role? Is there any time frame for you in terms of the preparation of the Kurdish forces? And is there any precondition for the Kurdish forces to join such an operation, like beyond the needs that you listed? For example, the status of Kirkuk is a precondition for you?

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Before anything else, I would like to state that so long as the terrorists of ISIS are in Mosul, they will be a direct threat to Kurdistan region. And at the same time, so long as they are there, that will be the base for the terrorists to be a threat to Iraq and the wider region. Of course, they consider Mosul as the capital of their caliphate.

I don’t know why Kirkuk should be linked or tied to the situation in Mosul. There’s no need for Kirkuk and Mosul to be linked together. That linkage is not necessary. I don’t know because about the impression in this audience, but I would like to assure the audience here that we will do whatever we can in order to help liberate Mosul because we consider that a threat on us and the rest.

But certainly right now we are working together in a consultation with our American friends, with our coalition partners, with Baghdad. And there is a Joint Coordination Committee between Erbil and Baghdad in order to lay down the program and the plan for the liberation of Mosul.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, sir. Right here. Yeah.

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I’m Dave Pollock from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Just outside the borders of the KRG there are millions of Kurds in neighboring countries – in Turkey, in Syria and in Iran. How do you evaluate their situation, the situation of Kurds in your neighbors? And does the KRG play any role in dealing with Kurdish issues in neighboring countries? Thank you.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Of course, first of all, our hearts and minds are with our Kurdish brothers and sisters in these parts. Of course we wish them well being, prosperity, and for their problems to be solved. But certainly each part has got its own characteristics. We are supportive of any solution that’s peaceful and democratic in each part to address them in this way. Wherever we have been able to help them, we have done it, as we have shown that in Kobani when peshmergas were sent to support the Kurdish fighters there.

Under the peace process in Turkey, we have helped them and we will continue helping them. And we hope that there will be a good outcome of that process. Wherever we are able to help them, we will spare no effort and we will do it.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, sir. Here. And then I think we’ll have time for a couple of questions just collected, Mr. President, and then that will probably wind it up. But let’s – but start with this. Sir?

Q: Alan Makovsky, Center for American Progress. Nice to see you again, Mr. President.

I just wondered if you could say a few words about your relations with Turkey, including the situation on the border – the Iraqi-Turkish border. Thank you.

Q: Dave Ottaway from the Woodrow Wilson Center.

You all are supposed to have reached an agreement on the – on the – providing KRG with money from the sale of oil, and to get 17 percent of the income. Has this been implemented? And are you getting any money for your budget now? And if not, how are you financing yourself?

MR. TAYLOR: Very good.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: Yeah, Mona Alami. I’m a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council and a journalist.

I’d like to know what will happen to disputed areas that are now under Kurdish control in the case of a referendum for self-determination, especially that there have been demographic changes in that area. Thanks.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: So we enjoy good relations with Turkey, especially on the economic field. And an important point of that relationship is the peace process in Turkey. For us, we hope that a peaceful solution would be found for the Kurdish question in Turkey.

MR. TAYLOR: And 17 percent budget.

(Discussion in Arabic or Kurdish between President Barzani and Min. Bakir.) (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: Regarding the question on the budget and oil and the 17 percent of the share of Kurdistan region, in fact, we have not received 17 percent share of the budget. We have an agreement that calls for KRG to export 550,000 barrels in return for the KRG to receive its fair share of the 17 percent. As far as I am aware, we have not received 17 percent. But we hope that Baghdad honors that agreement.

As far as the areas of Kurdistan outside the KRG administration so far or the so-called disputed areas, of course, this issue was addressed in the Iraqi constitution, and Article 140 of that constitution called for it to be solved in 2007. Unfortunately, that was not done. But even today the Kurdistan Regional Government has not acceded from any area which is historically or geographically has not been part of Kurdistan. We are present in areas that are historically and geographically a part of Kurdistan region.

As for the future of these areas, of course, it will be for the people of these areas to determine their own future, for them to decide whether they want us. And the rest of the Iraqis have to respect the will and the decision of the people.

And of course, I have been meeting with a number of Sunni Arab tribes in the areas of Zumar, Sinjar, Nineveh. They are very pleased with the relationship. We are pleased with the relationship that we enjoy with them. And for those who were with ISIS, for those who fought us with ISIS, they would be treated the same way as ISIS is dealt with. But those who have stayed, those who have fled to Kurdistan, they are all brothers. We will live together. But the important – the bottom line is that the people in these areas will be given the opportunity to determine for their own where do they want to be.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, let me, on behalf of everyone here, and in particular on behalf of the Atlantic Council and on the United States Institute of Peace, thank you for going through this range of questions. You (have ?) friends in this room. You have friends in this country. We support you, and we look forward to a continuing dialogue with you.

MIN. BAKIR: (In Arabic or Kurdish.)

MR. TAYLOR: So please join me in thanking Minister Bakir for a great job and the president of – (applause).

MIN. BAKIR: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT BARZANI: So thank you. Thank you for the Atlantic Council, for USIP, and for all the attendees.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated as the president exits the room. Thank you.