The Atlantic Council Of The United States

Black Sea Energy & Economic Forum 2011

Keynote Speech

Senator Chuck Hagel,
Atlantic Council

H.E. Barham Salih,
Prime Minister,
Kurdistan Regional Government, Republic of Iraq

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Time: 6:30 p.m.
Date: Thursday, November 17, 2011

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

ROSS WILSON: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re getting closer to the conclusion of today’s discussions. The next session – for the next session, it’s my great pleasure to ask to come to the podium Senator Chuck Hagel, the chairman of the Atlantic Council, who we are deeply honored to have with us here in Istanbul, a major contributor to what we do in Washington, a major intellectual driving force behind our efforts here. Please join me in welcoming Senator Chuck Hagel. (Applause.)

CHUCK HAGEL: Ross, thank you, and good almost evening. Maybe it is evening. The next hour is going to follow the pattern of informative, insightful commentaries and opportunities for all of us to get a little better insight into some of the big issues facing our world today and in particular this region.

It is my privilege to introduce our next guest, an individual who I have known many years. Many of you in the audience know him well, a particularly important leader over many years for this part of the world, former deputy prime minister of the Iraqi national government, today serves once again as the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, our friend Barham Salih. Barham, thank you very much for being with us. (Applause.)

BARHAM SALIH: Speaking at this hour and after such an exciting day and so many great panels, I’m not going to dwell over things. I have been asked to offer the perspective from Iraqi Kurdistan, the perspective about this changing environment around us. It is wonderful to be here. Thanks – thank you to the Atlantic Council for offering us this invitation and for bringing together so many interesting people.

And it is a timely moment to discuss the changes in the Middle East, the dynamics across this region, and more importantly, in Turkey, in Istanbul of all places, the history of this place really is an important reminder for all of us of the amazing changes that we are dealing with. This meeting is convened at a time of great change and upheaval in the Middle East. This is change like we have not seen in a long, long time.

I daresay this is change to the political and security order that prevailed in the Middle East at least since 1952 when the Egyptian military took over. Some would even go further and say this goes back to the 1920s and we are witnessing the end of that political and security order that prevailed in the aftermath of the First World War and the carving up of the Middle East by Middle Eastern – by European powers.

Whatever the era we’re talking about, this is change for real. We need to deal with it. It is definitely an end to an order that we have been accustomed to. But the outcome is yet far from clear. One thing is for sure.

There is a fundamental rejection of tyrannies, dictatorships and corrupt systems of government and citizens across the Islamic world, across the Arab world demand of their government accountability, demand of their government freedoms and liberties and are no longer willing to accept the norms of the past.

This is exciting in many, many ways. But as we have learned from Iraq, from the changes in Iraq, we cannot just be seized with the euphoria of the moment.

There will be an arduous journey ahead of us and we all need to be very careful and mindful of the pitfalls. Coming to Iraq in 2003, we have witnessed what was the end of a tyrannical regime that committed genocide against the Kurdish people, against – and killed many, many Iraqis. The mass graves across Iraq was a testament to that.

So no matter what the debate over the Iraq war is, for many Iraqis – I daresay for the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people – liberation of Iraq and the ending of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny was a liberation, was a welcomed change. But I’m sure that most Iraqis still aspire to the ideals of a functioning, stable democracy that they deserve.

This is a country in progress. I can say that we have achieved many important milestones, whether it is drafting of a constitution, elections and a functioning parliament. But again, we still have a long way to go. You cannot bring about a functioning stable democracy overnight. It’s going to take time.

And the lessons of Iraqi transitions, the setbacks that we have suffered, whether it was in security or in the sectarianism and in ethnic problems that we have encountered are all lessons not only relevant to Iraq but these are also lessons to be concerned with as these changes are taking hold across the Middle East.

I want to say that I come from Kurdistan of Iraq, the Kurdistan region of Iraq. I can say that Kurdistan stands out as an example to the other parts of Iraq and I daresay to other parts of the Middle East. I remind you, ladies and gentleman, on the eve of the war, many predicted that Kurdistan will be the powder keg that will ignite the civil war in Iraq, that Kurdistan will emerge as the divisive factor that will end the Iraqi state and Iraq’s territorial integrity.

The irony is that Kurdistan has emerged as the most stable part of Iraq and in many ways – in many, many ways Kurdish politicians and Kurdish leaders have proved to be more concerned with Iraqi unity and the success of Iraq’s political process than some of other – the other compatriots of ours in Baghdad. Kurdistan by contrast enjoys good relations with the neighbors of Iraq.

Kurdistan, that was viewed by the neighbors of Iraq as a potential source of instability, look at its relations with the neighborhood. I am pleased to tell you that what we have witnessed has been a transformation in our relationship with Turkey.

Those who, again, were predicting all kinds of trouble as Kurdistan emerged from dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, of the troubles with Turkey, Turkey is our major trading partner and our political, economic and security relationships are moving ahead. No doubt we still have a long way to go but we can do it because both sides have learned that at the end of the day we are neighbors and we need to work together and need to enhance areas of common interest.

I’m not saying that transformation has been easy. But I put it to you in a stark term. Imagine Kurdish companies building airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Imagine Turkish companies investing in developing oil and gas sector of Iraqi Kurdistan. These are happening and nobody in Turkey is thinking of these as a manifestation of the separatist sentiments of Kurds.

On the contrary, I think Turkey has moved to looking at Kurdistan as an opportunity, as an asset and as a partner on a variety of fronts, including developing the larger and wider economic relations with Iraq. We try in Kurdistan to remain active with the politics of Baghdad because we have a vital stake in the way that Baghdad evolves.

We are mindful that there are many unresolved issues in Baghdad, whether they are issues of power sharing because at the end of the day we cannot think of ourselves as being immune from the dynamics of Baghdad. We need a stable, democratic, decent Baghdad that will be good for all the Iraqi people.

We simply cannot think of ourselves in isolation of the rest of Iraq. We will insist on power sharing. We will insist on a government that will be representative of the main communities of Iraq and that is protection for Kurdistan and that is a guarantor for the future of Kurdistan. We would also insist on the resolution of a number of issues that are constitutionally mandated, issues like revenue sharing law, issues like the oil and gas law.

My colleague, Ashti Hawrami, and also my colleague, Mr. Shahristani, Dr. Shahristani, the minister of oil in Iraq, earlier spoke to you about these issues. Oil has always been a curse for Iraq, has been used as a tool of repression by successive regimes to subdue the people of Iraq. We are adamant to turn oil from the curse it has been to the blessing it should be for all the people of Iraq.

That is why we have embarked in Kurdistan, and I’m proud to say, on a major initiative to developing our oil and gas sector. We have invited a large number of reputable international companies to come and develop in oil and gas resources of Kurdistan. The assessments that we have that Kurdistan may be home to about 45, 50 billion barrels of oil and gas in terms of reserve – probable reserve.

We have had an agreement with Baghdad recently during our visit with Prime Minister Maliki to enhance oil exports from Iraq – from Iraqi Kurdistan to 175,000 barrels for next year. Our oil experts, including Dr. Shahristani, affirmed to me – Dr. Hawrami affirmed to me that in 2011, by 2015, I’m sorry, 2015, we will reach a 1 million barrel of oil production for Iraqi Kurdistan.

These are significant developments, significant for Iraq and significant for the neighborhood. In this context, our relations with Turkey will prove to be very, very important indeed.

We have already engaged a number of Turkish companies, and for that matter, also the Turkish government in serious conversations about how to make sure that the infrastructure will be there to utilize the resources for the Turkish domestic market but also to the market beyond. Iraq for a long time was a source of instability in the Middle East, was a source of aggression, was a source of problems for the entire neighborhood.

Now, Saddam Hussein has gone. I’m not saying all is fine. I’m not saying all is clear in Iraq. No. We still have some way to go, especially at a time when the American redeployment of military forces. We need to be mindful of the new dynamics that we will have to deal with. The onus of responsibility will be on the Iraqi leadership to make sure that there will be no void, there will be no vacuum and no regional predator will come in and turn Iraq into a battleground for proxy wars to dictate their interests.

We need the support of the United States. We need the continued support of the United States and Europe to making sure that Iraq will have a good transition and will make sure that Iraq will end up with what we hope for – a functioning, stable, peaceful democracy. But by the same token, our neighbors have a lot at stake in the success of Iraq.

We remind all our neighbors that investment in the free will of the Iraqi people is a sound investment. Interference in the domestic affairs of Iraq, manipulating domestic dynamics of Iraq will only be counterproductive. Our relations with Turkey will be crucial. We eye the economic, political and security dynamics with Turkey very closely. Turkish secular, democratic model offers a lot of positive things for Iraqi transition.

And this healthy debate in Turkey about where it wants to go is important for us, is important for the entire Islamic world as we eye the future. In this context, ladies and gentlemen, Kurdistan has led the way. Kurdistan that was seen as a problem is now seen as an opportunity. Kurdistan that was seen as a source of contention with the neighbors of Iraq, today Kurdistan is the indispensable link of trade and commerce between the nations in this part of the world.

And we are the gateway to the rest of Iraq. I hope by proving that settlement of Kurdish self-government in Iraq, we have shown the way – the acknowledgement of Kurdish rights is the way forward for stability and peace and democracy in this part of the world. We want to lead by example.

We also want to lead by creating opportunities that are win-win, win for Kurdistan, win for Iraq, win for the neighborhood around us. Senator Hagel, and my friends at the Atlantic Council, I again thank you for inviting me and offering me this opportunity. And hopefully it won’t be long before we can host you in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, for you to witness the amazing changes that we have accomplished. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MR. WILSON: Ladies and gentlemen, our next session, which features a conversation between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former U.S. national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, will begin in just a couple of minutes. We will not have a formal break, enough time to let this group – we will start in about five minutes. I just got the signal. So please stay in the room or very close by and we hope to begin in just a couple of moments. Thank you.


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