Iraq’s Security is Kurdistan’s Security: An Interview with KRG Intelligence Chief Masrour Barzani

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 1

KRG Intelligence Chief Masrour Barzani

According to Masrour Barzani, director of the Ajansi Parastini Asayishi Heremi Kurdistan (Kurdistan Region Security Protection Agency) of northern Iraq, Kurdish security agencies have the legal right to operate outside of the borders of the three provinces of the Kurdistan region. Barzani is the son of the current president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani.

Barzani is also a leading member of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which established the Parastin (“Protection”) agency in the late 1960s as the intelligence arm of the KDP. Barzani is also director of the Parastin, which became a legal institution in 2004 and focuses on intelligence gathering, while the KRG’s Asayish counterterrorism and internal security directorate has executive power and carries out operations against security threats. After 9/11, the KRG established an umbrella organization that coordinates between the security and intelligence bodies of the KDP and the Dazgay Zanyari (“Information Agency”) of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KDP’s onetime rival and current partner, now led by Jalal al-Talabani, President of Iraq.
JF: Why is Iraq’s Kurdistan region so safe? You can go out late at night here, while the Kurdistan region borders with dangerous areas like Mosul, Kirkuk and the Sunni triangle.
MB: This is a collective work of all people involved in providing security for this area. But the main reason is the culture of our people and our region. The people in the Kurdistan region do not support radicals or extremism. There is very good cooperation between our agency and our people. The support we get from our people is the key.

[There is also] the good system and mechanism that we have put in place, so that all organizations that are working in this field are closely coordinating and have joint centers to share information and to perform according to different situations that come up and to respond and face the challenges that we have.

JF: The Kurdistan region borders Kirkuk and Mosul. Some say the Sunni Arabs have grievances against the Kurds. Do you have a policy of accommodation towards the Arabs?
MB: This is a political decision. The Kurdish leadership has been trying tirelessly and will [continue to] try to make sure that this conflict will never become an ethnic problem between the Arabs and the Kurds. After 1991, there were more than 70,000 Iraqi troops that surrendered to the Kurdish forces, but the Kurds did not [take] revenge despite the fact that the wounds of the chemical bombardments and Anfal campaign were still fresh in the Kurdish mind. [1]

Secondly, there was a major drought here and in the rest of the country and many Arab tribes asked for Kurdish support. President [Masoud] Barzani called on the Kurdish leaders and requested that if Arabs want to come, they should make a good gesture and open our land to them.
The third instance was in 2003, after the fall of the Saddam regime, [when] the Kurds were the only organized people with the most power at hand; they could really do much more [politically] than they did. They left all disputed, outstanding issues to the political process and to the Iraqi government to solve this problem, rather than taking over. The Kurds showed that they were here to create peace, harmony with other components in Iraq.

That is the intention of the Kurdish leadership and what our agency is also advocating. We are not there to do any harm to anyone based on their ethnic backgrounds. Our mission and duty is to fight terrorists. If someone happens to be a terrorist, they are treated as terrorists, not because of their religious or ethnic background.  
JF: In the last elections in January 2009 the Sunni Arab list al-Hadba won the majority in Ninawa Province. Is this a threat to Kurdish security?  
MB: When al-Habda won the majority in the last provincial election, they decided not to include any Kurdish representatives that had won votes in their districts. [2] It was the decision of al-Hadba that the Kurds should not be part of the Mosul government. They decided to boycott the Kurdish representatives in their own local government.  The Kurdish reaction was not to participate if they are not included in the government. It was their choice.
The Kurds have not been complaining much. Despite atrocities and allegations and complaints against the Kurds, the Kurds have not been so vocal and bold, complaining about their situation. This is not widely reported in the international community, but the truth is that Kurds are still victims of ethnic cleansing in Mosul and many of the disputed territories where the Kurds are not well protected.  

JF: Is this one of the reasons you also operate outside of the Kurdistan region, because of the huge attacks against Kurds in Ninawa, while the Iraqi government does not want you to operate in the disputed regions?
MB: There is not a clear indication of who should run those areas in the disputed regions, because the fate of those areas is not yet clear. So we have to expedite the process of implementing article 140 to determine who will be responsible for the security and the political affairs of those areas. [3] For as long as these areas remain in ambiguity, there will be a problem or challenges [over] who controls these areas.   

In the areas that are predominantly Kurdish, the Kurdish security forces and Kurdish administration have the right to protect their constituencies and Kurdish populations from the threats we have witnessed [bomb attacks against Kurds]. In those areas, we have tried and have expressed our willingness to closely coordinate and cooperate with other legal institutions in those areas, namely our Iraqi military, security or police and the Coalition forces, for providing security. So it is a joint effort to protect those people in these disputed territories. More recently there have been attempts to form joint committees.  

JF: A New York Times editorial says Kurdish troops should be reintegrated into the Iraqi army, while Kurdish President Barzani has called for a unified Kurdish army. [4] The United States is also trying to integrate the Kurds into the Iraqi security apparatus. How do you see this?
MB: Most of that stems from misunderstanding the Iraqi constitution or misreading it. The President never said he is going to create an army. He said he is going to reintegrate the armed forces of the Kurdistan region rather than having different groups [with] their own forces. That is his idea of creating the unified armed forces of the Kurdistan region. That does not  mean it will be an army. Iraq will have one army. The Kurds were the very first ones who formed the core of the Iraqi military when nobody was willing to become an Iraqi soldier. Some of the Peshmerga [Kurdish militias] already joined the Iraqi army. If there is a need to reintegrate more troops, then obviously this is something which will happen.  
Now when you look inside the security of Kurdistan, according to the Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan has the right to be responsible for the internal security of Kurdistan. It is the responsibility of the Kurdistan region to provide that security. Kurdistan is part of Iraq, so if we have security [forces] operating in the Kurdistan region or other parts of Iraq, that is security operating in Iraq collectively.

Once Kurdistan is secure and you have security forces operating in Kurdistan, they should be included in the overall defense policy of Iraq because Kurdistan cannot be seen as a separate entity—it is part of Iraq in terms of rights and duties. Protection of Kurdistan in this region is therefore protection of a part of Iraq. For as long as Iraq is a united country, obviously this is the mission of all of us to protect the country in the best possible way we can. When you look at the defense policy of Iraq, there is a budget that is supposed to be spent on defense, which is distributed from the overall budget. So this also should include the Kurdistan region, but unfortunately, until now the Kurdistan region has been deprived of this budget.
JF: The White House declared it would support Article 140 and Article 142 (on constitutional amendments) of the Iraqi constitution. Some say it is a clear signal of U.S. support for the Kurdish position on Kirkuk. But on the other hand, you have people saying that President Obama wants a special status for Kirkuk.  
MB: Well, I am not in the position to be speaking on behalf of the Americans, but they tell you what is right. Iraq has a constitution; this constitution determines which way we should move to solve outstanding issues with the federal government. The best solution for the disputed territories is what the Iraqi constitution laid down through Article 140; it is very clear. The constitution should be the only way forward to solve those outstanding issues.

Every other article, including article 142, whatever is in the constitution, we have accepted that constitution. Most Iraqis, 80% of the Iraqis voted for that constitution. So we cannot be selective in picking one article or ignoring another.   
There is a mechanism in the Iraqi constitution on how the amendments should be made.  As long as we are committed to protecting and implementing the constitution, there should be no problems. The problems arise when there are alternative solutions to the constitution that have been pushed from time to time. These types of efforts are complicating the issue and they are contrary to the principles of democracy. This is running away from the principles of the constitution. As long as the constitution is the arbitrator, I do not think anybody would have any problems with it.   

JF: So in general, you are saying we should support the Iraqi constitution, while the New York Times says that the United States should not support Article 140, because the Kurds will use Kirkuk as a stepping-stone for independence. [5]    

MB: My question to them: Do you want democracy or do you insist that the Kurds should never get Kirkuk? My question to those people who wrote that article is this, are you against the Kurds in Kirkuk? What you are saying indicates that although there is a democratic process and the Kurds will probably win, we should not let them win.  This is against democracy; this is hypocrisy… They have to make up their mind, do they believe in democracy or not?
And why it is perceived that Article 140 is pro-Kurdish, who knows? Is there any indication in Article 140 that favors the Kurds? No. Article 140 asks for normalization of the situation, which means undoing the injustice to the people in Kirkuk. Conducting the referendum means letting the people of Kirkuk make the decision of where they want to be in the end; whether part of the Kurdistan region or not, either way it will still be part of Iraq.
Why is there so much sensitivity over why Kirkuk should not be part of the Kurdistan region? Is it a separate state? Is it different? No. They have to understand that Iraq, which includes Kurdistan, is one country. Kirkuk being [part of the Kurdistan region] or not, it would not make a difference. Kirkuk would still be part of Iraq. I am calling upon the conscience of the international community to make a judgment. OK, we have a democratic process and now they say you cannot apply the democratic process to this problem because they do not like the results beforehand.   
JF: The conclusion of some foreign analysts is that if Kirkuk becomes part of the Kurdistan region, Iraq could fall apart.   
MB: OK, can you make important decisions based on assumptions?  Then how can they give themselves the right to make such important decisions based on assumptions, but they will deprive or prevent the Kurds or forbid the Kurds to make similar assumptions. The Kurds will also assume that they do not want a solution, because they have in mind to once again overrun the Kurds or to repeat the Anfal operations [or] repeat chemical bombardments.
JF: Human Rights Watch says Kurdish security agencies mistreat minorities and Christians in Mosul, while the Christians support the Kurds in general. What’s your response to this?  
MB: We say, let the facts speak.  Our counterargument is: the majority of the Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians and Turkmen [ethnic and religious minorities] have voted for the Kurdistan list in the Kurdistan region, in Kirkuk and in Mosul.  So, I do not credit these critics, who are criticizing and accusing the Kurds of mistreatment.

OK, here is a question to them: If Kurdistan is so bad, why do so many Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, Shabak and Yezidis who are fleeing those areas which are known for violence [come] to Kurdistan to seek protection, security and stability? We have the facts to speak. Everybody can say what they want, but they have very little to prove.  We have much [evidence] to prove [our case] and many facts on the ground. We are not in need of talking so much.    


1. Anfal was the codename of the brutal and repressive campaign carried out against the Kurds of northern Iraq by forces of Saddam Hussein between 1986 and 1989.
2. Al-Hadba is a Sunni Arab political party formed to reduce Kurdish influence in the contested governate of Ninawa.
3. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, related to the means of determining the status of contested areas of the Ninawa, Diyala, Kirkuk and Salah al-Din governates. Article 140 also seeks to normalize the situation in these areas by undoing the administrative changes and demographic policies introduced by Saddam Hussein.
4. “Iraq, the Kurds and the Americans,” New York Times, December 17, 2009
5. Kirkuk has significant oil reserves that could provide the financial basis of an independent Kurdish state.