Interview of the Head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front by Rudaw

September 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment

Leader of Turkmen Front: Unless We Know the Purpose of Maliki’s Dijla Forces, We Won’t Support it

Arshad Salehi, the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front. Photo: Rudaw

Arshad Salehi is the head of the Turkmen Front. In an interview with Rudaw inside his Kirkuk officehe pointed to better relations with the Kurds and said that his group is ready to enter an alliance with “native Arabs [to Kirkuk] and real Kurds” for the next election. But, due to an unclear “map of political alliances,” he refused to comment on whether his front will join the Kurdistan Alliance or not.

Rudaw: Do you think Iraq’s reaction to the Turkish foreign minister’s visit to Kirkuk was appropriate?

Arshad Salehi: It was an official visit to the Kurdistan Region. Two days before the visit, I met with the Iraqi prime minister and he said that Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish FM, would visit the Kurdistan Region and meet with [President] Barzani to discuss the Syrian situation, the PKK and several other issues.

Since the Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq and the Iraqi government was aware of the visit, not to mention the fact that Mr. Davutoglu had expressed his willingness to visit Kirkuk several times, I think the visit was normal.

Moreover, the visit was not a political one, and so the Iraqi government shouldn’t be too sensitive about it. On the contrary, the visit was to support the Iraqi government and Kirkuk’s local government. It was aimed at supporting both governments by strengthening economic relations between Kirkuk and several [Turkish] provinces. Due to the large number of Turkish companies and high trade volume with Turkey, we have almost all been Turkified.

Rudaw:  Davutoglu had a meeting with you. Did he make any promises to the Turkmen?

“As the Turkmen Front, we have very good relations with the Arab states, too.”

Arshad Salehi: Davutoglu met with all the ethnic groups in the city. He started by meeting the governor who represents an important segment of this province. He also met with the head of the provincial council, who represents the Turkmen, and the deputy governor who represents the Arabs. He met with all the ethnic groups.

His meeting with the Turkmen Front and the Turkmen is nothing new. We have always said we support establishing good relations with all neighboring countries. As the Turkmen Front, we have very good relations with the Arab states, too. I hope these relations serve Iraqi interests.

Our meeting with Mr. Davutoglu was not a secret meeting. We met in front of TV cameras. He called Kirkuk the backbone of Iraq and clearly pointed to the importance of all ethnic groups in Kirkuk. He did not make any special promises to us.

Rudaw: Why did he visit Kirkuk in particular? Mosul has different ethnic groups too.

Arshad Salehi: In fact, the people of Kirkuk have been waiting for his visit for a long time.Davutoglu has visited Mosul in the past; he has visited other Iraqi provinces like Karbala, Najaf, Baghdad and Erbil, but only when he visits Kirkuk do different interpretations of his visit appear.

Rudaw: Why was the Iraqi government worried about his visit?

Arshad Salehi: I believe that if the Iraqi government had had a good relationship with the Kurdistan Region at the time of the visit, it would not have made such a commotion about it and would not have exaggerated the issue. The crisis in relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region greatly influenced the visit.

Rudaw: You said you met with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki two days before the Turkish FM’s visit to Kirkuk. Did Maliki know Davutoglu was going to visit Kirkuk?

Arshad Salehi: No. In his meeting with the political factions, Maliki said that Davutoglu was going to visit Erbil. So they knew he would be visiting there, but his visit to Kirkuk was unexpected.

Rudaw: After Davutoglu’s visit, your group went to Turkey and met with Turkish officials. Did the Turkish officials advise you to build better relations with the Kurds?

“Turkey advises us to build better relations with everyone; they do not insist on any particular party or group.”

Arshad Salehi: Frankly, the Turks, and I hope everyone else, will always try to move closer to all Iraqi ethnic groups equally. I have criticized them and told them that I believe they should build better relations with us. I have told them that they have to look at the Iraqi Turkmen’s situation — they are facing extinction. But they remain within the same distance as they are with all Iraqi ethnic groups.

In my meetings with the Iranians, I have often told them that Turkey stays the same distance from every ethnic group and that I wished they would do the same. If all the regional states treated Iraq as Turkey does, then everyone could relax.

As for your question, Turkey advises us to build better relations with everyone; they do not insist on any particular party or group. When I assumed the leadership position of the Turkmen Front, some conflicts emerged between us and the Kurdistan Region. There are still some unresolved issues. But these will not hinder building better relations. This is normal in politics. Our Kurdish brothers have a different view on important issues like Kirkuk, and Article 140, and this is normal.

When Mr. Massoud Barzani came to Kirkuk,  the leaders of the Turkmen Front met several times to discuss what to speak to him about and whether to meet with him or not. We concluded that whatever the conflicts were, we needed to meet and discuss the issues. When he visited Kirkuk, I was abroad, but he met with the Turkmen Front’s leadership who handed him a letter with their demands. Prior to this visit, there was a lack of frankness between us. [The visit] was positive in strengthening relations.

Rudaw: How is your relationship with the Kurdistan Region now?

Arshad Salehi: We are waiting for positive steps from them. We do not want words without action. In some areas, trust building is necessary. Our people have suffered at the hand of Kurdish parties. From 2003 until recently, the city’s administration was run by one political party. Kurdish political parties imposed their hegemony on government offices in the city. We were afraid of the security agencies that report to the political parties. There were some assaults on Turkmen land in Kirkuk. Mr. Barzani promised to solve that problem. We showed many documents that proved our side of the story when it came to those lands.

Rudaw: What Kurdish political party do you have the most problems with?

“We do not have to form an alliance with the Kurds.”

Arshad Salehi: Frankly, since the establishment of the Turkmen Front, we have had good relations with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). We have never cut off relations with the PUK. But when we were based in Erbil, we had many issues with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, now our brothers in the KDP are also opening up to the Turkmen Front.

Rudaw: What is your reaction to Prime Minister Maliki’s order for the formation of an armed forces division in Kirkuk, the Dijla Operations Command?

Arshad Salehi: If this case was two years ago, we would have had a different reaction, but now we look at it in a different way. Unless we know who is going to be leading the division, what its tasks are, the basis on which it operates and who its soldiers will be, we will not support it. Will the commanders and officers of the division be from Kirkuk?

Kirkuk cannot afford being the arena for political disputes. If the disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region transform into conflict between the Peshmerga and Dijla forces, Turkmen will suffer. That is why the Turkmen group in Kirkuk’s provincial council did not support the formation of the division.

Rudaw: Is it true that you might enter an alliance with the Kurds for the next election?

Arshad Salehi: The map of political alliances for the next election is not clear yet. Now a radical nationalist Arab group is cooperating with a radical religious group — they may form an alliance in Baghdad and middle Iraq — for the next election. Also the Sunni tribes and a religious incumbent party are getting closer. However, the map is not clear yet.

As for us, we do not have to form an alliance with the Kurds. We will be very glad to form an alliance in Kirkuk with the real Kurds and native Arabs [to Kirkuk].

Rudaw: What does “real Kurds” mean?

Arshad Salehi: Real Kurds are those who have not moved to Kirkuk with fake documents, those who have been living with us since the ‘50s and are originally from Kirkuk.

Rudaw: Recently, in a case related to the Ministry of Education, Kurds and Turkmen raised their voice together. Both said their rights had been violated in the employment ratio. In many other issues, Kurds support you, but you lean more and more towards the Arabs. Why?

Arshad Salehi: Let me be frank. Since 2003, we have been in agreement with the Arabs on strategic issues such as Article 140 and some other issues. But now we have reached the conclusion that we will not be siding with any particular group against any other group. We want to keep the balance. If we support the Arabs, then we have to stand against the other party, and this does not serve the interests of our nation.

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