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March 23, 2009 Interview - Sheikh Jafar, Minister of Peshmarga Affairs 

Rudaw

Sheik Jafar was named the Minster for Peshmarga in late February. In an interview with Rudaw, Sheikh Jafar discussed the issues of that the Ministry of Peshmarga Affairs faces with the central government in Baghdad and the Iraqi Army.

Rudaw: News reports suggested that the Ministry of Peshmarga will be given to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). How come it was given to PUK?

Sheikh Jafar: That is true. There were many meetings regarding the distribution of the ministries among PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), KDP and the other parties... One of the decisions was that the Ministry of Peshmarga would be given to KDP and the Ministry of Interior would go to PUK. But finally the opposite happened; PUK took the Ministry of Peshmarga and KDP got the ministry of Interior. 

Rudaw: Could you tell us the number of the PUK and KDP Peshmargas?

Sheikh Jafar: The number is high. I think there might be over 200,000 Peshmargas from all parties, particularly from PUK and KDP in Kurdistan Region. But this number will not remain as is.

Rudaw: Why the unification of the Ministries of Peshmarga has delayed? Is it for fear that the PUK and KDP Peshmargas may not get along?  

Sheikh Jafar: No one would imagine that the Ministries of Peshmarga would be so easily unified and be so trouble-free. But actually our problem is that we should form Regional Guards and this needs finance. Besides, forming a strong trained force is in need of all sorts of preparations and millions of dollars. The salaries of Peshmargas and their requirements may cost us 100 million dollars a month.

Rudaw: According to the media, your ministry has two issues with the central government in Baghdad; the budget of Peshmarga and the number of this force. What are your plans to address these two problems? 

Sheikh Jafar: In the past we had made an agreement with Baghdad and these issues were solved... But later they broke the terms of the agreement. It has been almost two years that we are meeting and signing various agreements with the Ministry of Defense and the representative of Prime Minster Nuri Maliki. They have broken the terms of all the agreements. Last year a number of committees were formed to address some issues including the issue of Peshmargas and their budget. We agreed on everything except the budget and the number of Peshmarga Forces. Once more, we did not come to a final agreement and the meetings were suspended.  Now we are trying to resume the meetings and address these two main issues.

Rudaw: What is your and Baghdad’s proposal for the number of Peshmargas? 

Sheikh Jafar: Before we had agreed to have 90,000 official Peshmargas and 100,000 retirees. But later they didn’t change their minds. We may reach another agreement to reduce it and pay the rest from our own budget.

Rudaw: What is your opinion about the movements of the Iraq Army towards Kirkuk?

Sheikh Jafar: These movements are not normal and in some cases they are provocative. But what is important is that so far the Iraqi Army hasn’t been able to do something significant in Kirkuk. In fact, those areas which are known as “Disputed areas” should not witness any movements (of forces) from any side. If they want to step into an area where Peshmarga exists, we will not accept it anyway. The U.S. forces also have told both sides not to trespass their limits. We hope we never resort to arms and instead settle the issues via the constitution.  

Rudaw: What is the U.S. forces position in this regard?

Sheikh Jafar: They follow the movements closely and have deployed a considerable number of their forces in Kirkuk. They are not happy with these movements…This means that the Iraqi Army is not free to behave at will in those areas.

Rudaw: As Obama stated, by 2011 the U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraq. Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minster of Kurdistan Regional Government, and some western experts expect a war between Baghdad and Kurdistan if the issues are not resolved. Do you have the same vision?

Sheikh Jafar: If the U.S. withdraws from Iraq without solving the issues, which is impossible, certainly, not only in Kurdistan but in all Iraq war breaks out. There will be bloodshed all over Iraq and the regional countries might also slip into the war. There is a pact and the U.S. forces have said that they won’t hand the disputed areas to the Iraqi forces unless the issue of such areas are settled. Obama himself stated that after the withdrawal they will have a residual force of 50,000 members in Iraq.  We have not laid arms and we have not surrendered yet. We were able to fight long and stood against the fiercest army. Whenever we are forced to fight by the enemy we will fight as before. I don’t know how this battle will be but if it happens we will defend ourselves and will not surrender. 

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