A Mini-Interview With Bayan Rahman, The Representative To The UK From The Government In Kurdistan

This afternoon, I was pleased to get a chance to talk with Ms. Bayan Rahman, the Chairman of the Kurdistan Development Corporation and the representative to the UK from the government in Kurdistan. For those that don’t know, the Kurdistan Development Corporation is the group behind those, “Thank You America,” commercials.

Here’s an edited transcript from my conversation with Ms. Rahman:

John Hawkins: Tell (us) a little bit about the conflict between the PKK and Turkey…

Bayan Rahman: Well, the PKK has been fighting in Turkey since the 1980’s and a large number of people have been killed in that time. There are a small number of PKK…fighters who are in the Qandil mountains, which is a very rugged and high mountain hideout in Kurdistan, but on the border of Kurdistan and Turkey. …I don’t think they carry out any operations from there and the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq doesn’t support the PKK in any way.

What’s happening now is that the government of Turkey is saying that they want to attack the PKK base and have, in fact, recently been shelling the border area of Kurdistan and Iraq. But, I have to say that they haven’t been shelling the area where the PKK is, they’ve been shelling where there are innocent Iraqi Kurds living, so I’m not really sure what’s happening there.

…The question of Kurdistan and Turkey will not go away. It’s a fact that there are Kurds who live in Turkey and parts of Kurdistan are inside Turkey’s borders. This is a fact that nobody can escape, but we believe in peace, we believe in dialogue, and we think that the best way forward for the Kurds in Turkey and the government in Turkey is to engage in real dialogue…

John Hawkins: Another question: There’s some fear that the Kurdish portion of Iraq could break off and form their own state at some point. What do you think the chances of that happening are?

Bayan Rahman: If you ask any Kurd, wherever they are from, they will say that they want to have an independent Kurdistan and as President Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan region has said, “One day Kurdistan will be independent and it is our right to want independence and have independence.”

Is that going to happen now? Absolutely unlikely. Highly unlikely. We in the Kurdistan region of Iraq realize that if we were going to call for independence today, it would be tantamount to suicide. What we want and we are fighting for very hard, is to have a united, federal, and democratic Iraq. We believe that if there is real democracy, if there is real federalism in Iraq, this will enable the Kurds to live within the borders of Iraq, to live in peace, …and to be proud of it.

John Hawkins: In Iraq as a whole — not in your area per se — we’ve a big increase in militia related violence. Why do you think that is and what do you think it will take to put an end to it?

Bayan Rahman: Well in Iraq, there are two or three roots (of violence). One, it’s the former Baathists, the former supporters of Saddam Hussein, who can’t accept that they are no longer the sole power in Iraq, that power has to be shared between the various groups in Iraq.

There is also an influx of foreign fighters …fundamentalist Islamists who don’t want Iraq to succeed because they want their own agenda of violence and instability in the Middle-East because this is what feeds the Islamist terrorism around the world.

What’s the solution? I think the solution really to just fight the terrorism in Iraq…while at the same time opening the door to dialogue. For example, last year, people were saying the Sunnis felt excluded from the political process. Well increasingly, the door is open to the Sunni Arab community to engage in dialogue with the Shia Arabs and the Kurds in Iraq.

So, I think we have to kind of fight on two fronts. We have to physically fight the terrorists and at the same time, we have to let every legitimate group in Iraq feel that they have a share in power, that they feel that they have a share or say in what’s going to happen in the future of Iraq.

John Hawkins: Now, I notice that you didn’t really mention any Shia groups. Aren’t there some Shia groups that are also out there killing a lot of Sunnis…?

Bayan Rahman: There is violence involving different groups in Iraq, yes.

John Hawkins: Ok, Ok…do you think when we have Democratic Politicians in America saying we should withdraw our invitation to the Prime Minister and calling for us to cut and run in Iraq, do you think that it makes things more difficult for the Iraqis and Americans trying to make it work in Iraq?

Bayan Rahman: Well, I think if Americans were to withdraw today or in the very near future, it would be a catastrophe for Iraq. Iraq needs the support of America, Britain, and the other Coalition members until we reach a stage where our economy is able to get going properly and we reach a stage where our military is able to suppress and fight back the terrorists.

We haven’t reached that stage; yet and if America were to withdraw now it would just be a catastrophe. I think people who say that (America should withdraw) haven’t really understood what the situation is in Iraq. We need America to stay there a bit longer to help us stand up on our own two feet and when that day comes, America can withdraw and feel confident that it has left behind something viable in Iraq.

John Hawkins: Have you had a chance to look at how the American media is covering what’s happening in Iraq and if so, do you think they’re adequately informing the American people of what’s happening.

Bayan Rahman: Well, I am based in the UK and I was a journalist myself until two years ago. So, I am well aware of how the international media reports (on) Iraq and I have always felt frustrated that — it’s true that there is violence, turbulence, and uncertainty in Iraq today. That’s true and that’s reported on. But, the rest of the story isn’t reported on.

…The fact that people in Kurdistan and people in (most of) Iraq are able to go about their daily lives freely and without fear, those things aren’t reported on. …Their readers or viewers in America are given the story, the picture, but they’re not given the full picture, the full story.

John Hawkins: Tell us a little bit about the Kurdistan Development Corporation and the message you guys are trying to spread with your ads thanking Americans and Brits for helping your country?

Bayan Rahman: We have launched an advertising campaign in America, which is called “The Other Iraq,” because, just as I explained, there is one part of Iraq that is being heavily reported, but the other story of Iraq is not reported and that’s what the advertising campaign is about.

The campaign has 2 or 3 messages. The first and fundamental message is that we want to thank America, we want to thank the people of America for liberating Iraq, (for) giving the people of Iraq their first real opportunity to have democracy in our country.

The other parts of the campaign…explain how we in the Kurdistan region are striving to build a Democracy…We have a regional parliament that was elected, we have our own laws, we have rebuilt our infrastructure up to a point. But, we want to build on that and we want make our economy and civil society much stronger. It’s really saying that the Kurdistan region is open for business and that the Kurdistan region is the commercial gateway to Iraq….

John Hawkins: I appreciate your time…

Bayan Rahman: Thank you very much, John…

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