Voices of War #3
As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, we are publishing a series of Q&A’s by journalist Matt Cetti-Roberts.
These will be conversations with everyone from soldiers, fighters and politicians— to shopkeepers and artists. This is the third installment of an ongoing series.
by MATT CETTI-ROBERTS
Tofiq Aziz Ahmed is a 41-year-old photographer and political journalist from the Iraqi-Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.
He’s been busy.
When Islamic State invaded Iraq in summer 2014, five Iraqi army divisions suddenly collapsed. The terror group seized Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — and forced thousands of people to flee into Iraqi Kurdistan. The war has also revived questions about whether Iraq can survive as a single country.
We asked Ahmed about whether Iraqi Kurdistan should be independent — he supports it — and whether he thinks independence is possible. We asked about the future of the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, which is now largely under Kurdish control.
We also asked about an alternative to dissolving Iraq as a unified state. That is, creating three semi-autonomous regions — for Kurds, Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs — with a central government remaining in Baghdad.
He said it wouldn’t work … even with American support.
What follows are Ahmed’s comments.
On Kurdish independence
An independent Kurdistan is the dream of every Kurd. In the past, we’ve had an independent country. But now it’s different because the geography of Kurdistan and the region is different.
Under international law, if you want to have an independent country, you have to exist, have money and infrastructure. We have all three of them — and we’ve had our own government since 1992.
We have money and infrastructure, but it’s not stable. The oil that we find isn’t enough to support our country. If you try to be independent and you get what you wish for — but you don’t have enough [resources] — your people will not be happy.
But if it doesn’t happen now, we’ll still have that dream.
On Arab refugees in Kurdistan
The Kurdish people are known for having a kind heart about everything, even if someone fights against us. If after that, he comes to us [to make peace], we will be open to them.
That’s a humanitarian rule.
We as Kurds can take all of the religions — Christian, Muslim, Jewish and people without religion — and those Arabs that came to our country and were our enemies. We are not seeking revenge, we are helping them.
I am hopeful that all of the people in my government are not asking [the refugees] “who are you?” and “where are you from?” and that they are just helping.
On the the future of Kirkuk if the Kurds rule it
There’s a unique situation in Kirkuk. Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Kildanys and Ashury [both small and independent Kurdish religious groups] have lived there since the old times, so they deserve to stay there.
All of the people — if they speak Kurdish, Arabic or any language — deserve to stay in Kirkuk. And in the future, if we have an independent country, we have to respect all of the people there.
The Kurdish government should respect them, because Kirkuk is like America. There are a lot of different groups of people [in America], like the Native American and people from all over Europe. They make a strong country together.
We have to show to the world that we accept other peoples and religions.
On partitioning Iraq
Iraq was a single country after 2003, but the Shia had the power. They didn’t make wise decisions for everyone in the country, and that’s why the situation with ISIS is happening in Iraq now.
The Shia tried to take control of Iraq, to take all of the oil and petrol and spend the money however they liked. [Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al] Maliki’s policies made Iraq the way it is now.
My opinion on making Iraq into three semi-autonomous provinces isn’t positive, but making it into three countries is our best solution.
It’s not like France, and it’s not like Germany — and it’s not like America where they have 50 states. The Iraqi people are not the same as them.
The Iraqi people are not accepting of each other, so they have to part. Shia is not accepting of Sunni, and Sunni is not accepting of Shia — and both are trying to take Kurdish land.
America with all its power could not help Iraq be the same again.