London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechervan Barzani, has expressed surprise at comments made earlier this month by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, in which he accused Saudi Arabia of sponsoring terrorism in Iraq.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from Erbil on Tuesday, Barzani said: “What are the reasons behind the accusations at this specific time? . . . We have not seen evidence of Saudi sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq before, and we have not seen any evidence proving Saudi responsibility for recruiting or assisting terrorist organizations or groups there.”
During an interview with the France 24 TV channel on March 8, Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of “leading an open war against the Iraqi government” by “inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements” through financial, military, political and media support.
Maliki’s government is currently facing insurgents in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar region, many of whom are thought to be members of Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
However, Barzani told the channel he believed recent decrees issued in Saudi Arabia clamping down on terrorist activities discredited Maliki’s accusations. He said: “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, has issued strict laws and decrees against terrorism and terrorists, and he named organizations and parties specifically, describing them as terrorists, and outlawed any Saudi citizen who fights or carries out terrorist acts outside the Kingdom . . . How could Maliki accuse Saudi Arabia of sponsoring terrorism in Iraq after all these laws and decrees were passed?”
He added that Saudi Arabia represented a “strategic depth” for Iraq and that it would be better for Baghdad to strengthen its relations with Riyadh rather than to endanger them.
“Iraq today needs to build and strengthen relations with the surrounding Arab and regional states instead of endangering those relations,” he said. “Iraq needs its Arab brothers and non-Arab friends, especially since the country is going through real security and political crises which threaten the democratic process we all fought for and worked to achieve. Iraqis from all sects and factions, religious or political, have given great sacrifices to achieve democracy.”
Barzani said he thought the comments may have been “motivated by specific election objectives,” ahead of Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary polls scheduled for April 30, adding that he hoped “opportunities available to Iraq to open up to all and build better relations with the rest of the world would not be wasted, in order for the country to prosper and to benefit from the experience of the Kurdistan region in this field.”
Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil have been running high recently, especially over the issue of Kurdish oil, which Iraq insists must be exported through its State Oil Marketing Organization but which the KRG wants to export via a new independent pipeline to Turkey. The KRG is also demanding a larger share of the Iraqi budget, its allocation currently standing at 17 percent.