Washington, DC, USA (cabinet.gov.krd) -‘The existential threat to Kurdistan is not a war with ISIS, nor the stress of housing 1.8 million internally displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees, or even the political turmoil facing the country today. The existential threat facing Kurdistan today is the state of our economy,’ said Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Qubad Talabani during a visit to Washington this week.
He was speaking to a large audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where over 200 experts, government officials, and members of the media had gathered for an event titled, ‘From ISIS to Declining Oil Prices: Qubad Talabani on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Challenges’.
‘We’re four months in salary arrears to our civil servants. We’re three months in salary arrears to our soldiers, who have been valiantly defending the front lines. We’ve suffered 1,400 causalities and have had 8,000 people injured. Anything that can weaken the frontline or potentially harm the morale of our troops is not only a danger to Kurdistan, but to Iraq, to the region, and the global war on ISIS.’
The Deputy Prime Minister was joined in Washington by a delegation of KRG officials including Minister of the Interior and Peshmerga Affairs Karim Sinjari, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, and KRG Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman. The purpose of the delegation was to convey the severity of the financial crisis and need for immediate assistance to US administration officials, members of Congress, and the US media.
The delegation met with a number of senior administration and defense officials to discuss the range of challenges current facing the people of Kurdistan.
On Friday the delegation met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a range of issues currently facing the Kurdistan Region. Deputy Prime Minister Talabani highlighted the economic and financial crisis in Kurdistan, emphasizing that the inability to pay frontline Peshmerga soldiers and the 1.4 million employees, pensioners, and disabled people on KRG’s payroll was having tangible effect on the war against ISIS.
Deputy Prime Minister Talabani and delegation were at the Pentagon to meet with the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth. They thanked the US for providing critical military and air support to Peshmerga forces, emphasizing the importance of the Peshmerga brigades the US is currently training and equipping. They underscored the need for continued weapons, ammunition and equipment support, particularly as the front lines are experiencing shortages of critical materials.
At the White House, the delegation met with senior advisors and staff of the National Security Council and Office of the Vice President. They discussed the global strategy to defeat ISIS, highlighting the economic, humanitarian, and military components of the future liberation of Mosul.
Throughout the week they conducted a number of additional meetings with officials from the State Department, Treasury Department, and Pentagon.
The delegation also held several meetings with top officials from international financial institutions the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund to discuss the need for emergency financial support for the KRG.
With tens of thousands of Peshmerga troops stationed along a 650-mile front line against ISIS and displaced people from Iraq and Syria accounting for a 30% increase in population, the KRG’s operating expenses have exploded dramatically. Compounded by a crash in oil prices, the KRG has been left with a $100 million per month deficit, even after austerity measures cut this figure down from $400 million per month.
Throughout the week, the Deputy Prime Minster and delegation had met with a number of leading members of Congress from key Congressional committees. Following their meetings, on Thursday US Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Brad Sherman introduced House Resolution 682 urging the State Department to provide necessary equipment and training to the men and women of the Peshmerga.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior and Peshmerga delivered remarks and answered questions from a group of American journalists at the KRG Representation on Friday. ’You can’t win a war bankrupt,’ said Mr Talabani. ‘We need more help from the United States and international community.’
Earlier in the week, all members of the delegation addressed a diverse audience of Middle East experts and members of different ethnic and religious communities at a symposium on coexistence, tolerance and stability hosted by the Institute for Global Engagement and KRG Representation in the United States.
Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said, ‘The KRG needs support from the global community to continue to provide a safehaven for religious and ethnic minorities, and to help stop the cycle of violence and extremism that has plagued Iraq for years.
Minister Sinjari said, ‘Stabilizing and reestablishing services to the people, as well as supporting livelihood development is necessary for future stability and prosperity of the region.’
Minister Bakir said, ‘”Inclusive education is key to the reconstruction and stability in Iraq.’ He added that, ‘There is no future in Iraq for anyone if they seek revenge and not reconciliation’.
Representative Abdul Rahman said, ‘In 1991, Operation Provide Comfort was tremendously successful in preventing the deaths of some 2 million Kurds who had fled Saddam. Today, the crisis caused by ISIS requires a similar response.
At a hotel in Fairfax over the weekend, Virginia, Deputy Prime Minister Talabani briefed members of the Kurdish-American community on the current situation inside Kurdistan and the outcomes of his trip to Washington.