|Dr. Muhammad Sahreef|
Interviewer: Shalaw Fatah
• What do you think about the current mode of relations between KRG and Washington? Is it guaranteed or just conversational?
The current relationship between the US and the KRG is strong and steady. However, no strong relation is guaranteed unless there are mutual interests. Both the US and the KRG have to feel they are gaining considerably from this relationship.The KRG considering it is adapting and cementing its existence as a relatively new entity in a largely hostile region will ensure that it has favourable relations with the US. The only issue here, however, is that the US knows the KRG needs them more than they need the KRG, consequently the KRG makes an effort at pleasing the US, which puts the KRG in an awkward position when it comes to asserting itself and its interests.
• What's the importance of KRG to Washington?
The KRG for the most part is considered an ally in Washington. The role Kurds played during the US invasion and later in the aftermath of the collapse of the Baath regime was considered constructive and highly regarded in the US. Having said that is not to say the partnership was constantly smooth nor will it stay that way. The value of the US-KRG alliance fluctuates based on the status of US relations with Baghdad, US relations with regional powers and finally how the US sees its long term role in the Middle East. If US relations with Arab Iraq are smooth the KRG devalues, however, if the opposite occurs the KRG gains value. In Washington the KRG is considered a major and important component of the Iraqi political calculus. However, separately the Kurds seem to have no particular strategic importance in US national interest calculations in the Middle East. The US at the bipartisan level appreciates the premise of a special relationship with the Kurds, so will work backwards, rather than having a US strategic interest in Iraqi Kurdistan per se - a principle which had no relevance in international relations.
• Does this relation lead to a democratic semi-state in the region or just stable province needed to business?
It really can work both ways based on how the Kurdish leadership and the KRG work this relationship and how the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan evolves economically and politically. If economic success continues and political reforms are visible the KRG’s credibility will increase as a viable entity worthy of existence. The US would favour a Kurdistan that shows visible transition to a mature democracy. America, however, would not find it favorable to its interests to be seen by the Kurdish populace as an ally to a despotic or oppressive KRG, which in turn could incite anti-American sentiment among the population, especially in a region like the Middle East that is largely hostile to the United States and where US friends are few.
• What would be the position of KRG to Washington after a stable Middle East?
The KRG would be a component to a stable Middle East that is if that becomes a reality in the future. In the meantime, the US would want the KRG to be a partner in promoting stability in Iraq and for that matter the wider Middle East.
• Do you think KRG should rely on Washington only in its long term strategy or it's better to develop relations with regional powers, one like Turkey or Iran?
The KRG is between a rock and a hard place. The Kurdish leadership should maintain constructive and friendly relations with America. Realism in international relations also dictates that the KRG maintain good relations with all regional powers, Turkey and Iran included. This is not to say that the US is happy with KRG-Iran relations. There is discomfort and even distrust in Washington to the KRG’s strong relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. There seems to be a perception in Washington that the KRG cannot be trusted when it comes to Iran. When US forces raided the Iranian consulate office in Erbil - the capital city of the Kurdistan Region - on 11 January 2007 and arrested five diplomats the US had neither consulted the KRG nor sought its permission.
• A chapter of your doctorate research was about KRG-Washington relations, could you specify what's unique about your vision? Or What differentiates your vision from other researchers and observers?
Actually a major surprise that came to me when I started my PhD research was that there was hardly any scholarship produced on US-Kurdish relations. So I almost started from naught. I did, however, make use of numerous articles, books and academic papers available on Kurdish history and Iraq, in which reference to US relations with the Kurdish movement in Iraq had been made. One of my major chapters was on US-Kurdish relations; this constituted the second major dimension of my study of US foreign policy towards Iraq. I sub-divided US Iraq policy into two major components, firstly, US policy towards Arab Iraq that I have charaterised as US Iraq policy at the National Level and secondly US policy towards the Iraqi Kurds which I have defined and characterised as US relations with Iraq at the Sub-National level. I have taken US relations with the Kurdish movement in Iraq all the way back to the September 1961 revolt against the government in Baghdad during which unsuccessful Kurdish attempts to establish relations with the United States started in earnest. My argument concludes that US policy towards the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq has been largely one of continuity than change.
• What do you think of American's soft power (cultural extension) in the Middle East and KRG?
The US is an attractive model to many people in the Middle East and to the Kurdistan Region which is a lively part of that region. Secularists who form the majority of the Kurdish elite and populace, as demonstrated by the last parliamentary elections, admire and have definitely been affected by the US’ cultural global dominance. The universality of the English language, Hollywood films and access to US media through satellite TV available in almost every household in the Kurdistan Region have played a significant role over the years. Following the US invasion, adding to this influence was the Fulbright Scholarships allowing a large number of Kurdish students to see and live in the US and gain a US degree. This was further augmented by the US Regional Reconstruction Team actively providing training and support to the three Kurdish provinces, all leading to a greater appreciation of the US and a tilt towards the Americanisation of the Kurdistan Region.
Dr. Mohammed Shareef's Biography
Name: Dr. Muhammed Jalal Majeed
Master’s in International Relations – University of Bristol (2004), England.
PhD in International Relations – University of Durham (2010), England.
Note: PhD was on US foreign policy towards Iraq. Title: ‘President George W. Bush’s Policy Towards Iraq: Change or Continuity?
2000-2003: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
2004-2006: College of Political Science & College of Law – University of Sulaimani
• Membership of professional organisations:
Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (London)
British Society for Middle Eastern Studies
UK Political Studies Association
British Association for American Studies
British International Studies Association