Kurdish Forces Step In Behind Fleeing Iraqi Troops

After Iraqi troops fled, Kurdish forces moved in to northern Iraq. NPR's Scott Simon asks the region's foreign minister, Falah Mustafah Baktir, if this is a push for an independent Kurdish state.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As many Iraqi forces abandon their posts in the far north of the country, the Kurdish Regional Government has moved in to try to fill that vacuum. The flag of the autonomous region now flies over the oilfields in Kirkuk. Now this move widely expands the territory that is claimed by the Kurds.

We are joined now by the foreign minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Falah Mustafah Baktir. Mr. foreign minister, thanks very much for being with us.

FOREIGN MINISTER FALAH MUSTAFAH BAKTIR: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: Are your forces supporting the Baghdad government or trying to claim this territory for some kind of Kurdish entity?

BAKTIR: Well, indeed, this is a new development in Iraq. And it has proven what we have been saying in the last several years and several months as well, that the Iraqi army has not been able to resist and stand in the face of the terrorists. Indeed, they snapped, and they let down the people of the area that they were supposed to defend. Therefore, what happened was that the Iraqi forces left the people, betrayed the people, and left them alone to face the threat. What the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have done is to reinforce, in these areas, in order to provide protection to all the people and all the inhabitants of those areas.

SIMON: Foreign Minister Baktir, what do you and the Kurdish Regional Government think about ISIS? Do you think you can coexist with them in the same neighborhood?

BAKTIR: No, indeed, this was a real concern for us and this is a threat. The president of Kurdistan region several months ago communicated the message to Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad, we feel and we see that it's expanding and the threat is increasing. We are ready to carry out the joint operation in order to protect these areas. But unfortunately, all our warnings have been ignored, Baghdad ignored it. They did not move until the situation reached the status of last week. Even then, we offered to help. And I'm sorry to say that to this moment, the Iraqi federal government did not fulfill its commitment. Although the Iraqi army is paid much higher salary and is well-trained and well-equipped, but indeed they don't have the morale that the Kurdistanians have. And this proves that it's not the weapons that fight, it's the men. You need men to fight and to use the weapons.

SIMON: Let me ask you this finally, Foreign Minister Baktir. Do you see this situation as opening an avenue to an independent Kurdish government?

BAKTIR: Well, I will be very honest with you, the events, the developments all show that Kurdistan is different. The people are different, the land, the geography, demography, the culture is different. We have (unintelligible) our land and we are a secular people. We have been trying to build a democracy. If we are not able to coexist together, if we are not able to find a formula or a model that ensures our rights, then we have to think about another solution and ensuring the instability and peaceful coexistence.

SIMON: Falah Mustafa Baktir is the Foreign Minister of Kurdistan. He joined us from Hanover, Germany. Thanks very much for being with us.

BAKTIR: Thank you.

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