Kurds made a big mistake voluntarily joining Iraq and are now voluntarily making plans to leave, president of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani said on Wednesday.
Addressing journalists, writers, and artists at Erbil's Saad Abdullah hall, Barzani said the initial mistake was made when the Kurdish leadership "voluntarily" went to Baghdad, believing it was a new era, system and leadership following the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"I am saying now and acknowledging that in 2003, we made a big mistake when going to Baghdad with a clear heart and goodwill," he said.
"We voluntarily went to Baghdad. They did not accept partnership and now they should not complain that... we are voluntarily leaving it," the president said.
The Iraqi constitution that the Kurds helped develop passed in a referendum because of the people of Kurdistan, "yet it has been violated," he lamented. And, today, Iraq is a "religious and sectarian state."
Asked when the Kurdistan state will be declared, Barzani replied: "In itself, the 25th is the declaration of independence. When you went and voted 'Yes,' this means you decided."
Comparing the situation with Britain's exit from the EU, which will take long negotiations, Barzani said, "Of course, we have also hundreds of problems with Iraq on the subject of water, border, gas and oil, there are Arabs among us, and Kurds among them in their areas, so these all have to be discussed. But, the subject of the declaration [of independence], the 25th is for that."
Asked later if independence could be declared on the Kurdish new year, Newroz 2018, Barzani said that the political leadership will work on the next steps after the vote, but "the declaration of independence is on September 25... We cannot wait even until Newroz."
Addressing the issue of the timing of the vote, Barzani admitted "there were mounting pressures on us to postpone the referendum from many parties, countries and other people, friends and allies. But we asked them whether they had alternatives to offer to postpone the referendum and what they had for the people of Kurdistan, in fact, they did not have any alternatives."
Therefore, Barzani said "we are insisting on holding the referendum on September 25."
Describing the referendum as a "sacred objective," Barzani asked the attendants of the meeting as an "elite" group within society to motivate people to vote 'Yes.'
He argued that no one can remain "neutral" in deciding whether or not to take part as this vote is different from standard parliamentary or other elections. The referendum is something "related to the fate of every individual" of Kurdistan.
Speaking of the future structure of the Kurdistan state, Barzani said that decision lies with the people, but some suggestions have been put forward.
One of the suggestions, Barzani revealed, is for the state to be formed "on the basis of partnership, equality and citizenship for all the components, all the nations and religious groups, guaranteeing their rights in the constitution."
The Kurdish president also explained that a "republic and democratic system" has suggested.
He also added that the High Referendum Council is working to prepare the "declaration of the constitutional principles."
Barzani hailed the parties who took part in making the "brave" June 7 decision to hold the referendum. He said the vote had been planned a long time ago but was delayed. "We are late," he said. But now that the date is set, "inshallah, there is no turning back."
Barzani also expressed his hope for a strong turn out on September 25 for people to "determine their fate and prove to the whole world: this is the desire of the Kurdistan nation."
He stressed that holding the vote is a legal right of the Kurdistan people as is the right to self-determination, and it is not a political ploy or a "trump card."
He extended a welcome to Faili Kurds, mainly Shiites living in southern Iraq and Baghdad, telling them Kurdistan is their "home." Faili Kurds have reported increased discrimination and threats against them since the declaration of the date of the referendum.
"I do not know how are they treated in southern Iraq and Baghdad, but Kurdistan is their home and their country. If they are subject to persecution, they could come to Kurdistan," said Barzani.