In an interview with the Invest in Group, Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir details the Kurdistan Region’s foreign policy goals and priorities in 2015 and the Region’s strengthening ties with the EU and the US.
Considering recent regional developments, what would you say the main pillars of the Kurdistan Region’s foreign policy are? And what are your priorities for 2015?
Under current circumstances, our main objective is to effectively communicate the message of the Kurdistan Region to the international community in regards to the ongoing political, security, and humanitarian challenges that we are facing here in Kurdistan. Since the beginning of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) onslaught on Iraq and Kurdistan, we have been warning our friends in the international community that ISIS does not only pose a threat to the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the Middle East, but also it poses a direct threat to international peace and security. We believe that the United Nations Security Council has a moral and legal responsibility, under chapter seven of the UN charter, to maintain international peace and security through confronting ISIS.
Our foreign policy priority for 2015 is twofold. First, we will make concerted efforts to ensure further and continued engagement by the international community in the fight against ISIS in order to restore peace and stability and dismantle extremists in the region. This can be achieved through closer cooperation with NATO and the international coalition against ISIS. The KRG will work closely with UN agencies and the international community to assist refugees and internally displaced persons who have taken shelter in the Kurdistan Region and to rebuild their areas. Another important task within the context of the fight against ISIS is to gain international recognition for the crimes committed by ISIS against different ethnic and religious minorities as acts of genocide.
Second, in line with the Iraqi constitution, we will continue with our open door foreign policy and will try to broaden our ties with countries across the globe through establishing bilateral relations. We are focused on encouraging more countries to establish a diplomatic presence in Kurdistan as well as expanding the international presence of the KRG through opening new representative offices abroad.
The KRG seeks to strengthen ties with the European Union. We are also interested to build institutional ties with the Arab League. We are determined to build more bridges with the international community in order to further enhance the economic and political achievements of the Kurdistan Region.
The KRG received huge support from the U.S. and EU countries in its fight against terrorism. What does this mean from a foreign policy perspective?
We welcome the US-led coalition against ISIS and we are proud to be a leading force in the coalition. We are being supported by the international community for the values that we stand for, for our respect for human rights and the rights of religious minorities. We are proud to have developed a culture of democracy, peaceful coexistence, and religious and ethnic tolerance here in Kurdistan. These values are deeply rooted in our culture and we are determined to preserve and defend such values. The support is a clear indication that members of the international community need to cooperate with one another to secure a safer and more stable world. It shows that the Kurdistan Region is not abandoned and that we have reliable partners in the international community.
The support has hugely boosted the international reputation of the Kurdistan Region and its Peshmerga forces. Our Peshmerga forces are fighting an international terrorist organization, with members across the globe, on behalf of the free and civilized world. They have proven to be a reliable partner on the ground and to have the capability of fighting and defeating ISIS. Kurdistan is now an essential part of the international coalition against ISIS.
How is the DFR working to expand cooperation with the EU?
We have placed huge importance on expanding and improving relations with the EU. The KRG Mission to the EU was established in Brussels in 2000. The Mission’s main objective is to maintain and strengthen the political, economic, and cultural relations between the Kurdistan Region and European Union institutions. Our ties with the EU are steadily improving. Following the attacks of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq, the EU has been giving special attention to the security and humanitarian situation of the Kurdistan Region. In June, the EU DG for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) opened an office in Erbil. In August, the EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs, within the EU Council, decided to send humanitarian aid to the Kurdistan Region and also decided that Member States were free to send arms to Kurdish Peshmerga forces. In the same meeting, EU Ministers asked the European External Action Service (EU Foreign Ministry) to strengthen the EU’s presence in Erbil.
As the diversification of Kurdistan’s economy gathers speed, what can the DFR do to help foster FDI and support the Region’s economic development?
While the rest of Iraq has seen a high level of violence and terrorism in the past few years, particularly since the beginning of the ISIS onslaught against Iraq, the Kurdistan Region has remained peaceful and stable. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been able to repel ISIS attacks on the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region’s strong economic potential and stable security situation make it a safehaven for international investors.
The Department of Foreign Relations continues to work hard to support international businesses by assisting them in communicating with the various institutions of the Regional Government, directing them to resources related to their endeavors, and promoting regional and international conferences and events designed to encourage business and investment in the Kurdistan Region.