Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan
By Sîrwan Kajjo
(originally published in the June 2012 issue of The Kurdish Review, a monthly Kurdish newspaper from Washington, DC. Reprinted here by request of author)
US Representative of Kurdistan Regional Government Qubad Talabani is getting ready to leave his office this year. After 12 years of representing Kurds in several positions, Talabani is expected to be working in the Prime Minister office once he’s back in Erbil. To shed light on this issue and other relevant matters, The Kurdish Review met with Mr. Talabani for this exclusive interview.
Kurdish Review: Let’s begin with the continuous dispute between KRG and central government, how do you see the US stance on this crisis?
Qubad Talabani: There is obviously a political dispute within the federal government, and this dispute is a natural dispute between legitimate entities in the country. The United States is no longer in charge of Iraq. Iraq is a sovereign country, so these disputes have to be managed domestically, managed by the governments themselves. It’s not the United States’ role to have a stance. It’s not for the US to take one side over the other. I think the US is trying to normalize its relation with Iraq. I think what the US wants out of all of this is an outcome that will lead to stability.
KR: There were Kurdish delegations from Turkey, Syria and Iran in Washington DC over the last few weeks to meet with US officials. Did you get to meet and/or Help them?
Qubad: We were pleased to meet all of our delegations in town. The details of the Eastern Kurdistan delegation was less clear to me. But I was certainly aware and closely following BDP/DTK delegation and Kurdish National Council in Syria’s delegation. We received them here in the office and gave them our advice of the kind of things that people here in Washington are interested in. I’m very happy to see these kinds of delegations coming from other parts on Kurdistan to meet with US government officials, meet with think thanks and educate them on other aspects of Kurdistan that they might not be familiar with. There’s a reasonable understanding in Washington regarding the issues of Iraqi Kurdistan and its complications. But I don’t think the policy community here is fully aware of Kurdish issues of Eastern, Northern and Western Kurdistan. So I believe these meetings are very important.
KR: Did you get any feedback from Washington policy-makers regarding those delegations and their meetings?
Qubad: Yes the feedback, official and nonofficial, that I’ve received was positive. The meetings were timely and people learned a lot from the delegations’ visit in Washington. For example, there is some much analysis on Syria. Very smart people in Washington and London are analyzing the situation as they read, but what makes all that even more unique is actually hearing from people from that region. Having the Kurdish delegation from Syria helped policy makers here to form a clearer vision on the issue. It was a good source of information for Washington.
KR: Rumors being spread in the Kurdish community that New-elect Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani wants you in Kurdistan to hold the post of minister of oil and natural resources in KRG. Is that true?
Qubad: (Laughing)…. That is so far away from the truth. It’s true I’m leaving Washington after serving Kurdistan interests for 12 years in various posts as PUK representative, KRG – Sulaimaniyah Adminstration representative and finally the unified KRG representative. Now my time is running out here. I’m going back to Kurdistan to work for the Prime Minister in his office.
KR: When are you going back?
Qubad: This summer.
KR: Yes, but when precisely?
Qubad: This summer.
KR: Fine, who is going to take over your position?
Qubad: It’s not clear yet.
KR: Do you think KRG representative to UK, Bayan Sami Abdulrahman will succeed you?
Qubad: I have not heard anything formally about that. I think whoever takes over the job, will do it fantastically. Certainly Bayan Xan is more than capable of handling this job. In fact, she’s doing it already in England. I know she’s a great candidate and a great colleague of mine. I have a lot of respect for her. But for everybody’s sake, I think we should wait to see who the nominee is.
KR: During your period of service, how was your relationship with the Iraqi embassy in Washington?
Qubad: I’ve always had a good relationship with the Iraqi embassy. Obviously our work is different. There was some sensitivity in the past, mainly from embassy side. I can’t represent Basra here. I can’t represent Baghdad. My job here is to represent Kurdistan. In fact, we’d like to think that we’re filling a void on behalf of the embassy. So we live together, we work together but we don’t work for each other.
KR: But the embassy has complained about the expansion of your work here! Why is that?
Qubad: Up until recently, we only had six staffers, a couple of part-timers and contactors. We can’t compare our expansion and budget with the embassy. For instance, the embassy has a commercial attaché with a staff, a military attaché with its own staff and several other offices. So there really shouldn’t be any complaints.
KR: By the way, how many people work for your office now?
Qubad: Well so far, we have eight full time positions. We have a Director of Public Affairs, Director of Congressional and Academic Affairs, Director of Cultural and Community Affairs, Director of Political and Diplomatic Affairs, Director for Outreach . There also a couple of administrative positions. Moreover, we always have internships for Kurds and non-Kurds. So it’s quite a full team.
KR: What has Qubad Talabani done in the past 12 years representing the Kurds in the US?
Qubad: Well, it’s a good question. But it’s not for Qubad Talabani to say what I’ve done. With the help of my staff, we’ve been able to turn this office from a one-person office into an institution. I think that’s probably the accomplishment I’m most proud of. Twenty years ago, this office was run from somebody’s basement in Fairfax. Now it’s a true representation. We have this beautiful building that is owned by our government in a prominent location of the city. I would say it’s no less that an embassy in Washington. Of course, forming the American-Kurdish Congressional Caucus for the first time in the history of US Congress, for example, was a testimony of the good work this office’s been doing. Many other groups have been established here in order to promote Kurdish interests in the US.
KR: Many think that you played an imperative role in unifying the “divided” Kurdish community in America, in Washington area specifically. How could you get all these people together?
Qubad: I thank whoever says that. Indeed when I first came here, the community was really divided. Newroz parties were held separately. There was one for PUK, one for KDP, one for KDP-I. Even simple things like demonstrations were done separately. There was still a left over effect of the regrettable conflict in Kurdistan within the community here. But thankfully, that dynamic has changed and things are much better now. There’s one Newroz and everyone goes to it. Whether you’re Northern, Eastern, Southern or Westerner, it doesn’t matter. It was one of my goals when I first came here. I thought was crazy. Newroz is Newroz, it’s not PUK’s or KDP’s. It even went beyond that. Once we had meeting for several groups. Our eastern brothers got angry and left the meeting. And do you know what the challenge was? It was a problem with portraits of political leaders (laughing)… It was about whose picture to hang up at the event!! One party, I won’t mention names, wanted two pictures, one said just one picture is enough. Then things got so complicated… just over pictures. Of course, the experiment of having each person bring one picture became so embarrassing. So everyone eventually came to the understanding that its time to move on. Thankfully , the year after, which was 2005, we had the first new year without pictures. We just had the Kurdish flag. The community has also been more active in getting involved in policy making in the US. For example, the community was very helpful when we passed a resolution to open the US Consulate in Erbil
KR: What advice would you give to the next KRG representative in Washington?
Qubad: Washington is a unique animal. It’s not like other capitals in the world. Anyone who comes here has to be aware of this. My advice would be for them to not become part of the political divisions here. They should work with all parties, think thanks and other institutions. Our job here is not to take sides.
The other thing that I would like the next representative to work on is our getting closer to the community here. The Kurdish community can strengthen our mission here. One aspect of my years here that I can be somewhat self critical at is my work with the community. While we did engage the youth with some success, I think I could’ve done better in terms of broader community outreach and better engaging the community in our efforts. We have some exceptionally talented and patriotic Kurds here in the US, and they can be a real asset to Kurdistan.