MIDDLE EAST

Kurdish politician slams legacy of Kurd-Israel ties

KURDISH POLITICIAN SLAMS LEGACY OF KURD-ISRAEL TIES

An Iraqi Kurdish politician known for his close ties to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani spoke to Anadolu Agency on Monday about Israel's stated support for last month's illegitimate poll on Kurdish regional independence.

Mahmoud Othman, a former head of the Kurdistan Socialist Party who witnessed the early contacts between Israel and the Kurds of northern Iraq, warned that "nothing good would come" of Israeli support for the Kurdish nationalist cause, saying that Israel simply wanted to "exploit" the Kurdish people.

According to Othman, contacts between Israel and the Kurds of Iraq first took place in the early 1970s.

"If Israel supports us, all the Arab states will stand against us," he said. "We have nothing to gain [from Israeli support]. We don't even share any borders with Israel."

"For this reason," he added, "I have urged Kurdish officials not to cooperate with Israel."

Asserting that Israel did not genuinely support the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, Othman said: "[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is the only one who voiced support for the referendum, and even he kept his silence after the U.S. warning [against holding the poll]."

On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-held areas -- and in several areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.

According to results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.

The referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who had warned that the poll would distract from Iraq's ongoing fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.

Israeli flags

Othman also slammed the appearance of Israeli flags at pro-independence rallies that were held in the Kurdish region in the run-up to last month's referendum.

"Waving these flags [at the rallies] was a mistake," he said. "Now some countries of the region are claiming that we [i.e., the KRG] will be a second Israel."

Having been actively involved in politics since the 1960s, Othman recalled the Kurds' conflict with Baghdad in the 1970s and 1980s.

During this period, he said, the Arab states had supported then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, while Kurdish leaders had tried to develop ties with Israel in hopes of gaining access to Washington -- Israel's number-one patron.

"The U.S. intervened in our [i.e., Kurdish] politics via Iran, which was the only country that didn't support Saddam, but who we didn't trust," he added.

Noting the Jewish lobby's vast influence on U.S. policymaking, he said: "We wanted to use this lobby to initiate contacts with the U.S., but they [Israel] weren't given the opportunity by Washington [to influence the Kurds]."

According to Othman, only the U.S. had supplied the Kurds with weapons and money, while Israel pursued its "own policy" -- although the latter, he said, would never cross lines drawn by the U.S.

"Israel only wanted to exploit the Kurds and now continues to only pursue its own agenda," he said, going on to voice doubt that the KRG would receive any more support from the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

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