The leader of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said on Friday he fears a return to a culture of violence, the latest in a series of remarks critical of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in recent weeks.
However Kurdish president Massud Barzani also said he did not fear the federal government taking delivery of F-16 warplanes bought from the United States, after last month saying he opposed the sale of the aircraft while Maliki was premier.
“We did not feel afraid of the MiG and Mirage aircraft, and we will not feel afraid of the F-16 aircraft,” Barzani said in a speech in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil, referring to the air force of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, overthrown in a 2003 US-led invasion.
“But we fear that the culture, which believes that the language of the plane, the tank and the cannon is the language of solving problems, will return,” he added.
Barzani noted: “We prefer the language of dialogue to the language of arms and threats.”
The Kurdish leader has frequently accused Maliki of centralising power and voiced opposition to his military acquisitions, telling reporters on April 23 “The F-16 must not reach the hand of this man,” referring to Maliki.
The United States has agreed to sell 36 F-16s to Baghdad in a multi-billion-dollar deal aimed at increasing the capabilities of Iraq’s fledgling air force, a weak point in its national defences.
On March 20, Barzani said “there is an attempt to establish a one-million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person,” and claimed Maliki and the government were “waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the peshmerga (Kurdish forces).”
He has also accused Maliki of moving toward dictatorship, and said the premier aimed to “kill the democratic process” after the head of Iraq’s electoral commission was arrested for alleged corruption.
Friday’s remarks were the latest sign of worsening ties between the central government and Kurdish authorities, who are mired in ongoing rows over disputed territory and oil revenues in particular.
Kurdistan has also refused to hand over fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who was charged in December by authorities in Baghdad with running a death squad and fled to Kurdistan. Hashemi is currently in Turkey.