If there is one man who deserves the credit for the growing Turkish-Kurd rapprochement, it’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan. Five years ago Kurds and foreigners alike laughed in his face when he told them that not only did he want Iraqi Kurdistan to export its own oil, but that he wanted to export it to Turkey, which has had an intractable problem with its own large Kurdish minority. Barzani’s strategy was one of patience: starting with confidence-building with the Turks and then coaxing small oil companies and then larger ones to risk Baghdad’s ire to drill for oil not only in the autonomous region but in territory disputed by both Barzani’s government and the Iraqi central government.
Barzani sat down with TIME on December 13 to talk about the Turks,
his stormy relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and
the potential for an independent Kurdish state–and how that would affect
members of the non-Arab ethnicity, which lives in Iraq, Turkey, Iran
and Syria. He spoke sometimes in English and other times through the
translation services of his Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir. Below
are excepts from that interview: