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Religious Refugees Flee ISIS; Head To Kurdistan Border


Now let's get a perspective out of Iraq's North - the Kurdish region. We'll speak with Qubad Talabani, the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish regional government. Welcome to the program, sir.


INSKEEP: So what are Kurdish authorities thinking of the new designated prime minister for Iraq?

TALABANI: Well, we're hoping that the outgoing prime minister steps down gracefully and allows the prime minister designate to put together the new cabinet and to try to create some coherent policies that will not lead the country towards more turmoil like the outgoing prime minister did.

INSKEEP: Do you believe that al-Abadi, if he is affirmed as prime minister, can lead Iraq out of this disaster as one country?

TALABANI: No one person on their own can lead Iraq out of this current crisis. This current crisis requires cooperation, understanding over what the grievances across the country are. There has to be an inclusive political process that takes into account the views and the constitutional rights of the people across the country - Kurdistan, the South, in the West - only then can we try to steer this country away from the disaster that it's heading towards.

INSKEEP: Do you believe that Kurdistan's safety and Kurdistan's future still belong within a united Iraq?

TALABANI: Well, as long as that Iraq is something with the tactic there's a place for Kurdistan within that system. But if the country is strongly controlled by one sect or another or heads toward extremism, then it'll be very difficult for Kurdistan to be part of that.

INSKEEP: Of course we're talking to you at a moment after ISIS forces moved into parts of Kurdistan and put pressure on Kurdish forces. And of course the United States is now intervening. Are Kurdish forces in serious danger of losing without significant U.S. aid?

TALABANI: The Kurdish forces remain strong. We know that we are in a tough fight against a very tough group. The Islamic state - they have large resources, they have strong weapons. We can withstand this onslaught and we can repel this group, providing we have the kind of support that we have been told is coming our way and provided that we have the continued airstrike support from both the Iraqi Air Force and the U.S. Air Force.

INSKEEP: A State Department official affirmed to NPR yesterday that the United States is now providing weapons directly to Kurdish forces. Is that your understanding and are the weapons already arriving?

TALABANI: Yes, that is correct. And we're hoping that this can continue. It started off in a slow process, but now I think the first batch has arrived. And we're hoping that we can receive more and more of the type of weaponry that we need to account for these armored Humvees and weapons used against us by the Islamic State.

INSKEEP: What kinds of weapons are you receiving directly from the United States, not through the Iraqi central government, but directly from the U.S.?

TALABANI: We received all kinds of firearms, ammunition. But we have an extensive list that we've provided and we're hopeful that our friends in the United States intend to match that list that we've submitted.

INSKEEP: What more would you wish that the United States would do then?

TALABANI: Well, for a start we are very grateful for the United States intervention. We're grateful for their airstrikes. There is no word to point to how grateful we are for the humanitarian intervention that has led to food and water to the Yazidis that are stuck on the Sinjar mountain that is preventing a potential genocide there. We're hoping that with continued airstrikes in key locations where the ISIS are, and with continued support for our Kurdish forces, we'll be able to eliminate the threat from the country before the (unintelligible) from the region.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the Yazidis, the religious minority who've been surrounded and who have been facing a dire situation. What's your best understanding of the situation with them right now?

TALABANI: It is a calamitous situation. We have these people, the Yazidis, who are stuck on this mountain surrounded by ISIS forces. We have Kurdish forces among them. We are able to bring in some reinforcements to that area try to protect that area. But if it is not a threat in a more strategic fashion, soon the situation could certainly get worse. We need to create a humanitarian corridor that will allow us to extract these people from these areas. At the same time, we need to repel ISIS forces from the area. So as long as the Islamic State is there, those communities will always be threatened and we have to come together to protect them.

INSKEEP: Qubad Talabani is deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. Thanks very much.

TALABANI: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.