The United States will not use areas under Kurdish control in a war against Baghdad, said Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq.

"We are not in favour of a war," he told Gulf News in an exclusive interview yesterday. "If there were any other means to achieve the same goal, we would rather do that."

In response to a televised threat by Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who said Baghdad would attack any government that assists the U.S. in taking military action against the ruling regime, Barzani said: "No government can stop the U.S. from reaching any goal… (But) no attack will be made from Kurdish-controlled areas."

He also cited one reason why it would be "very difficult" for the Kurdish militias to take part in a military offensive against Baghdad. "We don't intend to move our troops outside of Kurdish-ruled areas, and within this region, there are no targets for us to hit," he said.

In the run-up to a probable U.S.-led military action against the Baghdad regime, the Kurdish role in the process has been much debated. Kurdish politicians have vehemently insisted that the Americans have made no promises to the Kurds in exchange for their assistance in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussain.

In the midst of these tensions, Barzani regretted that the international media, as well as local inhabitants, are apt to misinterpret routine military training operations. There have been a slew of reports in the press claiming the Kurdish militias have intensified their training in preparations for war.

Barzani, who is also leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), denied recent reports hinting that Kurdish troops were mobilising in Harir, northeast of Arbil. "It is actually very strange," he said, laughing. "The situation is rapidly developing in such a way that any move we make is subject to misinterpretation."

Here is the full text of the interview:

Gulf News: What role will the Kurds play in a U.S.-led war on Iraq?
Barzani: We believe that our role will start after the regime change. Our role will be to preserve and protect the stability and security of the new regime, as indicated in the statement issued at the end of the Iraqi opposition conference held in London last month. We came to this agreement as the representatives of the Iraqi people, and with the approval of the United States.

There have been reports of troops setting up military installations in Harir, northeast of Arbil. What is going on?
(Laughs) It is actually very strange. The situation is rapidly developing in such a way that any move we make is subject to misinterpretation. Harir is a good place for training and manoeuvres, but whenever we organise the training of our forces over there, it is interpreted differently. People think they are foreign forces, while they are, in fact, our own forces. If people here in the region do not believe it, how can I expect you to believe it? The troops in Harir belong to our force.

There have also been reports that Iraqi troops have crossed the line to occupy Kurdish villages in the Bashtapa area, beyond the Kushtapa checkpoint. Is this a cause for concern?
We don't have concrete information about this matter, but we know that the area is a part of Baghdad's programme. People have been brought over to replace the local inhabitants. In many cases, these people, who are involved in cultivation and agriculture, have prevented local farmers from continuing their work over there. Sometimes, there have been problems. We will definitely support and defend our farmers because we are against this policy. As I said, we have not received any serious reports about this. But whenever there is any transgression, we will defend our people.

On Tuesday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz threatened that Iraq would attack any government, which helps the U.S. pursue its plan against the Baghdad regime. Are you worried they may target areas under Kurdish rule?
Tareq Aziz and everybody else knows that no government can stop the Americans from reaching any goal. Having said that, no attack will be made from Kurdish-controlled areas.

Sania Rasoul, 50-year-old Kurdish widow, stands in her house in the village of Pirdawad. She is one of many widows helped by the Al Amal (Hope) Association. @Gulf News 2003
Do you support a war?
We are not in favour of a war. If there were any other means to achieve the same goal, we would rather that. A war is an unfortunate event. Whenever any lives are lost, it is tragic.

What would it take for the Kurds to play an active part in a U.S.-led war against Baghdad?
We are not thinking of participating in the war because we are focusing on the day after the regime change. It would be very difficult for us to take part in this war for several reasons. We don't intend to move our troops outside of Kurdish-ruled areas, and within this region, there are no targets for us to hit.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told Reuters this week that Turkey would send troops into northern Iraq in the event of a U.S.-led war against Baghdad to protect the Turkmen minority, as well as the Kurds, from a "massacre". What is your reaction?
Our position is clear. We are against regional interference into our internal affairs. About 30 days ago, I met with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul. What he told me, and what I have heard from other military officials, is that Turkey has no designs on Kirkuk and Mosul. Turkey has no ambitions to take over any part of this country. They said they would only interfere upon our request, otherwise they would not take any unilateral action. We consider this a positive position - as far as what we have been told officially.

What would happen to the Ibrahim Khalil trade route after a war, or regime change?
It will be one of the many outlets that Iraq has with regional countries.

But it is a main source of revenue for your administration…
If there is a regime change, and the situation changes for the better, and stability reins, as well as democracy, then we will have our rightful share of oil revenues from Ibrahim Khalil, as well as other revenues from the country. In such a case, Ibrahim Khalil would only be a small portion of our revenue.

What has been the outcome of your talks with the Iranians?
I had a very successful visit to Iran, and our relations are very good.

How do you gauge the