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RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed former Iraqi Governing Council member and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Jalal Talabani in Prague on 2 July.
RFI: Ladies and gentlemen, we have the opportunity to meet Mr. Jalal Talabani, secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a member of the Presidential Board of the Governing Council of Iraq, and a member of the Preparatory Committee of the Iraqi National Congress. Welcome, sir.
RFI: We are meeting now in the Czech capital, Prague, and there are some issues on which we would like to discuss with Mr. Jalal. Among them are: the attitude of the Kurds towards the new cabinet, the trial with Saddam, the Israeli presence in Kurdistan, and the integration of the two Kurdish administrations. Let us begin, Mr. Jalal, with the attitude of the Kurds towards the new cabinet. Why have the Kurds taken this extreme stance?
TALABANI: First, the Kurds have not taken an extreme stance but, on the contrary, the Kurds have taken a very tolerant stance.
When they have been, in contradiction to the Transitional Administrative Law, deprived of the right to stand for two crucial posts, that of the president of the republic and that of the prime minister, they have tolerated it and accepted it. But when the cabinet was formed they demanded ministerial posts that would be commensurate with the size of the Kurdish population, with respect to their proportion in Iraq and also to their role in overthrowing the dictatorial regime. We were among those who have supported the choice of brother Dr. Iyad Allawi for prime minister and, consequently, we have cooperated with him.
There are a number of Kurdish ministers: we have a vice president of the republic, Dr. [Rowsch Shaways]; we have a deputy prime minister [responsible] for specific issues, Dr. Barham Salih; we have Dr Fu'ad Ma'sum, head of the Preparatory Committee of the Iraqi National Congress; and we have six ministers in the current cabinet.
Moreover, the contribution of the Kurds has been a good one and a tolerant one, and we have approved a lot [despite not getting everything we wanted in the interim government].
We wanted the Security Council resolution to include a mention of an independent, unitary, federal, and democratic Iraq, and this has happened. There was another paragraph, laid down by the prime minister, the vice president of the republic, the finance minister, the deputy prime minister, in which there was a mention of the rights of the Kurdish people. But the resolution does not included this mention.
Despite that, we have decided to participate in the cabinet.
RFI: Another point we would like to discuss with Mr. Jalal that currently looms large in the media is the trial of Saddam. Of the charges made against Saddam, three are related to the Kurds: bombardment of [the town of] Halabja with chemical weapons, the [coordinated genocide known as the] Anfal operations, and the killing of a vast number of people from the Barzani family.
According to what you said in an interview, you do not agree with, or do not support, the death penalty for Saddam.
TALABANI: I think that Saddam is a [horrendous] war criminal. The crimes that Saddam committed surpass even the crimes of Hitler and Mussolini. Some of the crimes that Saddam has committed are unique in history.
For instance, it was the first time that a ruler has used chemical and biological weapons against his own people, against the people he rules. Also, it was the first time that a ruler has buried hundreds of thousands of his own people in mass graves, as happened in Iraq. Saddam has committed the worst crimes for which he deserves the strongest, the ultimate, and the hardest sanction.
But as a lawyer and signatory to an international appeal to stop capital punishment worldwide, I cannot stand in contradiction with myself. I think that it is up to the Iraqi tribunal to issue the sentence to Saddam. This is exactly what I said [earlier].
RFI: You refuse the capital punishment in general, but say at the same time that Saddam has committed very serious, unpardonable crimes that compare with any previous dictator in history. Would you not change your opinion [on the death penalty for him]?
TALABANI: In fact, I belong to those who are convinced that we should end [the practice of] capital punishment in the world. Special regard for the Iraqi situation is also proper, and it is up to the court to impose the severest punishment on Saddam.
I think that execution means a quick death, a death in one moment. But staying in prison for a lifetime, he would see developments in Iraq; the progress, and the prosperity in Iraq after the end of his dark, criminal rule -- in every such moment there is death for him. I think that this continuous, repeated death is much more painful than a quick death in a single moment.
RFI: Don't you expect, Mr. Jalal, the restoration of the death penalty in Iraq? This possibility has been discussed. It has, in fact, happened in general.
TALABANI: Yes, the Iraqi cabinet has, I think, restored the death penalty. This restoration of the death penalty is, I think, for fighting terrorism and for imposing sentences on major criminals like Saddam Hussein.
RFI: Is this the suitable time, Mr. Jalal, to hold such a trial? There are various opinions saying that this is not the suitable time and that Iraq is witnessing sabotage actions, violence, and that the feelings of the Iraqi public towards Saddam may change.
TALABANI: In fact, what is going on currently is not a trial. The world has misunderstood it.
What is going on currently is an inquiry. An inquiry led by an Iraqi judge in preparation for the trial. This Iraqi judge is at the moment conducting a fair and complex inquiry with a number of major criminals. Then, he will pass the results of the inquiry to the tribunal that will conduct the court process. The trial may come immediately after that.
But for now there is an inquiry, because when a criminal or someone accused of a crime is handed over from the occupational authority to the Iraqi authority, the latter authority must delegate or nominate a lawyer who conducts the initial inquiry with the accused. So, what is going on currently is an inquiry, not a trial.
RFI: Going to another topic, in both the Arab and world media accusations have appeared regarding an Israeli presence in Kurdistan. What do you think about this?
TALABANI: To begin with I would like to comment on two crucial points. First, these are false, fabricated reports, and there is absolutely not a shred of truth [in them]. As Kurdistan is an open [land] with broad democratic freedoms, there are dozens of foreign journalists and dozens of representatives of companies and organizations there. I challenge anyone to say that a single Israeli has been found there. Therefore, these reports are fabricated and false and they aim to...
RFI: Inflict harm on the Kurds?
TALABANI: No, I wouldn't say inflicting harm, they have other goals. And my second comment on this: Why all this pressure on the Kurds?
Are there no Israelis in Cairo? Are there no Israelis in Amman, in Jordan? Are there no Israelis in Lebanon, in Libya, in the Arab countries of North Africa or the Gulf? Why this talk just about the Kurds?
There are Israelis. Their flag flies in Cairo. Their flag flies in Amman. Their flag flies in Qatar. In many places.
Well, there is another point: The Palestinian brothers negotiate with the Israelis. Brother Yassir Arafat kisses the cheeks of the daughter of a former minister who was fiercely combating Palestinians. Fine, why are they allowed to do so? Should we be more Palestinian than Mr. Yassir Arafat? Should we be more Palestinian than the Palestinian prime ministers and officials who negotiate with the Israelis? Why [are such actions] allowable for them when it is them who are concerned by the [Israeli-Palestinian] affair, who have been involved in the conflict and who suffer daily from Israeli occupation? Why is it not allowed to us when we are distant from all of these problems? I think that there is a chauvinist, anti-Kurdish tendency. There is another example, if you allow me to state it.
RFI: Yes, please.
TALABANI: The federalism. In Sudan, federalism has been established in a much broader form than in Kurdistan, in Iraq. The Sudanese federalism guarantees the division of [income from] the [natural] riches. It guarantees the division of gas. It includes a paragraph that after two years it is possible to hold a referendum on the self-determination by the people of southern Sudan in which they can even separate if they wish.
I consider this a good agreement. I congratulate the Sudanese people and the signatories of this agreement. I hope it is not understood from what I have said that I have some objections to this agreement. But, why are there no objections from any Arab country against this treaty and this federalism?
However, when it comes to the topic of federalism in Kurdistan or in Iraq as a whole...Federalism has been established in Iraq as the arrangement of a new Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan. Some Arab countries and some of Arab press have stirred up a big fuss, and have not yet calmed down. Is this not a chauvinist stance, hostile to the Kurdish people?
If they were against federalism [in Iraq], why don't they oppose federalism in the United Arab Emirates? Parts of the United Arab Emirates have much greater rights than Iraqi Kurdistan. I think there is an intentional, hostile, and sinister campaign from some Arab circles against the Kurdish people. They allow to themselves what they want and they prohibit the Kurds what we want. This is duplicity, a double standard...
TALABANI: Or it is, in fact, a hostile, chauvinist attitude against the Kurdish people.
RFI: Another topic -- is there any difference in attitudes between the two Kurdish administrations, in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniah, and when will these two administrations integrate? Is there still some tension?
TALABANI: Yes, both administrations will integrate soon, God willing. There have been serious efforts on this issue. We have too, on our part, presented projects and proposals. The last thing we have done is that when brother Dr. Barham Salih resigned after completing his task as prime minister with complete success and then moving to the post of deputy prime minister in the current cabinet, where I hope he succeeds as well, we have not nominated a [new] prime minister but a deputy prime minister.
TALABANI: He would assume the tasks of the prime minister. We hope that this will make the integration with the Kurdish administration of Irbil easier. This is first. And second, we think that this requires a thorough study and careful consideration because during this period both administrations have designated [their own] general directors, special directors, clerks...so this integration needs some time to solve this problem in a smooth way.
We have taken steps towards this achievement and I think that the relations are at present very good between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, as well as between me and brother Mr. Mas'ud Barzani [the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party]. They have reached the stage of a common leadership of both parties and of common positions with respect to neighboring countries, Baghdad, the future constitution, and the present tasks for Iraq.
There has been an agreement between the two sides on principal issues. There remains the question of unifying the administration, which will be done, God willing, before the end of this year.
RFI: We give many thanks to Mr. Jalal Talabani, secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Thanks.
TALABANI: Thank you very much.
(Interview by Ferial al-Sheibany. Translation by Petr Kubalek)