Accessibility links

Iraq Report: March 1, 2005

1 March 2005, Volume 8, Number 7
ALLAWI, AL-JA'FARI TO VIE FOR IRAQI PREMIERSHIP. Negotiations between members of the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance list concluded on 22 February with alliance members agreeing to nominate Islamic Al-Da'wah leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari as its candidate for the position of prime minister in the transitional government. Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi had challenged al-Ja'fari for the nomination, but dropped out earlier in the day. Al-Ja'fari will now face interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for the post, the latter having announced on 21 February that his party nominated him for the position.

It appears, however, that al-Ja'fari remains the frontrunner for prime minister because his party controls 140 seats in the newly elected parliament. Under the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, once the transitional National Assembly convenes, it must elect by a two-thirds majority a Presidency Council consisting of a president and two deputy presidents. That council will, in turn, nominate by unanimous decision a prime minister, who will then be put to a confidence vote within the transitional National Assembly.

According to the TAL: "The Presidency Council shall name a prime minister unanimously, as well as the members of the Council of Ministers upon the recommendation of the prime minister. The prime minister and Council of Ministers shall then seek to obtain a vote of confidence by simple majority from the National Assembly prior to commencing their work as a government. The Presidency Council must agree on a candidate for the post of prime minister within two weeks. In the event that it fails to do so, the responsibility of naming the prime minister reverts to the National Assembly. In that event, the National Assembly must confirm the nomination by two-thirds majority. If the prime minister is unable to nominate his council of ministers within one month, the Presidency Council shall name another prime minister."

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani is widely favored for the presidential appointment. The only apparent challenger for the post is interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. It is not known who is favored to be named as the deputies, but Chalabi could be in the running after stepping aside from the more prestigious prime-minister post. Media reports have also indicated that Chalabi could vie for the position of foreign minister, or another high-level position in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005).

With the deputies still not known, it is difficult to predict whether al-Ja'fari or Allawi would be the Presidency Council's nominee for prime minister. Talabani, the presumed head of the council, is on good terms with both men. However, given the fact that Allawi remains outside the United Iraqi Alliance, which won 140 seats in the National Assembly election, it's likely that Talabani would lend his support to al-Ja'fari. Together, the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition list hold 215 seats within the National Assembly, enough to gain a two-thirds majority (184 votes) in the parliament.

Talabani, however, would first seek guarantees from al-Ja'fari in exchange for his support on issues such as federalism, the future constitution, and provisions in the TAL, including the return of Iraqi Kurds to Kirkuk, and the relationship between state and religion. Al-Ja'fari has already pledged to form a national unity government, inclusive of Sunnis and other minorities. He has a proven track record as a conciliator. If al-Ja'fari secures the Presidency Council's nomination, he should easily secure the position of transitional prime minister with a simple majority vote (137 votes), since he is the nominee of the United Iraqi Alliance.

Allawi arguably has a proven track record as a leader, but his failure to elicit greater Sunni participation in the election has put him at a disadvantage. Likewise, he has also come up against criticism by Shi'ite leaders in the United Iraqi Alliance for his support of the return of Ba'athists to the army and government.

PROFILE: IBRAHIM AL-JA'FARI. Many would say that Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is the logical choice to lead Iraq's transitional stage. Long viewed as a man of principle, he has always stood firm in his call for a democratic and pluralistic Iraq and has never shied away from expressing his opinions on the future of Iraq -- even when those opinions challenged the Iraqi opposition, and, at times, U.S. policy.

Al-Ja'fari's main rival for the position was Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi; however, he dropped out of the running during negotiations within the United Iraqi Alliance early on 22 February. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced on 21 February that his party had nominated him for the post of transitional prime minister.

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was born in Karbala in 1947. He earned a medical degree from Mosul University in 1974. Al-Ja'fari joined the Islamic Al-Da'wah (Call) Party in the 1960s at a time when the party grew more politicized in the wake of the Ba'athist ascendancy to power.

Opposition In Exile

Exiled to Iran during the Ba'athist crackdown on the party in 1980, al-Ja'fari later moved to the United Kingdom in 1989. During the Iraqi opposition's years of exile, he was vocal in his belief that a democratic Iraq should not emulate an Iranian-style theocracy. At the time, he also stood against U.S. or international intervention in Iraq, preferring instead for an Iraqi-led toppling of the regime. Al-Ja'fari told London's "Al-Hayat" in January 1999: "We view the future of Iraq from an Islamic standpoint as well as from the prism of our national values.... We will do all we possibly can in order to be able to knock out the dictatorship that had been imposed on our people by Saddam [Hussein] and then go on to supplant it with a constitution-based multiparty system of government under which the people of the nation must breathe freer and exercise their inalienable right to put in place a government that they should choose themselves."

Regarding ongoing U.S. military activities against the Hussein regime, al-Ja'fari said in the same 1999 interview that he believed such attacks were designed "to take out our nation's economic and civilian structure." "We do not and will not tolerate such rocket attacks on our country. This is terrorism pure and simple. It has brought on our patient people the worst kind of woes and torment and spread fear and panic."

Widely viewed as a conciliator, al-Ja'fari called in 1999 for disparate opposition parties to form a united position against the Hussein regime, while maintaining their distance from U.S. attempts to court the opposition. It was his belief at the time that the involvement of any outside party in the opposition's activities would affect the opposition's ability to operate independently, and potentially discredit its reputation inside Iraq. Al-Ja'fari was also opposed to the sanctions regime, which he said contributed to the Iraqi people's suffering, rather than alleviating it.

That same year, al-Ja'fari was also a signatory to a letter published in London's "Dar Al-Islam" magazine that chastised the Iranian regime for its treatment of Iraqis living in Iran. The letter claimed that the regime's harassment and expulsion of Iraqis called into question the credibility of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its claim to be "a haven for the oppressed and protector of the deprived in the world."

In January 2000, Al-Da'wah Party spokesman Muhammad Mahdi al-Asefi resigned after members of the party's leadership rejected his call for the appointment of a representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the party's political bureau. Al-Ja'fari told London's "Al-Zaman" in a 25 January 2000 interview that the party's political leadership did not want to link itself to the Islamic leadership in Iran. He told "Al-Zaman" a week later that al-Asefi "thinks that there should be actual implementation of what Khamenei thinks or what is thought by any person who represents Khamenei in the various positions of the party. This will ensure the relationship between the post of Velayat-i Faqih [rule of the supreme jurisprudence as practiced in Iran] and the party post." The party rejected al-Asefi's proposal. "In our opinion, the centralization or decentralization of the Islamic state is an issue that falls under Islamic jurisprudence and thinking. This is based on determining the Islamic rulings that allow or disallow the plurality of the state," al-Ja'fari said.

Consensual Politics

Al-Ja'fari stressed to "Al-Zaman" that Al-Da'wah is "an Iraqi movement in the Iraqi arena." He also emphasized his party's approach to politics that many would later describe as al-Ja'fari's own style. "When Al-Da'wah proposes a plan or is a key partner to a plan...[it] works on expanding what is common between it and other political parties, whether they are Islamists or non-Islamists. It does this so as to ensure that the desired [result] has a broad base of agreement," he said. "A successful politician is one who levels with his people and who has flexibility and frankness."

By early 2002, al-Ja'fari was still opposed to a U.S. overthrow of the Hussein regime. As the Iraqi opposition worked with the U.S. administration to form working groups ahead of a possible U.S.-led invasion, the party maintained its stance, saying a solution would not come from abroad, but rather from inside Iraq, "Al-Hayat" reported on 12 April 2002.

Al-Ja'fari also voiced his skepticism over plans for a major opposition conference in the fall of 2002, telling London's "Al-Majallah" in October of that year that he believed the conference's preparatory committee, which was made up of the opposition parties: the umbrella group Iraqi National Congress, the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi National Accord, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was undemocratic and would, he predicted, dictate its recommendations and decisions on the other Iraqi opposition parties. He called for an expanded preparatory committee that would reflect all trends in Iraqi society.

In reality, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 11 October 2002, those groups opposed to the conference were weary of the Iraqi National Congress's close relationship with the United States and the former's attempts to practice custodianship over the other parties. The conference was finally held in December 2002, with Al-Da'wah and several other groups boycotting participation. Al-Ja'fari did begin a series of meetings with U.S. officials, however, while continuing to express his reservations about a U.S.-led invasion.

Forming A Transitional Government

When opposition parties began discussions for the convening of a national conference that might form a transitional government in May 2003, al-Ja'fari told "Al-Zaman" that "The [Al-Da'wah] party calls for the formation of a provisional Iraqi government consisting of a diverse structure that represents the Iraqi street...comprising all the political, ethnic, and denominational sectors of Iraqi society." He later joined the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in July 2003, and acted as the council's first president. In that position, he initiated contact with Iraq's neighbors, and helped form a constitutional committee on the council. He was one of the first to call for nationwide elections in Iraq, telling in December 2003, "Any elections are better than none at all."

In February 2004, al-Ja'fari took the lead in trying to heal a long-standing Shi'ite rift that reemerged between SCIRI and rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by calling for a united stand. He endorsed the principle of federalism, telling Jeddah's "Ukaz" that month: "Federalism will be a good thing if it safeguards Iraq's unity and revolves around the sovereignty and unity of Iraq's soil, skies, resources, and people.... Federalism does not violate our history or our Islamic faith and beliefs. It should be looked at objectively...."

Al-Ja'fari subsequently was appointed interim vice president in July 2004. He supported the need for a strong security apparatus, and the imposition of martial law as a necessity under the current security environment. One of his principal tasks was mediating the August standoff between multinational forces and militants loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf.

Throughout the two years since the fall of the Hussein regime, al-Ja'fari has proven himself to be a leader who seeks to be inclusive. He has strong relations with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but has not been one to kowtow to the ayatollah's every demand. Al-Ja'fari stood in support of the Transitional Administrative Law despite al-Sistani's objection to it, and reportedly has been criticized in recent months by some within the religious establishment in Al-Najaf for not taking a firm Islamist stand on some issues.

Al-Ja'fari has said recently that if he was prime minister he would work to include Sunnis in the political process. "I believe we should include them in the government," he said. "I cannot imagine a government without Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds because they are the three main components of the Iraqi society." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TERRORISTS ON DISPLAY. Western media reports have focused on a recent surge in broadcasting by the Iraqi interim government's state-run television Al-Iraqiya of "confessions" by purported terrorists in Iraq. The broadcasts have increased in frequency in recent weeks, with London's "The Guardian" reporting on 24 February that the broadcasts air twice daily. However, Al-Iraqiya is not the only channel to run such broadcasts. Dubai-based Iraqi channel "Al-Fayha," which has been identified by some Iraqis as a "Shi'ite channel" has run a series of interviews with alleged terrorists in Iraqi custody, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) correspondent in Babil last week attended a presentation by Colonel Salam Tirad Abd, director of criminal intelligence in the governorate in which alleged Iraqi terrorists in custody, confessed in front of the media to their involvement in assassinations and beheadings.

There appears to be a thin thread connecting the testimony of the alleged terrorists; some claimed that either Syria or Iran financed their activities in Iraq, but many appeared confused as to whom they were working for, or who was funding their attacks. All offered up different reasons for joining the 'jihad,' with some Iraqis claiming they were forced to do so through intimidation.

RFI reported on 21 February that Salam Tirad Abd said in his presentation that Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Lebanese nationals have been arrested in the governorate. He claimed some of the arrested had direct links to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. He, and those interrogated by intelligence, described a network in which terrorists were ranked in a cell structure holding positions of "princes" and "executioners." The 24 February report in "The Guardian" cited the alleged terrorists in Mosul as saying that they were told they would be made "princes" after carrying out 10 beheadings.

At least some of the men on display in Babil appeared to be related to each other. One man, Sa'dun Sabih Kazim, was identified as the financier of his nine-member group. Another man, Razzaq Sultan Ali, appeared to be the technical leader. Kazim reportedly held a civilian position with U.S. forces, and used his salary to finance the group's terrorist operations, RFI reported.

The accounts given by the men differed in that some said they were paid for their activities, and others said they received no compensation. One man, Amir Latif Mutlaq, said he was paid 250,000 Iraqi dinars ($178) for one operation, while Zuhayr Qasim Mutlaq, his apparent cousin, claimed he was not paid. He also claimed that he was forced through intimidation to participate in the group's activities. Ayad Kamil, another man in custody, gave a similar account: "Two men whom I had not known came to me. They said: 'Get in [the car].' When I asked what [they wanted], they said: 'Get in, or we will kill you.' ...They said: 'We have a job to kill some people. If you do not go with us, we will kill you.'"

The men's accounts are similar to those depicted in a 21 February Reuters report, in which one suspected Iraqi terrorist told his interrogators that a man named "Abdullah" "told me my children would be killed if I did not obey." He described Abdullah, his group's ringleader, as a criminal with close ties to Syria, Reuters reported.

A number of the arrested that recounted their activities in the RFI report said they were recruited to chase police cars in Babil and assassinate those inside. When asked why he was killing policemen and soldiers, Amir Latif Mutlaq said: "It is being said in schools of Islam that they are the agents of the Americans."

Group member Abd al-Qadir Abd al-Karim described his participation in detonating explosive devices and car bombs near U.S. troops. He added that financier Sa'dun Sabih Kazim brought the explosives to Syrian suicide bombers in Iraq. The Syrians "would drive alongside [American military] bases and detonate [the explosives]," Abd al-Karim said. When asked where the group obtained its explosives, he claimed that Kazim got them from "the Islamic Party," an apparent reference to the Iraqi Islamic Party. The Sunni-led party boycotted participation in Iraq's national elections and has continuously denied any connection to terrorist activities in Iraq.

Other broadcasts of interrogations on Al-Iraqiya and Al-Fayha have featured foreign fighters who said their activities were financed by Syria and Iran. According to the 21 February Reuters report, the interrogator in the Al-Iraqiya television report, "encouraged the men to speak about 'filthy crimes' and constantly mentioned Syria." The interrogator asks one man: "So were these good smuggled with the knowledge of the Syrian government?" The suspect replies yes, and then no, Reuters reported.

London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 9 February that Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib revealed that 18 Lebanese nationals belonging to Hizballah were arrested on charges of terrorism. Al-Naqib claimed at the time, however, that Iran posed a greater threat to Iraq by interfering in Iraq's "internal affairs, especially by its followers." "As to our problem with Syria," he contended, "it can be resolved through dialogue and cooperation."

AP reported on 23 February that one "confession" aired on the same day showed a man identified as Lieutenant Anas Ahmad al-Issa of the Syrian intelligence service, who said his group was recruited to "cause chaos in bar America from reaching Syria." Al-Issa and 10 other men -- all Iraqis -- claimed on camera that they were recruited by Syrian intelligence officers, AP reported. Al-Issa further claimed that he entered Iraq in 2001 because Syrian intelligence was convinced that a U.S. attack against Iraq was imminent. Another man, Shawan al-Sabawi, identified as a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi army, claimed Syrian intelligence trained him on how to behead hostages. Al-Issa said the group practiced beheadings on animals. He added that Syrian intelligence provided weapons, explosives, and equipment, paying the group's members $1,500 month, AP reported.

In another interview with a suspected terrorist broadcast on Al-Fayha television on 1 February, a Tunisian national describes his journey to Iraq, saying he flew from Tunis to Syria, with Syrian nationals [he would not identify them further] helping facilitate his illegal entry to Iraq. Asked why he came to Iraq, he said: "To defend our brothers -- to fight with them." Asked if he had acted on a fatwa or advice of a cleric, he replied "no." He claimed that he was prompted to go to Iraq by the suffering of the Iraqi people he saw depicted on satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah. He said he was arrested as he attempted to travel from Al-Basrah to Syria, after giving up his jihad. "You have to understand jihad, not to come all the way here without understanding anything. I feel I've been deceived. I have come to fight a plane some 10 kilometers away with a Kalashnikov."

The interim government is clearly attempting to gain public support against the terrorists and their supporters in neighboring states. It also wants to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that it has gained ground in its war on terror. The broadcasts have again focused attention to the tactics used in interrogations. A report issued by Human Rights Watch ( in January documents reports by detainees of torture and ill-treatment in detention, particularly during interrogations. "With rare exception, the [interim] Iraqi authorities have failed to investigate and punish officials responsible for violations," HRW reported.

Detainees have reported routine beatings to the body with cables, hosepipes, and other instruments; being kicked, punched, and slapped; and receiving electric shocks to the earlobes and genitals -- all practices sanctioned by the Hussein regime. Some Iraqis detained and tortured under the Hussein regime have said that they would confess to any charge in order to end the torture.

The "confessions" have also raised skepticism among viewers, according to western media reports, who feel they are being manipulated by the barrage of confessions broadcast on television. For the media, it is also difficult to verify the authenticity of the confessions. As the Reuters report noted, the interrogator's face does not appear on camera, and the men interrogated are shown sitting in office chairs across from a desk in a white-walled room. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RADIO FREE IRAQ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JALAL TALABANI. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) had an exclusive interview with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head and presidential contender Jalal Talabani on 24 February. Talabani discussed Kurdish demands in the new Iraqi government and constitution, and his own aspiration for the presidency of the transitional government.

RFI [Maysoon Abo Al-Hab and Samira Balay, speaking from Prague by telephone]: The first question would regard the composition of the new cabinet. What information can you provide us with? What will be, specifically, the role of the Kurds in setting up the new cabinet?

Talabani: This new Iraqi cabinet will be the first [Iraqi] cabinet established from a freely elected parliament, as a result of parliamentary mechanisms recognized in the world. We wish that consensus be reached between the basic [political] forces in the parliament on nominating such candidates that would deserve their posts -- be it [the post of] prime minister, president of republic, or parliament speaker. Discussions have been going on until now and demands have been raised. However, no serious and specific talks have been held so far and no decision taken.

RFI: We would like to focus on some points of the speech that you gave yesterday to the [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] cadres of [al-Sulaymaniyah governorate known also as] Shahrazur region and the peshmerga of Kurdistan. Among them was for example a sentence saying: "Everybody must know that it is not possible to form and build a new Iraq and to draft a permanent constitution of the country unless the Kurds participate in it and agree with it." And: "No future government will be stable without the participation of the Kurds." What do you mean by the latter sentence?

Talabani: As you know, we believe there are three basic components of the Iraqi people: Sunni Arabs, Shi'ite Arabs, and the people of Kurdistan, with different ethnic groups living in it. We believe that building new Iraq must be based on consensus, a consensus between these three basic components of the Iraqi people. Without consensus between these three components, no Iraqi unity, which would be viable, persistent, and resistant against the problems threatening Iraq, can be established. We do believe that Kurds, Shi'ite Arabs, and Sunni Arabs must agree on the form, or the formation, of new Iraq, on drafting the constitution, and on the distribution of basic [executive] posts. Without such agreements, without this consensus, it would be impossible to have a stable Iraq, a stable and viable government. This was meant by my words that you have referred to.

RFI: Another reference would be to your comment that the Kurdish people have the right to determine the political and geographic borders of their region. Can you elaborate on this issue?

Talabani: Yes. We believe that the Kurdish people, as all other peoples, have the right to self-determination. These people have decided, by the consensus of its parliament, to choose the voluntary unity with its brotherly Arab people in Iraq and to live together -- in a unified and independent pluralistic parliamentary democratic Iraq. Therefore, it is a right of the Kurdish people to demand that the region of Kurdistan, as it is known in terms of geography and history, become the region over which the Kurdish people would exert its federal rule. We believe that these [currently] existing problems can also be solved by consensus and dialogue, in a brotherly political way. There is no problem in Iraq that would be unsolvable, in our opinion.

RFI: How would you define the demands of Kurds with respect to Kirkuk city?

Talabani: At first, I would like to say that we believe in a united and independent Iraq that will be pluralistic, federal, parliamentary, democratic, respecting the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people, and acknowledging Islam as one of the sources of legislation in Iraq. This is the most ideal and most representative slogan for the Iraqi reality. Regarding Kirkuk, we believe that Kirkuk is a city of national brotherhood between Kurds, Turkomans, originally settled Arabs, and Chaldo-Assyrians, [all of whom] have been living there. We believe that Kirkuk can be an Iraqi bunch of roses, with all these ethnic groups living as brothers together in a united federal democratic Iraq. Nevertheless, we believe that Kirkuk [city], in terms of geography, is situated in Kurdistan region. That means that we must respect the rights of all so that the coexistence in Kirkuk is a brotherly one, based also on the principle of consensus between the components of the society in Kirkuk. Remnants of the policy of ethnic cleansing, which was followed by dictator Saddam Hussein, must be rectified. The [original] situation in Kirkuk must be reinstated, from the name to the essence. Instead of Al-Ta'mim [the official name of the governorate meaning "nationalization"], the name Kirkuk has to be returned to the region, and all displaced and expelled persons must be brought back to their original domiciles in a friendly and humanely respectful way. Everyone's right for compensation must be respected, for damages that have happened or would happen.

RFI: The concept of federalism has been brought forward and also confirmed in the interim [Iraqi constitution known as the] Transitional Administrative Law. What will be the main characteristics of Kurdistan region after this federalism comes into force? Especially with respect to [some of] the four priorities that you mentioned in your speech yesterday [23 February]: federalism, [solving] the question of Kirkuk, and the recognition of Kurdistan peshmerga forces as a regular [armed] force of Kurdistan region. What features will this concept [of federalism], in general, assume?

Talabani: As you know, the Transitional Administrative Law has defined federalism as the system [of administration] in Iraq. It has defined the existing Kurdistan Regional Government as the legitimate representative [body] of Kurdistan region, administered by this government until a permanent constitution [of Iraq] is drafted. This means the recognition of the right of the Kurdish people to enjoy a federal government within the Kurdistan region as it has been known in history. That also means that everything related to sovereignty -- such as foreign relations, armed forces, state finances and budget -- will be run by the central state, by the cabinet in Baghdad. Other affairs will be administered on a regional level. In a brief description, federalism means the division of power and resources between different regions.

RFI: You have said in this interview that there are points to be discussed by various Iraqi segments. What are the points of discussion or, in fact, of disagreement?

Talabani: As you know, the situation of the Kurds is special. We have had good relations with all [political] parties and basic components of the Iraqi people. We have good relations with Shi'ite Arabs, with Sunni Arabs, with various [political] parties -- secular and Islamic, leftist and nationalist. That is why we can play a decisive mediating role between these [political] forces in new Iraq. It is an honorary role that the Kurdish movement has adopted as a service to the interests of Iraq and also to the interests of the Kurdish people. We believe that this is an enlightened policy that leads to consolidation and unification, with Iraq being a country of many ethnicities, religions, and ideas. It is natural that there are differing opinions on the composition of [future] cabinet, on the destiny of Iraq. After basic [political] forces in Iraq had reached agreement in the Transitional Administrative Law, there was disagreement around the election because the Sunni Arab brothers were not able to participate in the elections. I am saying that they "were not able" because they were interested in voting but the sensitive conditions in their areas, the existence of terror and terrorist threats there created an atmosphere in which exercising the right to vote was impossible in these areas. This issue also has to be dealt with and a way found out for inviting our Sunni Arab brothers to participate in the Iraqi democratic progress, as they belong to the major parts of the Iraqi society, so that they can exercise over of their rights. And we have repeatedly said: 'As we defended our Shi'ite brothers when they were oppressed and discriminated, so we will defend with the same intensity our Sunni Arab brothers in order to prevent any discrimination [against them] or deprivation of their rights in new Iraq.'

RFI: You were quoted as saying that you were ready to withdraw your demand to become Iraq's president of republic in an exchange to [Kurdish] gains in Kirkuk. Is that correct?

Talabani: This quotation is not exact. I said that the important thing for us in the Kurdish movement, or in the Kurdish Unity List, is not [winning one of the top executive] posts but national and democratic interests of Iraq. We do not demand the posts as much as we demand benefits for our people. And I said that more important than [my] assuming the post of the president is that the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people are fulfilled within a united and independent Iraqi state.

(Translation by Petr Kubalek and Samira Balay.)