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Iraq: PUK Official Discusses Turkey, Kirkuk

(RFE/RL) February 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Bahruz Galali, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) representative to Ankara, said Iraqi Kurdish leaders are optimistic about the possibility of improving relations with the Turkish government. He also commented on Kirkuk, saying a referendum on the status of Kirkuk would likely be held on schedule, and calling those who say there is ethnic tension in the city 'propagandists.' Galali spoke to told RFE/RL Iraq Analyst Kathleen Ridolfo.

RFE/RL: Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has made overtures toward strengthening relations between the Turkish government and Iraq in recent days. What has been the reaction of the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG)?

Bahruz Galali: I think the relationship between [Kurds] and Turkey will be better in the future. We are working on it, and I think it is in the interests of both [parties] to have a good relationship with each other.

RFE/RL: The United States has appointed a special representative to mediate issues of importance to Turkey and Iraq, specifically dealing with the Turkish-Kurdish opposition group PKK. Has this helped to facilitate better relations between Turkey and Iraq?

Galali: Now the United States and Iraq -- it is in the interests of all to have good relations between the KRG and Turkey and also between Iraq and Turkey. We are thinking now about this, and I hope that developments will be better than before. We think that both [parties] need to have a good relationship with each other. Today there will be an important meeting [of the National Security Council or MGK] in Ankara, and I think maybe [the situation] will become more clear.

RFE/RL: Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit took a strong position against Iraqi Kurdish leaders last week in Washington, accusing Kurdish leaders [Iraqi President Jalal] Talabani and [KRG President Mas'ud] Barzani of supporting the PKK and saying he objected to holding meetings with Iraqi Kurdish officials. He also criticized the Iraqis for what he called lax border security. Is this an area where perhaps the KRG can help smooth relations with Turkey?

Galali: Now we have too many problems in Baghdad, and in Iraq and [we are dealing with] too many terrorist groups in Baghdad, in Kirkuk, in all the regions. Our government now in Baghdad is working very hard to bring security to Iraq. For us as Kurds also, as Iraqis, we are part of Iraq as a federal, regional, government.... We are trying to have security in all of Iraq for our people.

RFE/RL: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week asked [KGR Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi] for a delay in the referendum on Kirkuk, which is slated for December.

Galali: The Iraqi people decided through Article 140 [of the Iraqi Constitution] on Kirkuk. All Iraqis -- Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans. I think we will hold the referendum [on schedule], and we are not thinking about postponing it.

RFE/RL: So you believe that Turkomans and Arabs living in Kirkuk would be open to holding the referendum in December?

Galali: I think [yes] because the majority of Turkomans need this. [Deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein also displaced Turkomans from Kirkuk [as he did with Kurds], and the Turkomans need to be returned to their homes in Kirkuk. We have a constitution, and the constitution says we have a plan, an agenda [regarding Kirkuk]. This is not something on the side of Kurds alone. The Arabs, the Turkomans, the Kurds, the Assyrians, Christians -- everyone supported this [through the constitution].

RFE/RL: Do you think there will be a resolution to the dispute in Kirkuk? Can Kirkuk become peaceful?

Galali: This is propaganda -- those who are saying there will be a war between the ethnic groups in Kirkuk. We don't think that because we have a good relationship with the Turkomans. We have a good relationship with the Arabs, the original Arabs who are living in Kirkuk. The people who are living in Kirkuk are relevant for each other. And we think we can [implement] Article 140 with our brothers -- Turkomans, Arabs, and other communities -- in Kirkuk.

RFE/RL: What is the status of the commission set up to compensate Arabs [moved to Kirkuk under Hussein's Arabization program] who return to their original towns?

Galali: The committee has decided to compensate the Arabs who return to their homes, and [Arabs] are ready now to go back.

Sectarian Iraq

Sectarian Iraq

Click to enlarge the image.

SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.