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Iraq: U.S. Ambassador Strengthens Kurd Cooperation Accord

Prague, 26 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Following are excerpts of an interview by the Iraqi Service with U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones, who visited northern Iraq two weeks ago.

Iraqi Service Director David Newton and Deputy Director Kamran Al-Karadaghi asked Ambassador Jones to describe her visit. She led a U.S. delegation which sought to strengthen a Washington-brokered cooperation accord signed in September between the two largest Iraqi Kurd factions: the Patriotic Union on Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Ambassador Jones, who spoke by phone last week, began by describing her impressions of conditions in northern Iraq:

"It was a very interesting trip.... I found the North very calm, very quiet; I think largely that is a reflection of the Washington Agreement that was reached in September between the PUK and the KDP. But even more importantly, I found that the leaders of the small party groups with whom I met in both parts of Iraq and a lot of the community leaders with whom I met [were] very... concerned about their safety and security in terms of a possible attack by [the forces of Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein, very grateful for the American protection in terms of the no-fly zone and for the assurances that [U.S.] Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright had given to people living in the North against an unprovoked attack by Saddam Hussein. But I also found people very focused on their future, on how to keep their communities going, how to make them more productive, how to get ready for the day, hopefully soon, that Iraq could join the community of nations as a united, integral country in which they could live and work [and have] productive lives."

Ambassador Jones described the next steps the PUK and KDP will take under their cooperation and power-sharing agreement:

"Initially there are several things that are ongoing right now. The first is that the PUK, Mr. [Jalal] Talibani and his team, are doing a very good job in adhering to their assurances to limit and eliminate the activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in their part of northern Iraq. They have already taken a number of steps that even the Turkish [government] side, the Turkish delegation which was with me, pronounced to be acceptable and appropriate and [which the Turkish delegation] said they were very happy about, and they will keep working on that, which is important to end PKK terrorism in that part of Iraq and Turkey. Secondly, we talked a lot with the [PUK and the KDP] about how to [build on] the Washington Agreement, in particular what the details would be of the interim assembly and the interim government that would be put in place in order to move to elections for a regional assembly.... We got close [but] we aren't quite there yet.... We will [soon] be back in touch to try to complete the detailed work we did on who would have how many seats and by what votes bills would be passed in the interim assembly and that kind of detail. The last thing, I would say, is that there seems to be extremely good cooperation through the [the joint PUK-KDP] Higher Coordinating Council on security. And that is ...extremely important not only right now for the people of the region so that they can move back and forth, but to start building confidence that election campaigns can take place in a safe and secure atmosphere...."

Finally, Ambassador Jones described the role of the Kurdish parties among the seven Iraqi opposition groups recently named by Washington as eligible for aid under the Iraq Liberation Act, and whether other groups may be named in the future:

"The Iraq Liberation Act passed by [the U.S.] Congress required the Administration [of President Bill Clinton] to designate parties or groups that ...would be eligible to receive assistance under the Act ...We decided we wanted to designate a small number of groups right at the moment, and particularly groups which have been known for quite a long time to be in opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. [That] explains the three Kurdish parties and it explains [the selection of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq] which is active in the South. There is quite a big step, of course, between designating the seven groups we have designated and actually providing [them with] assistance, because the assistance can only be provided if there is a purpose and a plan and that hasn't quite happened yet. In the meantime, that is why I was working so hard to bring together even more the two Kurdish parties in the North to make an even greater demonstrable evidence of opposition to Saddam Hussein, particularly in the large region of the North."