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Iraq: Kurdish Factions To Speed Efforts To Reunite Territories

Prague, 23 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Northern Iraq's two major Kurdish factions agreed this week to work harder to bridge differences delaying the implementation of an accord they signed last year to reunite their territories.

Representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) ended a week-long series of meeting in Washington, D.C., yesterday. During the meetings, they also agreed to lower tensions created by the presence of fighters of the Turkish-Kurd Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and to end media attacks against one another.

The two factions -- which have often fought for control of northern Iraq -- met as part of an ongoing U.S.- and British-sponsored effort to press them to continue implementing the Washington Accord they both signed in September. That accord commits them to begin revenue-sharing, to unite their administrations and to hold elections to reconstitute a parliament.

Representatives for the two sides said one of the main aims of the Washington meeting was to defuse tensions which have grown in northern Iraq since Turkey's success last year in evicting the PKK from its rear bases in Syria. That success was quickly followed by Ankara's capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, now on trial near Istanbul.

The setbacks for the PKK have caused its fighters to progressively move their base of operations into northern Iraqi areas controlled by the PUK, which has long been sympathetic to their movement. The KDP -- which has allied with Turkey in trying to keep the PKK out of northern Iraq -- has repeatedly accused the Turkish-Kurds of trying to seize KDP-controlled areas. The PKK and PUK deny the claims.

The spokesman for the KDP delegation to the Washington talks, Hoshiar Zibari, said in an interview this week with the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hayatt daily that his party and the PUK agreed in their meetings to take measures to prevent the launching of any PKK attacks from PUK-controlled areas. A delegate for the PUK, Barham Salih, told Al-Hayatt that they also agreed on joint mechanisms for investigating and verifying any KDP claims of PKK attacks.

The two sides also agreed to end a media war between them, which has seen the KDP accuse the PUK of rebroadcasting programs from the PKK-affiliated satellite station Med-TV, based in London. The re-broadcasts within northern Iraq have angered both the KDP and Turkey.

Radio Free Iraq's correspondent in the KDP stronghold of Arbil in northern Iraq, Ahmed Said, reported earlier this week that the two factions agreed in a meeting of a joint media committee to halt media campaigns against each other. He reported that one day after the meeting in the northern city of Kou Senjaq, the KDP media was observing the new guidelines. Ahmed Said:

"All KDP media this morning was completely free of propaganda attacks on the PUK as a result of yesterday's agreement of the joint media committee, which met in Kou Senjaq. This agreement coincides with the continuing talks in Washington."

The other major goal of the Washington meeting was to speed progress in northern Iraq on implementing the Washington Accord, now almost 10 months old. The accord laid out steps for the KDP and PUK to re-unite the areas they control and set a timetable, which originally called for the two sides to begin revenue-sharing in October and to hold parliamentary elections by next month.

KDP representative Zibari told Al-Hayatt that the two sides agreed during the Washington meeting to exchange representative offices in the KDP's stronghold of Arbil and the PUK's stronghold of Sulaymaniyah. He called the openings a first step toward normalization and a confidence-building measure. He also said both sides agreed to start the voluntary return of people who were displaced by factional fighting to their original homes and to offer them compensation payments.

But Zibari said the two sides have yet to reach agreement on one of the most contentious issues between them -- how to share revenues. The PUK demands that the KDP -- which controls Iraq's Turkish border -- fully share revenue it gains from levies on trucks smuggling oil out of Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions. Yet since September, the KDP has made only one revenue-sharing payment to the PUK, which controls the much less lucrative Iraqi-Iranian border.

The KDP says its ability to share revenue is now decreasing because cross-border traffic with Turkey has declined dramatically in recent months from some 2,000 trucks a day last fall to 250 tankers today. It also says the revenue it earns by imposing a levy of 150 dollars each way on the trucks has so diminished that last month it was not able to pay its own regional government employees' salaries.

Radio Free Iraq's correspondents in northern Iraq have confirmed the drop in truck traffic, which has come as Baghdad has begun to redirect its oil smuggling operations from Turkey to Syria. The rerouting is seen as part of a rapprochement between Baghdad and its once arch-rival Damascus, which agreed last year that it will reopen a pipeline through Syria to the Mediterranean as Iraq's oil export ceiling has increased under the U.N.-approved oil-for-food program.

But the PUK has said any drop in truck traffic still does not exempt the KDP from making revenue-sharing payments. It charges that the KDP still has sizeable monies made in past years, which it can draw on to balance the two sides' revenue.

Much of the Washington meeting also focused on power-sharing issues, which so far have bedeviled efforts to form a joint transition administration to prepare for parliamentary elections. The PUK has interpreted the Washington Accord as saying it should have a 50-50 power-sharing arrangement with the KDP. But the KDP has said any power-sharing should be based on the results of the most recent parliamentary elections, which gave the KDP a 51 to 49 percent majority before the legislature was disbanded in 1992 amid fears of renewed factional fighting.

Zibari said the KDP now hopes the U.S. will provide its own interpretation of the power-sharing agreement to help break the deadlock.

Meanwhile, our correspondents in northern Iraq say there are currently no preparations for the regional elections originally envisioned for this summer and that no date for them has been discussed publicly.

Now that the two sides have vowed to accelerate their implementation of the Washington Accord, it remains to be seen how far their goodwill can go toward resolving remaining differences despite their long history of rivalry.

The two Iraqi Kurd factions originally signed a power-sharing agreement immediately after Baghdad lost control of northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, but it broke down amid disputes over revenue sharing. In 1994, the KDP invited Baghdad's forces into northern Iraq to help it drive the Iran-backed PUK from northern Iraq for a month. The KDP and PUK finally signed a ceasefire in 1997. That ceasefire has largely held, though both sides still guard their territory with military checkpoints.