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Iraq: Kurds Pushing For Federalism

Prague, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Sami Shoresh is a correspondent with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. He has been traveling in Iraq for more than a month, spending most of that time in the Kurdish-controlled north of the country.

Question: How do Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Mas'ud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) see the place of Kurdistan in Iraq?

Shoresh: For years the Kurds have [had] the idea of federalism for Iraq. They [have] insisted on this plan and in 1994 [the Kurdish] parliament agreed on the plan [for a federal Iraq]. They also tried to [convert] other factions in the Iraqi opposition [to this idea] of federalism. But, at the same time, the Kurds insist that federalism cannot exist in Iraq if there is not a democratic [state]. They know that the main condition [to implement this] is that democracy exists in the whole of Iraq. Kurdish political parties, especially the KDP and the PUK, have been very active in the Iraqi opposition in trying to find a way to establish democracy in Iraq because they regard democracy as an essential first step toward federalism.

Question: Could the 1970 accord that granted the Kurds limited autonomy within Iraq possibly serve as a basis for future negotiations?

Shoresh: No, I think the Kurds have no plans to go back to what [was reached] in 1970 because they think the world, the region, Iraq [in general] and the Kurdish situation [in particular] have changed over the past 30 to 35 years. With this new order, they think [they should] push for federalism within Iraq, not just for the limited autonomy the Iraqi government offered them in 1970. The Kurds want new negotiations with the central government and with all Iraqi parties. They want a new basis [to defend] their rights and [to establish] democracy in Iraq.

Question: Are they considering setting up their own armed forces?

Shoresh: The Kurds have said quite openly that they do not want to see Iraqi security forces return to Kurdistan. The Kurds have had a long history [of conflict] with Iraqi security forces and they do not want these forces to return and control Kurdish cities and areas. But I don't think they want to have their own [armed] forces. They want a single army in a united Iraq, but I know that, traditionally, the Kurds have demanded that army units garrisoned in Kurdistan be made [up] of Kurds. What it means is that Kurdish citizens would have the right and the duty to serve in the Iraqi Army but should serve in their native region, not outside Kurdistan. They also want that Kurdish security forces be created to control their region. They want their own security forces but at the same time they want a united army for Iraq with [units] meant for Iraqi Kurdistan made of Kurds.

Question: How do the KDP and the PUK feel about the interim administration the United States wants to set up to administer Iraq until a new government is formed?

Shoresh: The Kurds believe U.S. forces [should] not stay in Iraq for a very long time. But at the same time they believe these forces should stay in Iraq until the Iraqis will be able to establish their own government and until stability is restored in the country. Then, they say, the Americans will be no longer needed. But at the same time they have no problems with the [future] U.S. administration. [Retired U.S.] General [Jay] Garner has spent two days [this week] in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah to meet with Kurdish leaders. As far as I know [both sides] came to a very good and common understanding of the situation in Iraq and Kurdistan.

Question: Did Garner discuss with Kurdish leaders ways to allow Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians, who had been displaced under Saddam's forced Arabization policy, return to their lands without confronting Arab settlers?

Shoresh: During his visit to Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, Garner discussed this issue with Kurdish leaders because this is one of the biggest problems Iraq [faces] in the near future. A very large number of persons were driven from their [native] villages, towns or cities in and around Kirkuk, Mosul, Khanaqin, and in other areas. This issue needs to be settled with the help of law. New laws should be adopted to solve this problem peacefully. If this issue is not solved quickly and with the help of law, it will in the future be a source of many conflicts and problems for Iraq.