9 January 2004, Volume 7, Number 1
INSIDE IRAQCOALITION RELEASES SOME DETAINEES. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer announced at a 7 January press conference in Baghdad broadcast on CNN that "hundreds" of Iraqi detainees would be released in the coming weeks as part of the reconciliation process in Iraq. Bremer said the program will not be for those detainees with "bloodstained hands." He added that the detainees will be released on two conditions: That they vow not to take part in violent acts against the coalition or Iraqis; and that community or tribal leaders vow to take responsibility for each detainee released.
Bremer announced that the United States will now offer $10 million for information leading to the capture of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri or information that he is dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). Bremer also announced $1 million rewards on the heads of 12 other members of the 55 most-wanted list of former Hussein regime officials and a $200,000 reward program for the capture of individuals and "notorious criminals" in Iraq not named on the most-wanted list.
According to a 7 January report by nytimes.com, the detainees slated for release were suspected of having actively participated in anticoalition activities, but many were detained during raids where they were in proximity to anticoalition militants. One senior military official characterized the detainees as "low-level detainees, what we call minor violators, who have not been involved in organizing or executing any violence against the coalition or Iraqis." Some 9,000 detainee files were reviewed during the process in which about 1,200 names were recommended to a review board for possible release. According to the website, 506 detainees were then chosen for release in the coming weeks. The first 100 detainees were released on 8 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. WEAPONS TEAM REPORTEDLY WITHDRAWN FROM IRAQ... The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to search for military equipment, nytimes.com reported on 8 January, citing unidentified senior government officials. The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration no longer expects to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March. These government officials said the most important evidence from the weapons hunt might be contained in a vast collection of seized Iraqi documents being stored in a secret military warehouse in Qatar. Only a small fraction of these documents has been translated. (Meagan Hassan)
...AS EVIDENCE MOUNTS THAT IRAQI WEAPONS DESTROYED YEARS AGO. "The Washington Post" on 7 January cited a previously undisclosed document that suggests that Iraq might have destroyed its biological weapons as early as 1991. Interviews given to "The Washington Post" last month by Iraqi weapons engineer Modher Sadiq Saba Tamimi, along with the nine-month record of arms investigators since the fall of Baghdad, mention discoveries of other concealed arms research, most of it less advanced.
According to the nine-month record, investigators found no evidence to support U.S. statements that Iraq had maintained illegal weapons dating from the Persian Gulf War of 1991 or that it had advanced programs to build new ones. The investigators' report also documented a pattern of deceit that was found in every field of special weaponry. It said that, according to Iraqi designers and foreign investigators, program managers exaggerated the results they could achieve, or even promised results they knew they could not accomplish, in an effort to appease former President Saddam Hussein. However, in some cases the managers simply did so to advance their careers, preserve their jobs, or even to conduct intrigues against their rivals, according to the report. (Meagan Hassan)
IRAQI POLICE FIRE ON PROTESTERS IN AL-BASRAH. In Al-Basrah on 6 January, Iraqi police opened fire on former Iraqi Army soldiers who were protesting to demand unpaid wages, Al-Jazeera reported. The protestors reportedly demonstrated outside three banks in the city, saying they had not been paid since September.
AP reported on 7 January that the former soldiers attempted to storm the Central Bank office in Al-Basrah, and then threw stones at police outside the building. The police reportedly tried to hold protestors back using their batons, and then opened fire when the crowd refused to disperse. There were no reported injuries in the incident. The CPA promised monthly stipends of between $50 and $150 per month to former Iraqi Army personnel dismissed in May when the army was dissolved. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ARMY DAY TO REMAIN OFFICIAL IRAQI HOLIDAY. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi said on 5 January that the country would continue to mark 6 January as Army Day, an official holiday, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 5 January. The Iraqi Army was founded on 6 January 1921 and became the world's fourth-largest army under deposed President Hussein.
After an intense debate by the Governing Council on 5 January, Pachachi said Iraqis should continue to show pride in their army by marking the day. "If the toppled regime turned the armed forces into a means for waging wars and practicing suppression, this is not the fault of the Iraqi Army, but a tragedy that befell it," he said. The Governing Council also voted 11-7 to issue a public statement condemning the abuses of the former army and calling on the New Iraqi Army to have no role other than that of defending Iraq, AP reported on 6 January. Meanwhile, washtimes.com reported on 6 January that the United States would soon announce a name change -- striking the word "new" from the New Iraqi Army. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a 6 January press briefing at the Pentagon (http://www.dod.gov) that some 160,000 Iraqis are working in the Iraqi security forces. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EMERGENCY TALKS ARE HELD IN NORTH FOLLOWING VIOLENT DEMONSTRATIONS... Seven people were killed and dozens more wounded when violence broke out between Kurds and protesting Arabs and Turkomans in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 31 December, AFP reported, quoting Kirkuk police chief Turhan Yussef. The clashes erupted when about 2,000 Turkomans and Sunni Arabs were demonstrating against a drive by the city's Kurdish majority to integrate the northern oil center into a future autonomous Kurdish province.
Police said Kurdish peshmerga fighters opened fire on the demonstrators, who appeared to have come from towns around Kirkuk to join the rally near a police academy on the southern edge of the city. Four people were killed during the demonstration, Yussef said. AFP also reported on 1 January that the bodies of two Kurds were found stabbed to death in Kirkuk, and an Arab was killed in clashes with police in separate incidents.
Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman leaders in Kirkuk held emergency talks on 1 January with representatives of the Iraqi Governing Council to find ways to quell the latest wave of violence in the area, a senior Kurdish official told AFP. U.S. troops have been maintaining a heavy presence in the city since the beginning of the demonstrations on 31 December, particularly on all roads leading to the Kirkuk offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). (Meagan Hassan)
...AND U.S. FORCES RAID KURDISH OFFICES. U.S. military officials reported on 4 January that soldiers in the northern city of Kirkuk raided the offices the previous day of two Kurdish political parties that play an important role in supporting U.S. transition efforts, washingtonpost.com reported.
U.S. Sergeant Robert Cargie said U.S. troops raided the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK after receiving intelligence that those groups were violating restrictions on the possession of weapons. Cargie said soldiers found assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and rockets in the KDP offices, where they arrested an unidentified senior party member. Assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were found also in the nearby PUK headquarters, he added. (Meagan Hassan)
TURKOMAN LEADER COMMENTS ON TENSION WITH KURDS. Faruq Abdallah Abd al-Rahman, head of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, told London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper in an interview published on 5 January that tension between Turkomans and Kurds in northern Iraq is the result of "racist groups among the Kurds."
"Our problems are not with the Kurds because we have lived with them for a long time. We have ties of brotherhood, marriage, and cooperation with them, but there are racist groups among the Kurds. These groups are trying to create confusion and instability in the region," Abd al-Rahman said. "Those elements have seized some villages by force and imposed a policy of fait accompli. They have also brought large families from the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq to live in Turkoman areas, especially Kirkuk. All these things make us afraid of the future. They also make us suspect that these operations are premeditated."
The Turkoman leader said that his group is pursuing the issue through political means "because we do not have armed militias." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION PRAISES ROLE OF WOMEN'S GROUPS IN IRAQ. The U.S. State Department's Washington File (http://usinfo.state.gov) has highlighted a recent all-female congressional delegation to Iraq led by Ohio Congresswoman Deborah Pryce. The delegation met with Iraqi women working to empower their role in Iraqi society.
Among the groups that the delegation met with was the Women's Social and Cultural Society of Mosul, which was established in May and works with local women who were abused and disempowered by the former Hussein regime, according to the Washington File. The society provides vocational training and social support to the women of Mosul, including literacy classes, English-language courses, and computer-skills training. It also offers funding and technical support to women involved in micro-enterprise projects.
"The speed in which the organization has grown is evidence of just how serious the Iraqi women are about gaining respect, equality, and independence for all people within their own country," Pryce said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PEPSI REACHES FRANCHISE AGREEMENT. PepsiCo Inc., which bottles Pepsi Cola, has reportedly reached a franchise agreement with one of its former Iraqi bottlers, Baghdad Soft Drinks Co., to bottle the beverage in Iraq, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 7 January. Pepsi pulled out of Iraq in 1990 due to UN economic sanctions. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. REORGANIZING MILITARY COMMAND IN IRAQ. U.S. military officials are reportedly in the midst of reorganizing the structure of the U.S. military command in Iraq, washtimes.com reported on 6 January. The reorganization will likely include the appointment of a four-star general to oversee the Pentagon's role in Iraq's transition to self-rule, according to the website. Two senior military officials said that officer would head the day-to-day running of Iraq and help integrate the emerging 220,000-person Iraqi security force with the new Iraqi government slated to take power on 1 July. The appointment will also allow for the three-star general or corps commander to focus on fighting anticoalition militants in Iraq.
Military sources said the appointment would signify a realization that a strategic commander is needed to handle the next phase in Iraq. Under the current command structure, three-star Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez heads tactical military operations in Iraq. He reports to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid, who is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and East Africa.
Asked about the possible change, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon on 6 January, "We've got...but a couple handfuls of interagency committees that are thinking through the governance pieces and how that works and the essential service piece. One of the pieces is the security situation. And it may very well be that we will want to make an adjustment and have some division of responsibility, as between [U.S. Central Command] CENTCOM, the relationship with the embassy, military -- office of military cooperation type task, as well as somebody that has the responsibility for the tactical, low-intensity warfighting that's taking place. It's not been decided." When asked if he expected a change soon, Rumsfeld replied, "We'll have it in good time." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI LEADERS EXPRESS DIFFERING VIEWS ON SYRIA. Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, said on 30 December that Syrian officials are involved in a scheme to transfer weapons to pro-Saddam Iraqi militants through front companies, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on the same day. Qanbar called on Syria to investigate the allegations against the Syrian firms. Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari denied in a 27 December interview with Al-Jazeera U.S. reports that Syria is allowing Arab fighters to cross its border with Iraq in order to carry out attacks against Iraqi and coalition targets.
Iraqi Governing Council President for December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim was in Damascus on 21 December for meetings with senior Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Asad. Al-Hakim told reporters that the "constructive" discussions focused on strengthening economic and security relations, SANA news agency reported on 21 December. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSSYRIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO TURKEY FOCUSES ON IRAQI KURDS. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's historic visit this week to Turkey -- the first by a Syrian president in 57 years -- focused on the issue of Kurdish aspirations in northern Iraq. Both countries fear that Kurdish moves toward autonomy in Iraq might spark similar aspirations by Kurds in Syria and Turkey.
International media covering the visit reported that leaders from the two states were seeking to form a unified stance on possible Iraqi Kurdish autonomy. Any agreement reached on the Kurdish issue shows how far relations between the two neighboring states have come. In 1998, Turkey and Syria narrowly averted war when Syria agreed to expel the Turkish-Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and its head Abdullah Ocalan from its base in Syria.
Speaking to reporters on 6 January, al-Asad and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer expressed disapproval with comments by U.S. officials that Washington would not step in to prevent Kurdish moves towards autonomy, but would rather leave the issue to Iraqis to resolve, turkishdailynews.com reported. "The territorial integrity of Iraq, the freedom and the unity of Iraqis has to be preserved," al-Asad said. "We both condemn any approach that can damage this aim." Sezer made similar statements to reporters, adding, "Turkey and Syria, as neighboring countries of Iraq, reaffirm our determination to consider those goals in an active way."
Istanbul's "Hurriyet" reported on 7 January that al-Asad sent a diplomatic message to the Kurds saying that the two states "condemn approaches which will endanger the territorial integrity of Iraq." Meanwhile, al-Asad told CNN Turk: "Any action that would lead to the disintegration of Iraq would not just affect Iraq and Turkey as many people think. Such an action would also affect the neighboring countries and even those beyond." He added: "If there is no territorial integrity in Iraq, we cannot talk about stability in Iraq or in our countries.... We are not only against a Kurdish state, but any state that would break the integrity of Iraq."
Syria and Turkey are not the only nations concerned with Kurdish autonomy. "The Jerusalem Post" reported this week that there is a growing Turkish-Syrian-Iranian dialogue on the Iraqi Kurdish-autonomy issue, which is likely to be on the agenda of Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's upcoming visit to Iran this weekend.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Washington on 6 January that while the United States supports the Iraqi Kurds in their determination to preserve their historic identity, it is up to Iraqis themselves to work out the structure of a unified Iraq, AP reported.
"Clearly, the Kurds wish in some way to preserve their historic identity and to link it in some way to geography," Powell said. "But I think it is absolutely clear that [Iraqi Kurdistan] must remain part of Iraq." Nytimes.com reported on 5 January that the United States agreed with Iraq's interim leadership that the Kurds would be granted a semiautonomous administration in northern Iraq. Powell told reporters that perhaps some media "overstated what our position is" on the Kurdish issue, AP reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAIT IDENTIFIES THE BODIES OF EIGHT NATIONALS FOUND IN MASS GRAVES. Kuwaiti forensic experts have identified the bodies of eight Kuwaiti nationals found in mass graves in Iraq, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on 3 January. The eight men had been listed as prisoners of war since late 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Three of the men worked for the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry, one for the National Petroleum Company, one for the Public Works Ministry, two were officers in the Kuwaiti National Guard, and one was an officer with the Defense Ministry. To date, some 60 Kuwaiti nationals have been identified from mass graves in Iraq, KUNA reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
600 JORDANIAN LAWYERS READY TO DEFEND HUSSEIN. More than 600 Jordanian lawyers have registered with the Jordanian Bar Association (JBA) to join a team willing to defend former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is expected to face trial for crimes against the Iraqi people during his 24 years of rule, "Jordan Times" reported on 28 December.
The legal team is reportedly a joint effort between the JBA and the Egyptian-based Arab Lawyers Union. "Our intention is to form a higher committee for the defense of [Hussein]. One which will include legal experts from all over the world," JBA President Husayn Mjalli told the daily. Mjalli said that Hussein should not be tried because he was "unlawfully deposed and captured by U.S. troops." He also contended that Hussein is the legitimate president of Iraq, and that the U.S.-led occupation of the country is illegal. "In keeping with the Iraqi Constitution and international law, a head of state is immune from prosecution," Mjalli told the "Jordan Times."
The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council established a war crimes tribunal to try Hussein and former members of his regime on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 December 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
JORDAN, IRAQ ESTABLISH LIAISON OFFICE FOR ELECTRICITY COOPERATION. Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Azmi Khreisat and Iraqi Energy Minister Ayham al-Samarra'i inaugurated a liaison office for electricity cooperation between the two neighboring states in Amman on 3 January, "Jordan Times" reported the following day. The office, located in the Jordanian National Electric Power Company office, is directly linked to the Iraqi Electricity Ministry and will be responsible for all tender announcements on relevant Iraqi infrastructure projects. As part of the cooperation agreement, Jordanian agencies will use the facility to provide technical training and financial and administrative assistance to Iraq.
Jordan belongs to an electric interconnectivity project with Egypt that is expected to be extended to Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey in the future. Khreisat told reporters on 3 January that western Iraq would soon begin receiving electricity from Egypt through the Jordanian grid, in addition to Jordanian transfers of electricity. The United States has pledged some $8.6 billion to reconstruct the Iraqi electricity sector in the coming months. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQANNAN TELLS REPORTERS MEETING WITH GOVERNING COUNCIL, CPA SCHEDULED. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on 6 January that he will meet with representatives of the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on 19 January to discuss the future role of the UN in Iraq, according to his comments posted on the UN website (http://www.un.org/news).
Annan said that Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi will participate in the meeting, along with last month's council president, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, and next month's president, Mas'ud Barzani. The United States has not said which officials would participate in the meeting, but Annan told reporters that he expects senior Washington and CPA officials, and possibly the senior U.K. representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, to participate.
Regarding the specifics of the talks, Annan told reporters: "I would want to see the UN role clarified during the transitional period. I am not so much worried about the UN's role in phase two, phase two being post-provincial government." Asked whether the UN would be returning to Iraq in the near future, Annan said, "No, the question of security is still very much an issue, and the [Security] Council itself recognized it in its own resolutions, and so it would be a factor in our decisions." He added that the UN staff will remain in Cyprus and Amman and "where possible we will continue to do cross border activities" in Iraq. Annan withdrew UN staff from Iraq on 30 October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 November 2003).
Meanwhile in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at a 6 January briefing, "We remain willing to play a supportive role in efforts aimed at fostering dialogue between the UN and Iraqi officials at achieving greater UN participation on the ground in Iraq as soon as possible." Boucher added that the United States has not yet determined which officials would attend the 19 January meeting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN TRANSFERS $2.6 BILLION IN OIL REVENUES TO DEVELOPMENT FUND FOR IRAQ. The United Nations transferred $2.6 billion in Iraqi oil revenues generated from the now-defunct oil-for-food program to the U.S.-managed Development Fund for Iraq on 31 December, the UN News Center reported on the same day. The oil-for-food program was phased out in late November (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 November 2003).
The transfer came after outstanding contracts from the program were completed and letters of credit issued, the UN reported. "Once all UN agencies and programs that participated in the oil-for-food program have reported their 2003 expenditures, the UN will officially close its books on the scheme for 2003 and present its financial statement to the UN Board of Auditors. At that time a further transfer of funds will be made to the Development Fund for Iraq," the UN noted. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQBRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY EXPECTS TROOPS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ FOR YEARS. Jack Straw told BBC Radio on 5 January that he expects coalition troops to remain in Iraq for at least two more years, bbc.co.uk reported on the same day. Straw said that he could "not give an exact timetable" of when troops would leave Iraq. "I can't say whether it's going to be 2006 or 2007," he said. "It is not going to be months for sure."
Straw insisted that a withdrawal would be contingent upon the security situation in Iraq. "If we were to suddenly pull out, there would unquestionably be a security vacuum that would not only put lives at risk and cause a loss of life, but would also be a setback for the political process." Straw likened the role of coalition forces in Iraq to that of the forces in Afghanistan, whose presence he said helped establish a degree of stability "which has enabled the political process to take place" there. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
24 VOLUNTEER POLICEMEN LEAVE U.K. FOR AL-BASRAH. Twenty-four volunteer policemen from Wales and England have joined Royal Military Police at the Regional Police Training Academy in Al-Basrah to train in-service Iraqi police officers according to a 31 December press release by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (http://www.fco.gov.uk).
The volunteers are part of a pool of some 200 police officers from England and Wales that was created to assist in reforming the Iraqi police service, with a capacity to deploy up to 100 police officers at any one time. Another 75 officers from England, Wales, and Scotland have been committed to train Iraqi police recruits in Jordan. About half of those officers have already been deployed, with the rest expected to depart the U.K. early this year. The CPA in Iraq has committed to retraining some 450,000 existing Iraqi police, and about 35,000 new recruits this year. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
NATO CHIEF SAYS IRAQ MUST WAIT. Former Dutch Foreign Minister and new NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters on 5 January that the alliance must keep Afghanistan in the forefront of its focus, before considering any involvement in Iraq, Britain's "The Guardian" reported on 6 January.
"The primary focus at the moment should be on Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said, adding, "Iraq, of course, will also be on the agenda at a certain stage, but let's take the events step by step." The United States and Britain have actively encouraged NATO to seek a greater role in providing security to Iraq, but alliance members France and Germany, which openly opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq, may not support such a move by NATO. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MULLAH KREKAR ARRESTED IN NORWAY, CHARGES DISMISSED. Mullah Krekar, the former leader of the militant group Ansar Al-Islam was arrested in Norway on 2 January on charges that he was using the Internet to incite violence, international media reported. Krekar purportedly urged Muslims through coded messages to wage jihad against unspecified Western targets.
A Norwegian court dismissed the charges on 5 January, saying in its legal ruling, "There are no reasonable grounds for the suspicions." The court did uphold a request by the prosecution however, that Krekar remain in custody until police present further evidence of the charges this week. Krekar's lawyer meanwhile denied the allegations saying that any statements made by Krekar were purely theological political analysis about jihad. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REPORT SUGGESTS U.S. USE OF UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS FOR PROBE. A new paper, released on 8 January by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests that the United States should bring UN weapons inspectors into the probe of Iraq's weapons programs to completely understand how effective the United Nations was in using inspections, sanctions, and monitoring to constrain former President Hussein, washingtonpost.com reported.
The paper also criticizes the U.S. administration's public assessments of the danger posed by Iraq in the months leading to the war, describing as "questionable" and "unexamined" the threat cited by administration officials that Iraq or another rogue state would turn over chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to terrorists. More likely, the Carnegie report said, is the possibility that terrorists could get such weapons from "poorly guarded stockpiles in Russia and other former Soviet states" or countries such as Pakistan and North Korea, where "instability, corruption, or a desperate need for cash could allow terrorist groups to gain access to nuclear weapons or materials."
The solution Carnegie proposes is to make security of nuclear weapons and materials "a much higher priority" for U.S. national security policy. Much of the Carnegie report examines prewar intelligence reports and statements by administration officials about Iraq under Hussein. (Meagan Hassan)
END NOTEKURDS PRESS FOR AUTONOMY IN NEW IRAQ
By Kathleen Ridolfo
Kurdish demands for expanded self-rule in northern Iraq have dominated discussions over the structure of a federal Iraq among Governing Council members and U.S. officials in recent weeks. As the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) made moves to further unify their 12-year rule over Iraqi Kurdistan, their leaders, Governing Council members Jalal Talabani (PUK) and Mas'ud Barzani (KDP), submitted a plan along with the three other Kurdish members of the Governing Council for greater autonomy to be outlined in the transitional administration law -- a precursor to the Iraqi constitution -- that is slated to be approved on 28 February.
Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurdish groups have successfully practiced self-rule through their two Kurdistan regional governments headquartered in Al-Sulaymaniyah and Irbil. As early as 1992, the two groups agreed to seek a federal union with the central government in Baghdad. The joint Kurdish parliament again endorsed a plan for a federation in 2002. Moreover, Kurdish proponents of autonomy say that the 15 November agreement between the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi Governing Council ensures certain guarantees for the Kurds under their regional government, since it would be difficult to change the status quo through legal means before the 28 February deadline.
The new autonomy plan, submitted to the Governing Council, calls for the central government to maintain responsibility for foreign affairs, defense, currency and budget, and fiscal policy. Independent Kurdish Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman told London's "Al-Hayat" on 6 January that the central government would also control natural resources, including minerals and oil, "provided the federal region should get a reasonable share of the revenues."
Uthman said that the Kurds have also called for three institutions to be established by the central government: a nationally elected parliament, a council for ethnic groups or regions, "which should be equal in representation and which provides some guarantees for the minority," and a supreme court that would mediate any disputes between the center and the federal region. "Our attitude is unionist, and not separatist," Uthman insisted. "But we want guarantees for our existence and future and for our rights and duties in Iraq. Federation provides a kind of guarantee for the Kurds."
The Iraqi daily "Baghdad" reported on 5 January that the Kurdish plan stipulates that Kurdistan consist of three governorates: Irbil, Dahuk, Al-Sulaymaniyah, and the highly contested city of Kirkuk. It would also include some Kurdish towns in the Diyala and Mosul governorates. According to a 5 January report in "The New York Times" citing unnamed Iraqi and U.S. officials, the plan would give the Kurds control over their own security, taxation, and oil revenues � in Kirkuk and Khanakin.
Uthman also insisted that the federation would be established on a geographic basis. "We want federal rule in the area of northern Iraq, and not only in the area that has Kurds. Because this region includes a Kurdish majority, and also includes Turkomans, Assyrians, and Arabs, federation -- whether we like it or not -- will be on a nationalistic basis as well."
Mas'ud Barzani laid his case out in a 21 December article published in the KDP newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi." Highlighting decades of repression by successive Iraqi regimes, Barzani argued that in the past 12 years, "the Kurds have been successful in running their affairs, establish[ing] several civil society institutions like the [regional] parliament and the [regional] government." "The Kurds today consider these achievements their possession.... After 12 years of self-rule, without the control of the Baghdad government, the Kurds will not accept less than their existing situation." Barzani seemed to indicate that a federal structure would go far towards ensuring reconciliation between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq, while stipulating the importance for Kurds that a unified Iraq be seen as a voluntary coexistence. "Respecting this [plan] and accepting the idea of voluntary union between the Kurdish and Arab peoples in a united Iraq are not only a settlement for the Kurdish issue, but for the Iraqi issue as well," he said. "The future of Iraq necessitates the participation of Kurds and Arabs in it in the form of a voluntary coexistence between them, which would take into consideration the particular nature of the people of Kurdistan."
Iraqi Governing Council member and President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi, meanwhile, told Iraqi Television on 3 January that most council members support some kind of special status for the Kurds. "The shape of the relationship between the Kurdish province and the central government in Iraq will be decided by a constitution, which will be written by a congress whose members will be elected in free general elections." While the Governing Council "accepted a federal system in principle," Pachachi said, "The form of the federal system must be decided according to the constitution. I cannot say right now what type of system we will have here in Iraq because the governing council is not an elected body, even though it represents a large number of the Iraqi people. The constitution must be drawn up by an elected council."
Pachachi reminded the viewers that the special status of the Kurds "was recognized by all regimes and governments that ruled Iraq since the Iraqi state was founded more than 80 years ago," even though those governments many times oppressed the Kurds. He is overseeing a 10-member subcommittee of Governing Council members that is working to define its own version of Kurdish self-rule.
Faysal Istrabadi, a senior legal adviser to Pachachi told "The New York Times": "There is substantial agreement that the status quo in the Kurdish region would be maintained during the transitional period, with an important caveat. No one is conceding any ethnic or confessional grounds as the basis for any future federal state." Istrabadi added that most Iraqis would oppose any kind of division in Iraq along ethnic grounds, pointing out that the largest Kurdish city in Iraq is Baghdad. "It isn't like you could draw a line in Iraq and say the Kurds live here or the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, or the Turkomans or the Shi'ites or the Sunnis live there."
Meanwhile, there is talk of an Arab plan for a federal system in Iraq, which reportedly has Kurds up in arms, claiming such a plan would undermine their rights. The Arab plan, which has not been formally presented to the Governing Council, calls for a federation of governorates. "The principle of federation has never been a new thing. It is the principle of granting authorities from the center to the surrounding areas, so to speak, or to the governorates. But, the details of whether this federation will be on a national, geographical, or administrative basis, are not settled yet," council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, a Shi'a, told Al-Jazeera on 5 January.
Officials in Washington appear to have changed positions on the issue of Kurdish autonomy in recent days. Western media earlier reported that the Bush administration had resigned itself to the belief that Kurdish autonomy in some form would be inevitable, but officials told nytimes.com on 8 January that CPA head L. Paul Bremer has now come down hard on the Kurds. "Bremer really lowered the boom on them," an unnamed official told the website. "He told them they're going to have to be flexible, and to recognize the existence of a federal state of Iraq and to disband their militias." Bremer has reportedly held a number of meetings in recent days with both Barzani and Talabani. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that Bremer, like Pachachi, has asked the two Kurdish leaders to be "patient" in their call for Iraqi federalism.
Asked about Kurdish aspirations, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters on 5 January: "I would say on the subject of the Kurds, that we have always supported and will continue to support Iraq's political unity and territorial integrity. The Kurds are members of the Governing Council, and have themselves expressed a commitment to a unified Iraq. The structure of a future Iraqi state, including federalist elements, is a constitutional issue for the Iraqis to decide." Asked specifically if the United States would support political autonomy for the Kurds, Ereli replied, "Without getting into hypotheticals, I think what we're committed to is Iraq's political unity and territorial integrity."