- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

The son of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani said yesterday the Kurds and Ibrahim al-Jaafari have agreed on who will be president and prime minister in a new government, but have yet to decide on the status of Kirkuk, a contested northern Iraqi city with significant oil wealth.

Under the deal, the Kurdish chief would assume the presidency while Mr. al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, would lead the government as prime minister.

Qubad Talabani, Washington spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said “intense negotiations” also were under way on the details of Kurdistan’s federal status and distribution of the nation’s oil riches.

Another source familiar with the negotiations said the Kurds had demanded 25 percent of all oil revenues, and were constantly raising the stakes in the ongoing political discussion.

“Nobody can give them what they want right now, nobody can. Only an elected government, a constitutional government can,” said a source inside Mr. al-Jaafari’s Shi’ite electoral slate, suggesting that the various demands can be resolved only after the new Cabinet is formed.

“This is everybody playing games right now,” he said.

Both Kurdish and Shi’ite sources said Kurdish leaders also were holding closed-door meetings with current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to see whether forming an alliance with the secular Shi’ite might win them more concessions.

The Kurds hold a deal-breaking 77 seats in the 275-member national assembly. The Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance holds 140 seats and Mr. Allawi’s party has 44. The rest of the seats are held by a variety of small Sunni, Islamist and secular parties.

The makeup allows for a range of political alliances to form the necessary two-thirds bloc needed to approve the new president and two vice presidents, who in turn will form Iraq’s new Cabinet.

“If the Shi’ites don’t do anything, we will possibly arrange something with Allawi and the [smaller] Sunni parties,” one Kurdish party member said on the condition of anonymity.

“We have to get something from the oil revenue, we have to get Kirkuk back, and we have to have at least part of the Peshmerga army” protecting Kurdistan, a three-province area in northern Iraq, he said.

The Kurdish Peshmerga are fierce fighters who battled Saddam Hussein for decades and form a large part of the new Iraqi army. Iraqi leaders are loath to allow the Kurds their own standing army.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is a multiethnic city that Saddam tried to empty of Kurds, who have since come flooding back, claiming the return of their old homes or some form of compensation.

The party member added that Mr. Allawi, who was in Kurdistan two weeks ago, had promised the Kurds more than Mr. al-Jaafari.

Marathon negotiations on key governmental positions and policies have been taking place behind the scenes in Iraq since the National Assembly was elected on Jan. 30.

“If they don’t give us what we are asking for, then we are not going to be part of the government,” the party member said.

Mr. al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite leader whose candidacy for chief of government has been blessed by the revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, also recently spoke with Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Sources say that as part of the negotiations Mr. Barzani likely will become the Kurdish regional president and that his nephew would be regional prime minister.

Qubad Talabani said the talks — the first between Mr. al-Jaafari and the Kurdish leadership — left many details unresolved.

“The key issues are the role of religion in the state, and the details of federalism: What do we mean by this? Who has power where? Where are the political boundaries? How much does Baghdad interfere in Kurdish affairs?” Mr. Talabani said.

“Kirkuk obviously is critical, we need to rectify the injustices of the past regime,” he said.

“And oil is critical. It is an indicator of how the new government is going to be. Is it going to decentralize the oil policy and distribute the oil wealth, or will it all be centralized? We want decentralization in every sphere,” Mr. Talabani said.

As the politicians wrestled over the formation and direction of Iraq’s first democratically elected government, terrorist car bombs killed six policemen and wounded 15 in new attacks on the country’s security services yesterday.

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