- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

BAGHDAD — Long-simmering tensions between Kurds and Shi’ites were exposed yesterday by the passage of a U.N. resolution on Iraq’s future, which otherwise was seen as an important step toward peace and self-rule.

“People who feel they don’t have enough power will use this resolution as an excuse to attack the government,” said Sahar al-Azawi, a professor of political science at Baghdad University. “And they have started from today.”

Even before the unanimous Security Council vote was announced on Tuesday, mosque loudspeakers had called out thousands of Shi’ites to march in support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who has pledged to work to remove guarantees of Kurdish autonomy in an interim Iraqi constitution.

“Yes, yes to the Hawza,” they chanted in reference to the Shi’ite seminaries in Najaf, which has turned out such firebrand clerics as militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr and the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who established Iran’s clerical regime.

Kurdish politicians, meanwhile, threatened to pull out of the new interim government to protest the lack of any reference in the U.N. resolution to an interim constitution that guarantees them autonomy.

“If the [Kurdish] leadership calls on us to withdraw from the government, we will do so,” said Public Works Minister Nasreen Berwari, a Kurdish minister in the new Iraqi government

In the northern Kurdish heartland, regional leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani began publicizing a June 1 letter to President Bush, in which they complained that neither the presidency nor prime minister position had gone to a Kurd.

“Iraq is a country of two main nationalities, Arabs and Kurds,” said the letter. “The people of Kurdistan will no longer accept second-class citizenship in Iraq. …

“If the [interim constitution] is not applied or if it is suppressed, the government of Kurdistan will have no other choice than to end its participation in the central government and its institutions, to boycott the elections and bar the entry into Kurdistan of central government members.”

Otherwise, Iraqis hailed the U.N. resolution for guaranteeing them power over their natural resources and the political process. Others said provisions calling for the bolstering of Iraqi security forces would bring calm to the country.

“With the deployment of an autonomous Iraqi army and police in the cities, there will be a sense of more security around the country,” said Lelia Abdul Latif, minister of social affairs.

But Ghassem Salman, an editor of the newspaper Azzaman, said the resolution’s omission of any reference to the interim constitution was “a very sensitive issue, especially with the tensions between Arabs and Kurds.”

Drafters of the resolution had been caught between the Kurds, who had insisted that the text reflect the interim constitution’s guarantees of autonomy, and Ayatollah al-Sistani, who had said he would reject any resolution with such language.

Mr. Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said yesterday, “The future of Iraq as a united country will be threatened [if the interim constitution] is ignored or canceled.”

But Ayatollah al-Sistani had warned the Security Council this week that mentioning the interim charter in the resolution would be “an act against the will of the Iraqi people and will have dangerous results.”

Shi’ites complain that the Kurds got more than their fair share of positions in the new government, including the posts of deputy prime minister, vice president and foreign minister.

“It’s not normal that the Kurds have so many posts in the new government when, on the other hand, they won’t let Iraqi Arabs take responsibilities in the north,” said Hamza al-Kafi, a Baghdad human rights lawyer.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought to reassure the Kurds, saying although the resolution doesn’t refer to the constitution, it “does have language that refers to a united federal democratic Iraq.”

And Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, said he was confident that Ayatollah al-Sistani and the Kurdish leaders would resolve their differences.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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