Wednesday, May 26, 2004

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq — Senior Kurdish officials have expressed dismay at a proposed U.S.-British U.N. resolution on Iraq, saying it ignores Kurdish rights and guarantees of federal self-rule that were included in the interim constitution hammered out last March.

“This is a negative sign,” Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government in Irbil, said in an interview yesterday. “It is very disappointing for the Kurdish people not to have the [interim constitution] and federalism mentioned in the resolution.”

Mr. Barzani is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main factions ruling the Kurdish north and a key ally of the U.S.-led coalition.

Kurds, who make up 20 percent of the Iraqi population, were strong supporters of the U.S.-led campaign to remove Saddam Hussein. But they are reluctant to relinquish the gains they made under 13 years of self-rule that began at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Despite winning recognition of the federal status of their region in the constitution, growing numbers of Kurds are now wondering whether it was wise of their leaders, Massoud Barzani and his rival, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to commit to a post-Saddam Iraq.

Kurdish leaders say U.S. and British officials appear to have bowed to pressure from the influential Shi’ite leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who objected to any reference to the interim constitution, which he opposed, appearing in the U.N. resolution.

Coalition sources said U.S. and British officials needed to move ahead with the political process and took a pragmatic decision to bypass the interim constitution.

The Kurds’ concerns highlight the difficulty faced by the coalition and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in trying to forge agreement among Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious factions on the composition of the interim government and over the future political shape of the country.

According to a plan being finalized by Mr. Brahimi, the transitional Iraqi government that will take charge on July 1 will have a president, a prime minister and two vice presidents.

The Kurdish leaders have demanded that at least one of the top posts should go to a Kurd. Mr. Talabani had been lobbying hard for the prime minister’s post, which it now appears will almost certainly go to a member of the majority Shi’ite community.

“Not offering the prime ministership or the presidency to the Kurds proves that we are still dealt with as second-class citizens,” Mr. Barzani said.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish politician who sits on the Iraqi Governing Council, criticized the lack of consultation with Iraqis on the wording of the resolution.

“As usual, it was done behind closed doors, and behind Iraqi backs,” he said.

Mr. Othman said an Iraqi delegation was heading to New York to lobby the U.N. Security Council on Kurdish concerns and other issues such as debt relief and control over security matters after the turnover.

Many Kurds now openly question how long they can be expected to remain part of the country if the chaos and instability threatens to engulf their own, largely successful region.

“For now we must not cause trouble, but if the mullahs or the nationalists come to power, it will lead Iraq to catastrophe and we will have every right to be independent,” said Anwar Majid, a medical student in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah.

Mr. Majid said he was one of 1.7 million Kurds who signed a recent petition calling for a regionwide referendum on self-determination.

“Shi’ite and Sunni Arab violence is aimed at the coalition forces, yet it is really a war for control over future power. Kurds don’t want Islamic or Arab nationalist rule because it won’t be long before they turn against us,” he said.

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