Iraqi Kurds Hint at Independence

Sensing no change in their status under the new government, Kurdish leaders suggest their entity may break away.

Iraqi Kurds Hint at Independence

Sensing no change in their status under the new government, Kurdish leaders suggest their entity may break away.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have hinted to George Bush that they may push for an independent Kurdistan after Washington denied their community a leading role in Iraq’s newly formed transitional government, IWPR can reveal.

The warning by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani is made in a letter that Nijyar Shemdin, the US Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, sent to the American president over the weekend.

The authenticity of the letter – leaked to IWPR on June 6 by sources close to the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority – has been verified by Kurdish officials.

In the letter, the two leaders express their strong disapproval over recent developments in Iraq, notably the creation of a new caretaker government which, the Kurdsih representatives suggest, excludes any of their community from positions of significance.

“We were ... bitterly disappointed when your special representative advised us that a Kurd could be neither Prime Minister nor President of Iraq,” Barzani and Talabani told the US president. “We were told that these positions must go to a Shiite Arab and Sunni Arab respectively.”

They hint at moves towards independence unless the so-called Transitional Administrative Law, TAL - according to which Kurds have agreed not to break away from Iraq on condition they be granted an autonomous federal entity - is incorporated into the new UN Security Council resolution on the handover of sovereignty or otherwise recognised as law binding on the Iraqi government, both before and after elections.

“If the TAL is abrogated,” they say, “the Kurdistan Regional Government will have no choice but to refrain from participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central government from Kurdistan.”

Noting that the people of Kurdistan will no longer accept “second-class citizenship” in Iraq, Talabani and Barzani observed that “In Saddam's time and before, Kurds were frequently given the vice-president or deputy positions, which were window dressing without power”.

With the downfall of Saddam, they say, “We had hoped the new Iraq would be different for the Kurdish people.”

Pointing out that “Iraq is a country of two main nationalities, Arabs and Kurds”, the two leaders said, “It seems reasonable that the Arabs might get one of the top jobs (of their choice) but then the other should go to a Kurd.”

They also observed that the decision to use sectarian quotas for the top two jobs “directly contradicts” the Coalition's repeatedly stated position that “democratic Iraq's government should not be based on ethnic or religious criteria, a position the US wrote into the Transitional Administrative Law.”

Indeed, the two Kurdish leaders complain that they have detected a “bias against Kurdistan” from the American authorities for reasons that they cannot comprehend.

They say that at the outset of the occupation, the Coalition seized the oil-for-food revenues that had been specifically earmarked for Kurdistan and redistributed them to the rest of Iraq.

That was done, they say, despite the fact “that Kurdistan received far less of these revenues per capita than other Iraqis and notwithstanding the fact that our region was the one most destroyed by Saddam Hussein”.

Talabani and Barzani also criticise the Coalition Provisional Authority for actively discouraging the equality of the Kurdish and Arabic languages, and repeatedly trying to “derecognise” the Kurdistan Regional Government (Iraq's only elected government ever) in favour of a system based on Saddam's 18 governorates.

The two men complain that US officials have demeaned their peshmerga fighters, by calling it a “militia” instead of recognising it as a “disciplined military force that was America's battlefield comrade in arms”.

Underscoring their resentment of Washington, Talabani and Barzani note that “a year ago, our peshmerga forces fought side by side with the American forces for the liberation of Iraq, taking more casualties than any other US ally”.

They also observe that “in contrast to the Arab areas of Iraq, no coalition soldier has been killed in the area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government”.

But they note little thanks from Washington, saying that “it is rare for the US government or the CPA even to refer to Kurdistan or the Kurdish people” in official statements.

Eric Watkins is IWPR’s Iraqi Crisis Report and Iraqi Press Monitor editor.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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