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[casi] [Fwd: Kurdish PUK-PM on some issues discussed recently]

-------- Ursprüngliche Nachricht --------
Betreff: Kurdish PUK-PM on some issues discussed recently
Datum: Mon, 19 May 2003 23:41:43 +0200
Von: KRGinGermany <>

Office Berlin:
- Please, fwd to casi from my private account. But I have noticed that
you have been forwarding this intro-note as well. These notes are not
meant for third parties. If you forward, please cut and paste the
materials attached.

Anyway, I am heading home to Berlin; I have registered for a military
transportation, it might come anytime, today or in some days. I shall
travel via Washington, to see Dilshad and poor Wegih there.
- I have finished all the necessary field work for the report to Awe
Resh and shall write the final version in Berlin. It turns out that
especially concerning the overall background the recent Brookings IDP
report is going to make my task much easier.
- As for the finances, just leave it to my sister in Samara, Russia -
you got her co-ordinates. She is taking care of our family finances and
I have sent her a mail to use my part of those to ease your, my and the
office's situation until you secure new funding.

See you all soon,
and do not forget - this note is not meant to be forwarded, please.


In The Eye Of The Storm

Nyier Abdou talks to Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Saleh about the end
of an era -- and the storms kept at bay

Al-Ahram Weekly On Line
8 - 14 May 2003
Issue No. 637

Barham Saleh is pleased with Cairo. The weather is good, the
accommodation agreeable, the city cleaner than he remembers it from his
last visit, years ago. "It's been relaxing," he says, as we settle into
a table on the Marriott terrace. "I needed some relaxation."

For the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),
everything is relative. On his three-day visit to Cairo, Saleh has not
been lounging by the pool. Between meetings with Intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Foreign Minister
Ahmed Maher on plans for post- war Iraq, Saleh is busy being the
Western- friendly public face of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
But following the tense situation in the north during the US-led
military campaign in Iraq, shuttle diplomacy is probably a welcome relief.

With international attention focussed on preparations for an interim
leadership in Iraq, the timing of Saleh's visit to Cairo is conspicuous,
in large part because a US-administered Iraq will hold a tenuous
position within the Arab world. Many in the Arab world were shocked by
the swift fall of Baghdad, having expected a long and tenacious fight
before Iraq was grudgingly relinquished to the US-led coalition. Scenes
of jubilation when American forces entered Baghdad, while balanced by
spates of resistance, spoke differently. Saleh is not shy to say I told
you so.

"It's no secret to say that the people of Iraq are utterly disappointed
with the Arab League, and with the political order in the Arab world,"
he says. "Many in the Arab world stood by Saddam Hussein, in the name of
Arab solidarity, and lost sight of the plight of the Iraqi people."

Saleh argues that rather than "trying to derail international efforts at
our liberation" and appease swelling anti-American sentiment in the
region with statements opposing the US-UK thrust to overthrow the regime
of Saddam Hussein, Arab and Muslim nations should have seen an
opportunity to remove a brutal dictator and seized it. "We were facing
the tyranny of Saddam Hussein alone," he said, "while it would have been
right for Arab armies, and Islamic armies, to be the vanguard of our

As prominent Iraqi political figures make the transition from
"opposition" to "democrats", many are vying for a place in Iraq's
post-war power structure. But as representatives from Iraq's patchwork
of predominantly ethnic-based political factions make their way to Cairo
-- a delegation of the Tehran-based Shi'a group, the Supreme Council for
Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) met with Ahmed Maher on Monday -- it
seems that there is more to these visits than a chance to vent long
simmering resentments and maintain a high profile. Speaking as an Iraqi
and not as a Kurdish leader, Saleh stressed that despite its former
isolation, the new Iraq will have to be taken into the Arab fold.

Citing Egypt as "an important centre of gravity in the region" and a
"regional power", Saleh highlighted the need for "serious dialogue with
the region about Iraq, new and future". Asked if he felt that Egypt and
the rest of the Arab world had a role to play in the development of the
new political framework of Iraq, Saleh touched on what is both a chief
concern and a sensitive issue among Arab leaderships: the
democratisation of the Arab world. "Obviously, we look forward to help
from Egypt to make sure that the political process in Iraq will lead to
the establishment of a federal, democratic government that will be at
peace with the people of Iraq and at peace with the neighbours of Iraq,"
Saleh said. "What happens in Iraq is of consequence to the interests of

Saleh extended an implicit warning to regional powers not to stand in
the way of Iraqi democracy because of anxiety over US hegemony. "We are
part of the region. It's time for the region to help Iraq rebuild itself
-- help us have the space within which we, as Iraqis, can make free
decisions about our future."

Pressed whether the issue of a Western-backed democratic leadership in
Baghdad had Arab states nervous about the future of regional strategic
relationships, Saleh accentuated that the post-war period is essentially
ground zero for Iraq's political process. "Let us all have the courage
to admit failure," he said. "Iraq is the embodiment of a failed state.
The 'humpty dumpty' of Iraq's centralised dictatorship cannot be put
back together." Pointing to the darkest days of the Hussein regime,
Saleh recalled "one of the most brutal campaigns of ethnic cleansing
against its own citizens" and called on the Arab world to face up to the
horrors that occurred in Iraq.

"The Middle East has to accept the reality of this failure," Saleh said.
"We are serious about making sure that our future is fundamentally
different from our miserable past. I hope that Iraq will become a model,
a beacon for hope, for others around the Middle East. No one should
doubt that business as usual is over."

Saying that Saddam Hussein's rule had reduced the once vibrant and
wealthy nation of Iraq to "a big prison", Saleh suggests that one need
only look at the most basic social indicators, such as child mortality
and literacy, to see the "miserable reality that Iraqis had to endure".
Asked if this was not directly related to the UN sanctions imposed on
Iraq following the First Gulf War, Saleh is adamant that no blame be
shifted away from Hussein's regime.

"Many people wanted to blame it on sanctions," he says. "There were many
problems with the UN [Oil-for-Food] programme. I am the first to admit
that. In fact, if anything, I am one of the big critics of the United
Nations and its mismanagement of the situation in Iraq. But the
fundamentals of the situation are that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship
killed Iraqis. His adventures turned Iraq into the wasteland that we know."

Former UN coordinators for Iraq Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck,
both of whom resigned from their posts in protest against sanctions and
became active in the international anti- war movement, have long
maintained that the workings of the Oil-for-Food programme were
efficient but that the programme itself was fundamentally flawed. Saleh
disagrees, maintaining that Hussein had a ruthless policy of keeping
people deprived by withholding medicine and keeping hospitals
undersupplied "so he could make a point to the rest of the world:
sanctions are killing babies".

"Politics killed babies," he says firmly. "Dictatorship killed Iraqi

No element of the anti-war movement is spared Saleh's dignified disdain,
be it the weak official opposition expressed by some Arab leaderships or
the fiery oratory offered by anti-war icons like Halliday, von Sponeck,
British MP George Galloway and veteran Labour politician Tony Benn --
though he admits that many "ordinary people" who participated in the
movement were "well-meaning". Tapping into a deep well of resentment
that he insists is pervasive throughout Iraq, however, Saleh dismissed
celebrity activists as moving their own political agenda.

"I can tell you for sure the interests of the Iraqi people were not
among their priorities," he says. "Because had that been the case, they
would have come and advocated that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship not use
medicine and food as weapons of war against the people of Iraq."
Suggesting that the brutalities of Saddam Hussein were shamefully
overshadowed by persuasive anti-war rhetoric, Saleh relegated figures
like Halliday and von Sponeck to duplicitous "advocates for evil".

The anti-war cry that the US-led campaign was a "war for oil" has no
resonance with Saleh, who notes that Iraqi oil "has always been used as
a justification to keep the status quo in Iraq", at the expense of the
Iraqi people. Even if it were a war for oil, then "at least for once
Iraqi oil became a blessing for the people of Iraq rather than the curse
it has always been."

As Saleh speaks, one can easily imagine him on the podium, where his
decisive tone obviously flourishes. Based out of Washington for some 10
years, he has been a key figure in the self-administered Kurdish enclave
in the north of Iraq, which has enjoyed relative stability since the
First Gulf War. Despite rampant speculation that Kurdish leaders like
PUK founder Jalal Talabani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) head
Massoud Barzani would capitalise on the uncertainty engendered by the
war in Iraq to push for an independent Kurdish state, Saleh repeatedly
returns to the copiously quoted catchphrase of the Iraqi opposition: a
"federal, democratic Iraq".

Federalism in the Iraqi context is a broad concept, but Saleh is certain
in his vision of an "ethnic-based federal arrangement". He steers clear
of using the word "state", even in the loose sense of the word analogous
to the makeup of the United States, stressing that the new political map
in Iraq would be drawn as a federation of member "regions". He notes
that while issues of national defence, foreign policy and fiscal policy
should emanate from the seat of government in Baghdad, it is "vitally
important" that power is "devolved from the centre to the various regions".

Though Iraqi Kurds guard their hard-won autonomy jealously, Saleh
maintains that the "mainstream" of Kurdish politics "is realistic, is
reasonable -- is moderate". Asked if Iraqi Kurds still held out hope
that they would see an independent Kurdistan, Saleh stresses that this
latent desire is subordinate to a larger dream of stability.

"The Kurdish people have been dealt a lousy hand -- both from history
and geography," he says. "The Kurdish people are no different from other
peoples around the world. We deserve our right to self-determination."
But the forces of history, he says, demand a more "realistic" solution.
Rather than "curse the hand delivered to us forever, and commit our
people to an arduous journey whose outcome may not be so certain", Saleh
says that Kurds would rather aim for something attainable:
self-government within a "voluntary union" between Iraq's various regions.

Saleh seems exasperated by persistent claims, particularly from hawks in
neighbouring Turkey, that an independent Kurdistan remains the end- goal
in Kurdish politics. "The irony is that while it is the Kurds who have
been the primary victims of Saddam Hussein's rule, while it is the Kurds
who have suffered genocide, chemical weapons and ethnic cleansing, many
circles in our neighbourhood still seek assurances from us. It is time
that the Kurdish people are given some assurance -- that the terrible
past will not be revisited upon them."

The gassing of the Kurdish population in the town of Halabje following
the 1991 Gulf War is only one of the examples of this "terrible past".
Traditionally Kurdish towns in the north were also subjected to a
programme of "Arabisation", in which Arabs were encouraged to resettle
there -- often at the expense of Kurdish farmers. Some of these settlers
have been the subject of violent retaliation in recent weeks.

"In many, many ways, the Arab settlers are also victims of ethnic
cleansing," suggests Saleh. "Many of them were brought into Kirkuk by
force -- against their will, by the Iraqi regime."

When the oil- and natural gas-rich towns of Kirkuk and Mosul were taken
by Talabani's peshmerga forces during the war, a tense stand- off
between the Kurdish leadership and Ankara, which threatened military
intervention, was ameliorated by assurances from Washington that control
would be swiftly handed over to US forces.

Kirkuk stands as an extremely sensitive sticking point for Kurdish
politics, both because of its wealth of natural resources and the large
community of former inhabitants displaced by the "Arabisation" process.
"My view is that Kirkuk is an integral part of Kurdistan," says Saleh.
"But not exclusively Kurdish," he adds, significantly. "This is a very
important distinction that we always have to draw." Saleh concedes that
the status of Kirkuk "has to be subject to negotiation and discussion"
within the political process of Iraq. "Ultimately, the people of Kirkuk
-- the original people of Kirkuk themselves -- have to be given their
right to choose their status."

Saleh stresses that the goal of the Kurdish leadership in Kirkuk is to
"reverse" ethnic cleansing through "an orderly, lawful process",
preferably under international supervision. This process will have to
come soon to avoid a wave of internal acts of vengeance, or even the
outbreak of civil war. But Saleh refuses to feed depictions of Kirkuk as
a "tinderbox".

"Look at things in the proper context," he says. "Kirkuk's situation was
normalised almost two days, three days, after liberation. Public
services, law and order resumed. And the incidents that are referred to
were not as widespread. ... If anything, Kirkuk was a success story.
Kirkuk was, and is, a lot better than Basra, Baghdad and the other
places around in Iraq. ... I'm proud of what we have done in Kirkuk."

The joint administration of Iraqi Kurdistan united once bitter rivals
Talabani and Barzani in the cause of self-government. Many suspect that
the removal of their common enemy will dangerously weaken what has
always been a mutually suspicious relationship between the PUK and KDP.
Saleh says that this is a reasonable concern but notes that it also
extends to all of the Iraqi opposition. "The defining characteristic for
the Iraqi opposition has always been Saddam Hussein -- our unity in the
face of Saddam Hussein," he said. "Saddam Hussein is no longer."

Still, says Saleh, "So far, the omens are good." Noting that both the
PUK and KDP "fully understand the imperative of staying together and
working together", Saleh suggests that "in many ways, getting rid of
Saddam Hussein was the easy part. Building the new federal democracy,
the peaceful federal democracy that we aspire to, will be the difficult

On the issue of whether the US will once again turn its back on Iraq --
as many have said it has done in Afghanistan -- Saleh says that Iraqis
must look inward for strength. "The Middle East always looks for
leadership elsewhere," says Saleh. "We always blame our failures on the
outside and try and claim our successes for ourselves. ... Ultimately,
this is our country. We will live with the pieces and the consequences
of our actions. We must take the initiative as Iraqis and ensure that we
can reclaim this country for our generations to come."

As he paints a picture of Iraq's future, Saleh can't resist a final jab
at leading Arab nations. "The way that the Arab world engaged in the
Iraqi crisis was very unfortunate. There are important lessons to be
learned." Notably frank about his emphasis on this issue in his talks in
Cairo, Saleh remarks: "The wounds are deep in Iraq. ... We deserve an
apology for the failure of the Arab League to come to terms with the
tragedy that had to be endured by the people of Iraq at the hands of
Saddam Hussein."

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