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[casi] Talabani & Barzani: What Iraq Needs Now

What Iraq Needs Now



Some day, we Iraqis hope to celebrate an Independence Day like the one
Americans have just observed. But for the near future we face the challenge
of translating liberation into democracy  a goal we Kurds will push for
even more diligently now that we have agreed to join the interim Iraqi
administration that will be formed this month. To that end, we will work
closely with the United States to establish security, revive the economy and
build a democratic culture.

Our aims may appear optimistic with American and British forces struggling
to establish order and restore public services in some areas of Iraq. Yet
the picture is not quite as grim as some claim. The assaults on American
soldiers are not "resistance to foreign occupation." Rather, they are acts
of terrorism by the Baathist remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. These
remnants are so reviled in Iraq that they have had to resort to foreign
volunteers, for few Iraqis will take up arms on their behalf.

Since they lack the support of the people, the Baathists will be defeated 
a process that can be accelerated if we establish a national security force.
That would be one major step toward making Iraq safer.

But another security problem, widespread looting, requires more than just
better policing. The looting has its roots in economic problems. Iraq's
economy is largely moribund. The wages paid by the coalition are often not
enough to make ends meet. Exporting oil will help, but what Iraq really
needs is comprehensive economic reforms to encourage investment. We applaud
the moves, announced this week by American officials, to create a new Iraqi
currency and restructure the central bank, as a welcome start to such

One simple way to improve the economy in our part of Iraq, Kurdistan, is to
ensure that the Kurds receive the money allocated to them by the United
Nations oil-for-food program. It is a scandal that $4 billion destined for
the Kurds sits, unused, in a United Nations-controlled French bank account
because of past obstruction by Saddam Hussein and the present incompetence
of the United Nations bureaucracy. The delays by the United Nations are
particularly frustrating because of rules that require the money to go into
a general Iraqi development fund if it isn't spent by October. We have
repeatedly sought assurances from the coalition that this money will not be
lost to Iraqi Kurdistan. So far, the coalition response has been unclear.

Let us be clear, however. We are not seeking lavish handouts from American
taxpayers or the international community  we are asking only for what is
rightfully ours. And any perception that the Kurds, the United States'
closest ally in Iraq, are being let down will dishearten the many other
Iraqis who want to work with the United States.

Not releasing that money also means not addressing a critical issue of
justice  reversing decades of ethnic cleansing that has forced close to one
million people in Iraqi Kurdistan from their homes. Just a small fraction of
the oil-for-food money would finance the return of many of those who were
evicted, and pay for the decent resettlement of the Arabs who took over
their land. Thus far we have averted the chaos of a flood of displaced
families trying to return home by counseling patience to the Kurds, Turkmens
and Assyrian Christians who were forced out. This patience, however, is not
infinite. In the coming months we want to work with the coalition to set up
a fair, transparent mechanism to allow these people to come home.

Thus far, the coalition has taken important steps toward promoting
democracy. But aspects of the overall strategy remain vague. What Iraqis
have learned from their encounters with American soldiers and officials is
that they seek to democratize, not to dominate. While we are working with L.
Paul Bremer III, the American occupation administrator, to set up
constitutional councils to initiate the political process, we need to mark
out a clear path toward national elections and representative government, so
that Iraqis have some sense of certainty about their political future. One
positive development is that the main Iraqi political groups have been able
to reach consensus on the next stage of self-governance in Iraq.

Also crucial to realizing President Bush's vision of a democratic Iraq is
his, and our, belief in a federal Iraq. For too long, both Baathist and Arab
nationalist regimes held Iraq together by brute force. That is no longer an
option. Iraq was a state imposed upon its inhabitants, a country whose
preservation has cost too many lives. The new Iraq has to be different, a
democratically created state that reflects the will of its peoples and
accommodates their diversity. For that reason, and with United States
backing, we advocate a federal system of government. Iraqi federalism will
of course differ from that of the United States, but the fundamental
principle will be the same: a balanced system of government with
considerable local autonomy and a sovereign, federal center.

Democracy in Iraq will take time to establish itself. For more than three
decades, Iraqis endured a regime that carried out genocide, including the
anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign of 1987-88, which littered the country with mass
graves and "disappeared" hundreds of thousands. Iraq was a society where the
faintest hint of dissent could lead to a death sentence, as the Kurds gassed
in Halabja discovered.

The first building blocks of Iraqi federalism and democracy have already
been laid in Iraqi Kurdistan. Thanks to protection from American and British
air power, facilitated by Turkey, Kurds have had 12 years of a sometimes
faltering, but ultimately hopeful, experiment in self-rule, openness and
pluralism. With continued help from the United States, and with our work on
the interim Iraqi administration, what has become known as the Kurdish
experiment in democracy can be a model for all of Iraq.

Jalal Talabani is secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Massoud Barzani is president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

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