The Financial Times (UK) reported Friday that it was unclear how a crisis could be averted in Iraq over the so-called 'Kurdish veto,' a provision in the Coalition Provisional Association-created (i.e. U.S.-created) 'Transitional Administrative Law' (TAL) that says that should three Iraqi provinces reject a draft constitution by two thirds or more, it will fail.[1]  --  Since the TAL can supposedly only be amended by a three-quarters vote and Kurds have more than a quarter of the seats in the National Assembly, this provision seems unshakeable; but the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance is intent on overturning this provision.  --  The New York Times also devoted a story on Friday to the growth of Kurdish influence in Iraq, and the demands for quasi-independence toward which this growth tends.[2]  --  Neither article mentions the nonbinding but significant referendum that Kurds held in tandem with the Jan. 30 elections, an event that is encountering a near-blackout in the mainstream media.  (The phrase "Kurdish Referendum Movement" has never been mentioned by the New York Times; it did, however, print an op-ed piece by Peter Galbraith on the subject on Feb. 1.)  --  The Militant noted that AFP had reported on Feb. 7 that almost 99% of Kurds had indicated a preference for independence.[3] ...



Middle East & Africa

By Charles Clover

Financial Times (UK)
February 18, 2005

A law promulgated during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, which governs how the country's new constitution is to be written, has been largely rejected by members of the United Iraqi Alliance, which has a majority of seats in the new parliament.

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which was brought into force last March by former U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, was originally intended to head off a political crisis by, in effect, granting Iraq's Kurdish population a veto over the new constitution.

But while it solved a short term problem, the inclusion of the so-called "Kurdish veto" clause in the TAL seems set to cause a new crisis, as both Shia and Sunni Arabs say they now hope the new parliament will simply cancel it, before debate over the constitution starts in earnest.

Many Alliance members, including Ibrahim Ja'aferi, widely believed to be the leading candidate for prime minister, have said the law must be either amended or scrapped altogether.

Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Sahgeer, a high ranking Shia cleric and Alliance member, said of the veto: "Of course this is unacceptable. There is no such thing as a democracy in which the minority decides, and the majority plays no role."

The Alliance is dominated by Shia religious parties, which follow the word of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest ranking Shia cleric.

He registered his objections to the law last spring but has said nothing publicly about it since.

Kurds, who won the second largest bloc of seats in parliament, insist the clause stays, and a western diplomat told journalists yesterday that an effort to get rid of the law, or even the veto clause, could trigger a walkout by Kurds, "and everyone understands those risks," he said.

He added that many of the Alliance members criticizing the document were among those who actually signed it when it was put into effect in March.

"They recognize the utility of a document that everyone ascribes to," he said.

Writing a new constitution is the main task of the newly elected parliament, which is expected to have a draft ready by August 15 that will be put to a nationwide referendum on October 15, according to the TAL.

The veto clause states that if three provinces vote by two thirds or more against the draft it will fail.

Kurds make up the majority of three provinces in the north. According to the TAL itself, it can only be amended by a three quarters majority vote in parliament, which the Kurds, with more than a quarter of seats, would be sure to block.

But Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of the Islamic Da'awa party, which is part of the Alliance, said this week that the authority of the newly elected parliament was greater than that of the law, because it was passed under military occupation.

Sunni Arab groups which boycotted the elections have also registered their opposition to the TAL.

At least 20 people were killed in three separate attacks on Shia mosques in Baghdad on Friday, despite increased security on the eve of the Shia religious festival of Ashura, Reuters reports.

Two suicide bombers targetted worshippers at the mosques, killing at least 17 people, and a rocket fired near a police station and close to another Shia mosque killed three people, police said.

Police in the capital have set up extra checkpoints and land borders have been closed to try to prevent a repeat of last year’s bomb attacks against Shia worshippers in Baghdad and Karbala that killed at least 181 people.



Middle East

By Edward Wong

New York Times
February 18, 2005
Page A08

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq -- From his snow-covered mountain fortress, Massoud Barzani sees little other than the rugged hills of Iraqi Kurdistan and green-clad militiamen posted along the serpentine road below.

The border with the Arab-dominated rest of Iraq is far off. Baghdad lies even farther off and, if Kurdish leaders like Mr. Barzani have their way, will fade almost entirely out of the picture here.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds have made known their determination to retain a degree of autonomy in the territory they have dominated for more than a decade. Now, after their strong performance in the elections last month, Kurdish leaders are for the first time spelling out specific demands.

From control of oil reserves to the retention of the Kurdish militia, the pesh merga, to full authority over taxation, the requested powers add up to an autonomy that is hard to distinguish from independence.

"The fact remains that we are two different nationalities in Iraq -- we are Kurds and Arabs," Mr. Barzani said as he sat in a reception hall at his headquarters in Salahuddin. "If the Kurdish people agree to stay in the framework of Iraq in one form or another as a federation, then other people should be grateful to them."

Kurdish autonomy is expected to be one of the most divisive issues during the drafting of the new constitution, alongside the debate over the role of Islam in the new Iraq. The Kurds' demands are already alarming Iraq's Arabs, particularly the majority Shiites, and raising tensions with neighboring countries, where governments are trying to suppress Kurdish separatist movements within their own borders.

In interviews, top Kurdish leaders like Mr. Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, set out a list of demands that are more far-reaching than the Kurds have articulated in the past:

¶They want the ownership of any natural resources, including oilfields, and the power to determine how the revenues are split with the central government.

¶They want authority over the formidable militia called the pesh merga, estimated at up to 100,000 members, in defiance of the American goal of dismantling ethnic and sectarian armies. The pesh merga would be under nominal national oversight, but actual control would remain with regional commanders. No other armed forces would be allowed to enter Kurdistan without permission from Kurdish officials.

¶They want power to appoint officials to work in and operate ministries in Kurdistan, which would parallel those in Baghdad. These would include the ministries that oversee security and the economy.

¶They want authority over fiscal policy, including oversight of taxes and the power to decide how much tax revenue goes to Baghdad. The national government would make monetary policy but would not be able to raise revenue from Kurdistan without the agreement of Kurdish officials.

Moreover, the region's borders would be changed, in the Kurds' vision. The "green line" that defines the boundary between the Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq would be officially pushed south, to take in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the city of Khanaqin and the area of Sinjar. Kurdish leaders argue that this would just reestablish historic borders where Mr. Hussein had drastically altered the demographics by displacing Kurds with Arab settlers.

"It must be clear in the constitution what is for the Kurds and what is for the Iraqi government," said Fouad Hussein, an influential independent Kurdish politician.

The fierce political drive of the Kurds, who make up a fifth of Iraq's 28 million people, became apparent during the Jan. 30 elections, when turnout across the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan -- Sulaimaniya, Erbil and Dohuk -- averaged 84 percent, well above the national average of 58 percent.

Those votes secured for the main Kurdish alliance 75 of 275 seats in the constitutional assembly. The alliance finished second, behind the main Shiite slate, which ended up with a slim majority of 140 seats, which is short of the two-thirds needed to form a government.

The Kurds are now in the position of kingmaker, courted by the Shiite parties and competing smaller groups like the secular slate led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

The Kurds are asking for Mr. Barzani's main rival, Jalal Talabani, to be chosen as president. More audacious is their insistence on broad powers for their region under a federal system. The autonomy envisioned by the Kurds is likely to inflame the formerly ruling Sunni Arabs, who lack officially authorized militias and rich natural resources in their own traditional territory.

But it is the Shiites, having finally achieved here after decades of struggle, who are likely to offer the strongest opposition to Kurdish autonomy.

The top Shiite clerics "are very difficult," said Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, the governor of Erbil Province, the largest Kurdish province. "They're hard negotiators," he said. "They're inflexible. The Shia do not want to admit the federal system for the Kurds."

Many Shiite leaders complain that the Kurds press too many demands and already exercise power in the interim government out of proportion with their numbers. Kurds hold the posts of deputy prime minister, foreign minister and the head of Parliament, as well as one of two vice presidencies.

"There is a sense that the Kurds have taken more privileges than the others," said Sheik Humam Hamoudi, a senior official of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite party. "So we advise the Kurds to be more Iraqi."

Besides holding more than a quarter of the seats in the constitutional assembly, the Kurds have another powerful tool in the transitional law approved last spring. Under that law, a two-thirds vote in any three provinces can veto a national referendum on the constitution. Kurdish leaders could easily mobilize such a vote.

The relatively secular Kurds might also make a deal with the religious Shiites in which the Kurds would gain significant autonomy in return for agreeing not to block Shiite efforts to establish an Islamic form of government elsewhere in Iraq.

Kurdish leaders argue that their push for federalism is nothing more than an attempt to maintain the status quo. Iraqi Kurdistan, a mountainous area the size of Switzerland, has existed as an autonomous region since the end of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone in northern Iraq.

"Like all the nations of the world, all the people of the world, we have the ability to rule ourselves, and we've proven that in the last 14 years," Hezha Anoor, 18, said as he and his friends stood outside a Chinese restaurant here in Sulaimaniya, the capital of eastern Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders maintain that while they would like to see an independent Kurdistan in their lifetimes, secession is not practical now.

The threat from countries like Turkey is too great, they say. And the economy of Kurdistan, which depended on smuggling during the United Nations sanctions against Iraq imposed in the 1990's, would benefit from sharing in revenues from the vast southern oilfields, said Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq and a top Kurdish official.

Yet if the Kurdish leaders do succeed in winning strong autonomy, that could inspire greater calls for independence. "Iraq is a beast," Pire Mughan, 63, a grizzled poet and former pesh merga fighter, said as he sipped tea in the shadow of the citadel of Erbil. "Arabs are beasts, because their entire history is one of killings and massacres.

"I didn't vote for anyone in the elections, because I believe in independence, not in federalism. If I had voted, it would have meant voting for federalism, and that would have been treason for future generations."

--Dexter Filkins contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.


By Sam Manuel

February 21, 2005
Page 1

In the aftermath of national elections held under U.S. occupation, Iraqi Kurds -- an oppressed nation that faced brutal assaults on its rights under the Baathist party government of Saddam Hussein -- have continued to press their fight for greater autonomy in northern Iraq. The increased confidence among Kurds to advance their national demands is one of the uncontrolled forces set in motion by the imperialist invasion and occupation.

At the same time, the elections have further highlighted the greater political isolation of the Baathist-led insurgency in Iraq. These forces failed to make good on their promise to disrupt the elections. As a result, some political figures and groups in the Sunni Arab minority that had earlier participated in the call for a boycott of the elections have since begun to take a conciliatory stance toward the newly elected government.

The Kurdish population inhabits a territory that spans across northern Iraq, southern Turkey, and sections of Iran and Syria. The 20 million Kurds that live in the region have been fighting for decades for an independent state. Their struggle has faced brutal repression at the hands of the local capitalist regimes and the imperialist powers that back them.

Based on partial results from 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, a slate headed by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two main Kurdish parties, received 1.1 million votes. This was the second-largest bloc of votes in part because of the boycott called by the largest parties based in the Sunni Arab minority. With 4.6 million votes counted, the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance had captured the largest vote total with just over 50 percent, while the Kurdish bloc had 25 percent, the February 8 New York Times reported.

While the KDP and PUK are on record for a united and federated Iraq, there is widespread support for independence among Iraqi Kurds, who comprise 20 percent of the country’s population. During the election, in tents set up outside polling places, the Kurdish Referendum Movement held an unofficial vote on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan. Nearly 2 million Kurds -- almost 99 percent of those who participated -- backed independence, reported Agence France-Presse February 7. Only 1 percent voted to remain a part of Iraq. Shamal Huaizi, one of the organizers of the referendum, said it was conducted with the agreement of the Kurdish regional government.

The Iraqi flag can hardly be found in the region except on a few government buildings. The Kurds do not allow Arab units of the U.S.-trained Iraqi military into the northeastern provinces they control, nor do they allow Baghdad ministries to open offices there. Border posts in Iraqi Kurdistan fly the Kurdish, not the Iraqi flag.

Baghdad also acceded to a demand to allow thousands of Kurds to register and vote in the province that includes the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. They had been forcibly removed from the region by the Hussein regime in the 1980s.

None of the governments in the region, nor Washington and London, are happy with the referendum or the Kurdish push for control of Kirkuk.

Last December the referendum organizers handed the chief United Nations envoy for the elections in Iraq a petition calling for a referendum on independence signed by more than 1.7 million Kurds, almost half the Kurdish population in northern Iraq.

In a column printed in the February 1 New York Times, former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith reported that when organizers of the Kurdish Referendum Movement asked to meet with Paul Bremer, then Washington’s overseer of Iraq, to show him their petition before presenting it to the U.N., neither Bremer nor any of his deputies would see them.

In the wake of the elections, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made a stop in Ankara to assure the Turkish government that Washington opposes an independent Kurdistan. “I’m here really in part to say to the Turks that we are fully committed, fully committed, to a unified Iraq,” Rice said, according to the BBC.

Rice also said Washington was “very determined” to make certain that Kurdish rebels from Turkey would not be allowed to organize attacks on Turkish military forces from mountain bases in northeastern Iraq. Since 1984 some 37,000 people have been killed in Ankara’s brutal war against guerillas organized by the Maoist-inspired Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).


The insurgents “made fools of us,” Mahmoud Ghassoub, a Sunni businessman in Baiji, a town north of Baghdad, told the Washington Post. “They voted to disrupt the elections but failed. Now we have lost both tracks. We did not vote, nor did they disrupt the elections.”

The elections and their aftermath have highlighted the fact that the insurgency, while it has continued to mount deadly attacks -- which have increasingly targeted Iraqi security forces and civilians -- has never been a movement capable of advancing a struggle for national liberation against the imperialist occupiers. A wealthy section of the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq was the social base of the party-police state run by Hussein. Defense of the privileges lost by that thin social layer has been at the heart of the guerilla campaign led by former military units of the Hussein regime.

Calling themselves the “Party of Return,” these forces have pressed for a one-point program: the restoration of the Hussein regime through the same brutal and unpopular methods that it used to hold on to power. Their attacks in the lead-up to the election were directed against Shiites -- who comprise 60 percent of Iraq’s population -- and their unfulfilled promises to “wash the streets with the blood of voters” on election day only served to further their political isolation.

As a result, some of the Sunni Arab groups that called for a boycott of the elections are now hedging their bets and signaling a desire to work with the new government.

“We are taking a conciliatory line because we are frightened that things may develop into a civil war,” Wamidh Nadhmi, the leader of the Arab Nationalist Trend and a spokesman for a coalition of Sunni and Shiite groups that boycotted the elections, told the Washington Post.

A group of 13 Sunni parties have agreed to take part in drafting the constitution, according to the February 6 Post. The most prominent forces in the group are the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party. While they supported the boycott, neither of these groups has historical ties to the Baathists, which did not base themselves primarily in the Muslim clergy. The Sunni clerics’ association was formed within a few days after the U.S. invasion. The Iraqi Islamic Party was suppressed by the Baath regime and was part of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council under the U.S. occupation regime headed by Bremer.

The slate headed by Iyad Allawi, prime minister of the U.S.-backed interim government, has come in a distant third with 13 percent of the votes counted. Allawi, a former Baathist who worked abroad for Baghdad’s intelligence agency before running afoul of Hussein, has a thuggish reputation and is not a popular figure in Iraq.