12/12/2006, 00.00
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Baker report no help to Iraq’s stability, says Kurdish envoy

Saywan Barzani, nephew of Kurdistan’s president, explains criticism levelled at Baker-Hamilton report. In his view Iraq’s constitution should be respected, status quo in Kirkuk is not tenable, reconciliation with Baathists is not possible. As for dialogue with Iran and Syria, Iraq can do it on its own; US should stick to enforcing border security.

Paris (AsiaNews) – The Baker report is “anti-Kurdish” and will cause instability. “It is 20 per cent pro-Sunni and for the rest, pro-Shiite, but omits to discuss the needs of the Kurds and the role they have played in rebuilding the country and the government,” said Saywan Barzani, nephew of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani and Kurdish regional government representative to Europe.

“If some of the suggestions in by the Baker-Hamilton commission were ever implemented, there won’t be any stability in the region,” he said. The idea of allowing former Baathists back into the political process after they were completely excluded by the United States following the fall of Saddam Hussein is another cause for great concern.

Speaking from Paris, the Kurdish envoy talked to  AsiaNews about the report by the Iraqi Study Group released on December 6. The document urges the US government to start to pull US troops away from military operations and focus on training Iraqi forces as well as launch a diplomatic offensive involving Iran and Syria.

“Baker himself reassured President Massoud Barzani before the report was released,” he said, “that the report was on our side, we who have always backed US policy, but that was not the case”.

For Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Baker-Hamilton report is unfair and dangerous threatening the country’s sovereignty and constitution. For this reason he dismissed the

Iraqi Study Group report entirely.

Both he and  Massoud Barzani have written to George W. Bush to protest against the Commission’s conclusions.

The sticking points for Kurds are the focus on the role of the central government at the expense of federalism, thus disregarding the constitution; the status of Kirkuk which is left in limbo; the involvement of former Baathists in the political process; and the opening to Syria and Iran.

“First of all, the Baker Commission calls for a revision of the constitution which was approved by 80 per cent of Iraqis. The document contains important points for the population such as the return to Kirkuk of Kurds deported by the Baathist regime.”

In his anti-Kurdish campaign, Saddam Hussein deported hundreds of thousands of Kurdish families far from Kirkuk, replacing them with Arabic-speaking families. His goal was to turn the multiethnic but predominantly Kurdish city into an Arab city.

Kirkuk is currently not included in the self-governing Kurdish region. It holds some of the richest oil fields and represents a sensitive issue.

Whilst Kurds call for a referendum to decide whether it should join Iraqi Kurdistan, the Baker report says the status quo should be kept.

“This means that all Arabs who arrived with Saddam can stay and Kurds still stranded in refugee camps cannot go back.”

Another important issue that is key to the constitution but “ignored by the US report” is federalism, a key demand for Kurds.

The Baker report calls for a stronger central government, especially in the management of oil resources. Kurds instead want regional control in each province.

On the issue of rehabilitating former Baathists and allowing them back into the political process in order to promote national reconciliation, Barzani is categorical: “We cannot reconcile with people who do not have the interests of the country at heart and only engage in violence and terrorism”.

For Kurdish leaders the possibility of engaging Syria, Iran and the leaders of armed groups in Iraq in discussions before the end of the year appears impossible.

Baghdad already has long-standing ties and shared interests with Iran,” he explained. “With Syria there are major problems. About 80 per cent of terrorists who come to Iraq do so coming across the Syrian border. But we are working at the diplomatic level with Damascus to stop this flow. The US can help us only at the security level.”

The future of Iraq remains uncertain. “The first thing that must be done,” Barzabi said, “is for the government to re-establish security with the help of our neighbours. With help from the US, whose forces should remain for another ten years, we can reinforce our national army and dismantle ethnic militias.”

Asked by AsiaNews whether the US was selling out Kurdistan for better relations with Iran and Syria, Barzani said it was something “not to be ruled out”.


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