3. Talabani’s Fallback Plan for His Own Kurdistan

Past experience has taught the Kurdish leader who would be prime minister to regard every political pact and alliance forged in Iraq as tenuous – if not ephemeral. Internal Shiite power struggles, a major terrorist attack or intervention by a foreign intruder (such as the arrival in southern Iraq of master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, reported in separate article in this issue) could overturn even the most cunningly-crafted national accord and put paid to reconciliation.

Talabani is therefore preparing a fallback plan for the contingency of his national scheme going awry in the form of an autonomous Kurdish Federation in northern Iraq that would boast its own flag and national anthem.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Iraq report that he has put his top aides to work on the project under Kurdish intelligence chief Qusrat Rasul, the man who handed Saddam over to the Americans. Talabani wants the future Kurdish Federation to revert to the 1957 “demographic picture,” when the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul had Kurdish majorities. Talabani is aiming for Kurdistan to recover these oil-rich lands. He will send his followers to fight for this objective with street demonstrations in Kirkuk.

The Kurdish politician has laid out plans for a new Kurdish border guard force – essentially a separate Kurdish army that would not be part of the new Iraqi armed forces now taking shape. He has also asked the US civil administration to abrogate the deposed Baath regime’s land ownership laws and the concept it enshrined of state land. Territory would thus revert to the control of local or regional authority, such as the Kurdish Federation. Talabani has asked London-based Kurdish politician Mahmud Osman to draft a Kurdish Federal Constitution to embody his plans and claims.

Perfectly aware that he is operating on two mutually contradictory planes – national versus federal – Talabani has come up with a formula to solve that quandary as well, a new constitutional assembly with judicial powers to arbitrate disputes between central and local government. As prime minister he intends to control this panel too.

Kurdish informants have told DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources that meeting Talabani’s demands is the least Washington can do to repay the Kurds for their help in nabbing Saddam Hussein.

As for possible objections to a Kurdish Federation from their historic nemesis, Turkey, one influential Kurd said dismissively: “What can the Turks do, invade northern Iraq? They’d only run up against us and then the Americans.”

Possible slip twixt cup and lip

An omen of the obstacles ahead of Talabani’s fertile thinking on Kurdistan and premiership ambitions in Baghdad, surfaced this week in a clamorous demonstration staged in Kirkuk on Wednesday, December 31. It was not the one the Kurdish leader had in mind, but the opposite. The opponents of a Kurdish Federation program made their voices heard for the first time – and not spontaneously. The assortment of Turkomans, Assyrians and local Arab Sunnis were organized by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylonia, Emmanuel III Delly.

When the protesters rioted and Iraqi policemen began shooting, the patriarch appealed to a Shiite friend, Moqtada al-Sadr, to send in his militiamen from his stronghold in southern Baghdad to defend the protesters, not realizing that the former rebel had been secretly persuaded to repent of his unruly ways and converted as a stalwart of the Shiite mainstream and ally of US administrator Paul Bremer.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s report that, instead of responding to the Chaldean patriarch’s appeal, the former rebel cleric sent a unit of armed militiamen to Kirkuk who opened fire indiscriminately on Iraqi police and protesters alike, leaving two rioters dead and several injured.

This incident was educational for Talabani. He discovered that his Federation program had strong opposition in Kirkuk and Mosul. In particular, he would have to reckon with the Assyrian community which is weak and fragmented in Iraq, but has a powerful lobby in Washington backed by Assyrian communities in California, Michigan and Ohio. Their vote is actively sought in American presidential and congressional elections.

The community in Iraq therefore has a strong political card to play in Washington, one that is denied the Kurds.

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