Kurdish Leader Looks Like Washington’s Iraqi PM Candidate

One major cause of the breakdown of Turkish-US understandings for the Iraq war is the surprise candidate the Bush team is promoting to rule post-war Baghdad: Jalal Talabani, 69-year old chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
This was reported exclusively inDEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 92on Jan. 10.
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Officials in Washington still declare they have not yet found a suitable Iraqi candidate to rule the country after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. They say they are still looking for a unifying figure of national stature on the Afghan Hamid Karzai model. However, The US president’s adviser on Iraqi affairs, Zalmy, Khalil-Zad, has begun quietly sending messengers out to canvass opinion on the Talabani candidacy for prime minister or head of state in a democratized Iraq, after the interim stabilization period. This period, during which the US military commander together with a civilian official will run government in Baghdad, could go on for eighteen months.
Khalil-Zad’s messengers met with surprisingly favorable responses inside Iraq.
Leading Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders understand that, after being loyal to Saddam Hussein and collaborating with his regime for three decades, they stand little chance of putting up an acceptable candidate of their own, even if they could agree on one. They also realize that, in the absence of a suitable Sunni leader, they might be saddled with a Shiite politician, representing a community that constitutes 60 percent of the Iraqi population.
Furthermore, if Saddam’s armed forces lose the war to the Americans, Baghdad will be left without a serious Sunni-commanded fighting force, excepting only for the two US-trained and equipped Kurdish militias: Talabani’s PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by his erstwhile rival Massoud Barzani. The two forces, 20,000-strong each, would serve as the backbone of a new Iraqi army capable, with American help, of defending Iraq’s Sunni community against the Shiites.
Khal-Zad’s emissaries are currently in intense dialogue with Barzani and his men for the purpose of joining the two foremost Kurdish leaders in a power-sharing pact that would form the bedrock of central government in Baghdad.
One proposal under discussion, according toDEBKA-Net-Weekly‘ssources, is to replicate the Afghanistan formula whereby Talabani would be prime minister and Barzani defense minister. Another would place Barzani at the head of autonomous Kurdistan.
The Talabani formula is being taken seriously enough in Washington to be brought before Iran. Talabani himself visited the Iranian capital last week to promote his prospects.
Our sources in Tehran report that Iran’s leaders, though not averse to the notion, have set a high price; a strong Shiite representation in the new regime and a list in writing of government jobs reserved for Shiites. The American side did not object, but first demanded the annulment of Barzani’s collaboration pact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, on the principle that private military relations between a government official in Baghdad and a foreign body were unacceptable
In Ankara, Turkish leaders argued that elevating a Kurdish leader to the highest office in Baghdad would whet Kurdish nationalist appetites and was therefore dangerous. The Kurds would be encouraged to fight on until they carved a Greater Kurdistan out of the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, shares control of Iraqi Kurdistan with Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Based in Sulaymaniyah, the PUK’s lands lie in southeastern Kurdistan, while the KDP rules the west.
The two Kurdish leaders, who fought on and off for decades, made common cause in 1998 and committed their armies to the US war effort for overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
In 1976, Talabani launched an armed revolt against the Baath government in Baghdad. His people suffered tragedy in 1988 when Saddam murdered an estimated 50,000 in a chemical attack against Halabjah on the Iranian border.
Talabani sought refuge in Iran, where he has friends. A law graduate of Baghdad University, he has displayed a flair for politics since the 1991 Gulf War, when the declaration of no-fly zones by the Western alliance provided Kurdish tribes in the north and Shiites in the south with safe havens.

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