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IRAQ'S KURDS: A KEY TO STABILITY IN IRAQ
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR GLOBAL PEACE FORUM
Federal News Service
June 8, 2002
MODERATOR: LAITH KUBBA, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY
PANEL III -- IRAQI PERSPECTIVES:
HAMID AL BAYATI,
SUPREME COUNCIL FOR ISLAMIC REVOLUTION IN IRAQ
LAITH KUBBA: Okay, my name is Laith Kubba, and I work for the National Endowment for Democracy. I'm also here in my capacity as an Iraqi. This is the session, I think, a statement -- the whole conference is a statement about a very important issue facing Iraq.
I think we have a distinguished panel of representatives of various political groups. I will not introduce them one by one, because we're really pressed for time, but I do want to point out that in this framework of talking about the pluralist Iraq, we do have a diversity and a variety of voices, not only in terms of political representation.
I would like also to recognize, here with us present, representatives of civil society in Iraq. There is of course, the Iraq Institute for Democracy; there is the US-Iraq Board for Business. There is also General Fazi Al-Shammari (sp), there is Brigadier General Al Salahi, Ghassan Atiyya, and many other Iraqis here who I think, as I said, with this wide representation of political, civil, and of course representatives of other groups, who not all of them are here on the panel. And I fail to mention them, but I very much hope that they get the opportunity to say, for a minute or two, clear statements as we move along.
I do want also to say very quickly that the National Endowment for Democracy also supports a program in North Iraq. We support four projects there. We hope and look forward to expanding that project.
Again, within the context of what has been said, I would like to ask each of the panelists, and I will go in the same order I have them here on the program, to speak for about 10 minutes, to make very clear statements on the issue at stake. And of course I do not expect that they'll argue their points thoroughly, because of the limited time, but I do hope they'll make a very clear position, that will allow some questions and answers to be followed afterwards.
The first speaker I would like to invite is Hamid Al Bayati, from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. And as I said, for the sake of time, I'll ask you to refer to your files for reading his profile.
HAMID AL BAYATI: Ladies and gentleman, it's a great pleasure and honor to address such a gathering of academics, politicians and intellectuals. And it is a real pleasure to take part in another interesting seminar organized by the Center for Global Peace and the American University. So many thanks to Professor Abdul Aziz Said, Professor Carole O'Leary, and everybody else who worked hard to make this seminar a success.
My introduction will be to talk about some background about Kurds in Iraq. As everybody knows, Iraq is one of many countries in the Middle East with a Kurdish minority. Kurds have been struggling to get their basic rights since the beginning of the 20th century in Iraq. They have suffered from repression of the successive Iraqi regimes, especially from the unbridled brutality of Saddam regime since 1979.
The most brutal examples of repression were the use of chemical weapons in Halabja, in which more than 5,000 people were killed in one day, and the Anfal campaign in which 180,000 Kurds disappeared. However, after the popular uprising of 1991, the Kurds compelled the forces of Saddam's regime to evacuate Kurdistan, a region of Northern Iraq. Although this region has been suffering from international sanctions and an internal siege imposed by Saddam's regime, it has since that time been enjoying a much better life in all aspects such as the political, economic, cultural and social, than the areas controlled by Saddam's regime.
The struggle of the Kurds is held dear by all Iraqis, as they consider it as part of their national struggle for freedom, justice and legitimacy. Iraqi Kurdistan is a democratic region in a country ruled by a dictatorship. Iraqi Kurds managed to achieve historical goal when, following the invasion and liberation of Kuwait, they rose up against Saddam's regime and obtained self-rule in Kurdistan.
The Kurdish regional government has been successful in achieving many things, among which are the following: one, free general election in the region and the establishment of an elected parliament; two, political freedom and the freedom to establish political parties; three, freedom of expression, including the establishment of newspapers, magazines, etc.; four, the establishment of law and order and the respect for human right in Kurdistan; five, economic prosperity. The statistics of international organizations such as UNICEF show, for example, how the mortality rate among children has increased in Iraq since 1991. However, it has decreased in Kurdistan. Living standards and health care are so far better in Kurdistan than in the rest of Iraq.
In spite of the difficulties and the problems which face the new experiment in Kurdistan, and in spite of the fighting which took place between the two major Kurdish parties in 1996, one can say that the experiment in Kurdistan shows that Iraqi people can rule themselves in a far better way than the rule of Saddam in Iraq.
If Iraq had been ruled in the same way as Kurdistan has been ruled during the last ten years, it would have been a much better place for the Iraqis, for the region and for the world. This is disregarding the fact that Iraq, without Saddam, without international sanctions, with all the resources and with the constitutional, parliamentary and pluralistic regime, would have been a far better place than it is now.
Iraq Kurds and the fears of a separate Kurdish state. There are unfounded fears, especially in Turkey, that the Kurds might establish an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. There are other unfounded fears of anarchy and civil war occurring in Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime. To calm these fears, the Kurds should do several things, and focus more on certain things than they are at present.
For instance, one, the Kurds have emphasized that Kurdistan is part of a united Iraq, and they are not trying to divide the country and establish a separate state in Kurdistan, whatever the circumstances. They should do this more. Some Iraqis Kurds say that they are Kurds and not Iraqis. In fact, Iraqi Kurds should feel that they are Iraqis rather than anything else.
Two, Iraqi Kurds should make it clear that Iraqi Kurdistan is a safe haven for all Iraqis, and should open their doors to all Iraqis who are oppressed by Saddam's regime in the rest of Iraq. We appreciate Kurdish fears of reprisals by Saddam; however, international protection should be increased to ensure the safety of the region, of the international community, serious about protecting the Iraqi people.
Three, all the Iraqi Opposition groups agreed at Salahudeen Conference in Kurdistan in 1992 that they wanted constitutional, parliamentary and pluralistic regime in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam's regime. The Kurds should focus more on these demands in order to counter fears about the nature of the future regime in Iraq.
Four, the elected Kurdish parliament decided in 1992 that federalism was the best way to guarantee Kurdish rights in a future Iraq. All Iraqi Oppositional groups discussed this issue, and in their conference in Salahudeen they agreed to respect the Kurdish wish to choose federalism, and also agreed that the future elected Iraqi parliament should discuss and approve federalism as the form of relation between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq.
Five, the choice of federalism resulted from the constant repression practiced by the central government against the Kurds. The aim is to decentralize Iraq and to have a regional government in Kurdistan. However, if we want to decentralize Iraq, the call for federalism could be applied to the whole of the country and not only to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iraqi people have long suffered from a centralized dictatorship in Baghdad. There could be several regional governments in Iraq, provided that the central government could retain defense, finance and foreign affairs as its responsibility.
There could be a similar political system of wulias (ph), regional provinces, or what we called regional governments, as it was used during the Ottoman Empire and during the rule of the previous Islamic government. The Caliph used to be a central symbol, but the wylie (ph) had wide authority over administration, judiciary, finance, etc. Iraq in the past was made up of wulias of Baghdad, Basra, and Kufa. Some people said just five federal original areas for Iraq in the future: Baghdad, Mosul, Kufa, Basra, and Kurdistan for example. Spain is a good example of a country to have emerged from dictatorship of General Franco to establish a federal system.
Six, this system could strengthen the unity of Iraq, and not divide Iraq, as some people would imagine. It would strengthen the belief of people in their country and their government, since they would enjoy self-government, or self-rule. These ideas would of course need serious discussion among many different Iraqis as the basis for the future system of government in Iraq. The most important factor is that these issues should be discussed and decided upon by an elected Iraqi parliament after the downfall of Saddam's regime.
Why do -- only two minutes? That's okay. I thought I had -- (inaudible) -- I thought the time had finished. Okay, two minutes? Okay.
MS. : We can - whatever.
MR. AL BAYATI: All right. I can't take four, huh?
MS. : No.
MR. AL BAYATI: Okay, the most important factor is that these issues should be discussed and decided upon by an elected Iraqi parliament after the downfall of Saddam's regime. Why do people believe that Iraq will become divided under federalism, while Germany, Spain, the United States, and many other countries with a federal system are not divided? United Arab Emirates is a federalist state, and it wasn't divided by federalism. Iraq Kurds are a key to stability in Iraq.
No matter what type of self-rule Iraq Kurds have in the future, their fate depends largely on the type of government which will rule Iraq from Baghdad. If we are going to see military dictatorship coming to power through a military coup, or a military mutiny, as, according to widespread speculation, is planned by the United States, then the fate of Iraq Kurds will be no better than it was in the past. The only way that Iraqi Kurds can be sure that they will have a better future than they had in the past is for them to ensure their rights for themselves. They can only do that by being part of the government that will rule Iraq in the future.
The Kurds should be not isolated in Kurdistan, but should also be part of an Iraqi regime. Some Kurds used to say, we do not care who rules Baghdad as long as we have our rights. In fact, unless the Kurds participate in the future government in Baghdad, there will be no guarantee whatsoever that they will be safe in Kurdistan.
The Kurds should ensure their rights by playing a role in overthrowing Saddam's regime, and by participating in the government of Iraq in the future. The same applies to Iraqi's Shi'a majority, and other oppressed minorities in Iraq such as Turkomans, Assyrians, Christians and other minorities. We in the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq believe that all Iraqi people should participate in the process of changing Iraq, and that they should play their part in the government of Iraq in future.
Thank you very much.
MR KUBBA: His Highness Sharif Ali.
SHARIF ALI BIN AL HUSSEIN: Ladies and gentlemen, Iraqi brothers and sisters, friends of the Iraqi people, first of all I'd like to extend my thanks to the American University and to Professor O'Leary for organizing this event and getting us the opportunity to address this conference, but also to meet old friends and make some new ones.
The panel discussion this session is about Iraqi perspectives on the Kurdish issue. Therefore I'd like to take this opportunity to dispel a commonly-held assumption, an assumption held by non-Iraqis and non-Iraqi Arabs, that Iraq is comprised of mutually antipathetic communities that cannot work together, that have animosity toward each other, and that can only be held together by the force of a strong dictator; that Iraq is divided into three groups, three major groups: Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis.
In actual fact, any Iraqi will tell you there is nothing further from the truth. Iraq has no history of inter-communal violence. There are very few incidents where a Kurdish village attacks a neighboring Arab village, or a Shi'ite village attacks a neighboring Sunni village. In fact, Iraqi society -- Iraqi civil society is very harmonious. In fact, there are many incidents of where Arab tribes in Kurdish areas begin to take on Kurdish cultural aspects, and Kurdish tribes in Arab areas take on Kurdish aspects, and some of the Shi'ite tribes in the South are converts from Sunni to Shi'ite within the last hundred years.
So it is a fluid situation, and in Iraqi society inside Iraq, these issues are not important. And I'm sure everybody is thinking in the back of minds now, what about Anfal; the murderous campaign of Anfal and Halabja. Well, in fact, that wasn't conducted by Arabs -- it wasn't conducted by Arab Sunnis, it was conducted by central government against the people of Kurdistan.
And this is the key issue here, that the political conflicts -- the internal violent political conflicts within Iraq of the twentieth century have all been directed towards central government, not between the Iraqi communities. And so it is the attempts by these different groups, not only ethnic and religious, but political, about the relationship of central government with the Iraqi people. And this goes back to the founding of modern Iraq. As this modern state was founded, the central government began to try to extend its roots over the outlying provinces.
Up until then, these provinces had enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, self-rule and independence from the Ottoman Empire, whether it's Kurdistan or in the center or in the South. The modern state began to extend its authority, and the Iraqi army was partially created as a means to counter the more powerful local authorities than the central government. Eventually, modern military technology and modern organization, and the resources of central government, meant that that central government was able to extend its authority to the whole of Iraq, and to extend its rule into the countryside, so that by 1958, by the fall of the monarchy, central government was all-powerful
But with the fall of the monarchy, the central government was in fact weakened, and it opened a period of violent internal political competition, and this gave the opportunity for the Kurdish populations of Iraq to reassert their ethnic aspirations. But once again, this was not a conflict between Kurds and Arabs; this was a conflict between Kurds and central government.
And once again, the supremacy of central government and its superior resources, technology, organization and arms meant that eventually victory went to the central government and the Kurdish people once again suffered.
Therefore, the debate really is about the nature, role and limitations of the authority and power of central government, and the Kurdish movement's whole struggle has been to define that relationship with Baghdad. And federalism is just one attempt to put this relationship into a mutually acceptable framework. Federalism should not be an end in itself; it should be a means to an end. And I would just alert my Kurdish compatriots, with all respect to the attendees here and to speakers, that they shouldn't put their complete trust in academics and foreign diplomats. The Kurdish people, most of all, should know where that can lead.
The central government in Baghdad has enormous resources. The population of Baghdad alone is larger than the entire population of Kurdistan. What we need to build is a framework that we can work together. Don't fall into traps of paper. Saddam gave the Kurdish people huge rights, more than ever before in their history, but he murdered and slaughtered more Kurdish women and children and men than any other person in history. And what needs to be done is to move forward on the relationship between all parts of Iraqi society.
And it isn't just the Kurdish issue; it's for everyone. It's for Arab nationalists, for communists, for Islamics, for Turkomans, for Assyrians, everybody has the same aspirations. They have all struggled against the immense, over-leaning authority and power of central government. And we all have to work together to deal with that issue. In a diverse society such as Iraq, exclusive ideologies of government means that they can only survive by the use of extreme violence, so that any regime that does not recognize the rights and aspirations of others will inevitably lead to a regime such as today's.
So what is the solution? In the West, democracy usually is described in terms of individual human rights, but democracy has two other important roles. It confers legitimacy. Legitimacy does not stem from the barrel of a gun -- revolution does, but not legitimacy -- or on the back of a tank. A democratic system of government confers legitimacy to any regime or government that is in power, and that is an essential fact.
But democracy is not enough. Any African-American will tell you that you can have all the written rights in the world in a perfect democratic society, but that does not protect them, and similarly for the Kurdish citizens of Iraq. What we need is a social contract between all the major political forces inside Iraq that believes in power sharing; that will set up a national institution that is unbiased, unbeholden to any constituency, non-partisan; that will ensure that all participants of Iraqi society can work together for our greater good.
And we have this period -- in this time, in the next few months, to work towards that, because this is a golden opportunity that we have to achieve this now and not lose that opportunity. And the Kurdish populations of Iraq are an integral part of our society. We will work together -- we have to work together to achieve our mutual beneficial future together.
Iraq, which entered the League of Nations in 1932, proposed Egypt to be a member of the League of Nations. Iraq was a signatory of the United Nations Charter and a founding member. This is our opportunity to bring Iraq back into the international community and for it to take on its proper role in the world today.
And once again, I would like to thank the American University for providing the opportunity and the hospitality to host us here. Hopefully, we will be able to reciprocate, return that hospitality next year in Chalma (ph) in Baghdad.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much, Sharif Ali. Thanks for excellent presentation and for very much limiting your remarks to time.
I must say, as you can see we're getting excellent views, and I've received some notes from the floor to introduce the panelists more elaborately. The only reason I didn't do it was because of time, and as you can see we would like to hear their views. I must mention that some of you might ask, is the INC represented on this panel, and why not? And the answer is, of course the INC was invited to participate in this panel, but the reality is that I think we have more than the majority of its leadership -- or representatives of its leadership are already on this panel. So in essence, the agenda is discussed by the real leadership and forces who are within the INC.
Our next speaker -
MR. : (Off mike.)
MR. KUBBA: I think all the leaders -- as you can see, Sharif Ali bin Al-Hussein is on the leadership. You have Hoshyar Zebari; you have the PUK. They're all part of the leadership of the INC. If I recall correctly, that Dr. Chelabi (ph) actually was invited as one of the leadership, but I don't think he participated, and the others are here, so we do consider this panel as very much representative.
Our next speaker is Dr. Salal Al-Shaikhly from the Iraqi National Accord.
SALAL AL-SHAIKHLY: Ladies and Gentleman, Professor O'Leary, our thanks to you and to the American University for organizing this meeting. We salute your work in Iraqi Kurdistan, and your untiring effort to promote human rights, democracy for all Iraqis, and of course specifically for the region that has most been neglected over the past seventy-odd years.
The Kurdish issue, obviously from what we've been hearing, has an extremely irresistible attraction for western governments, regional powers -- you heard this morning -- western academics, and the media, each of course for their own different reasons, and not necessarily matching that of the Iraqi national agenda.
An issue that is seen as a key to stability, as the title of this conference may suggest, can, by definition, be a major cause of instability. It just depends on the point in time, the historical perspective, and one's own point of view. However, I believe our Kurdish brothers in Iraq deserve full marks for elevating the just cause and legitimate national aspirations from this local and regional plateau to the heights of the international agenda. It is also admirable that after 120 years of Shaikh Obaidullah uprising, the Kurds maintain the same single-mindedness regarding the issues of a separate national identity.
The Kurdish issue is of course not totally an Iraq issue. The fact that Iraqi Kurds are amongst the most active in the region, and their prominent in international level, says a great deal about the tolerance and the understanding of the Iraqi people, and the maturity -- and I mean the people, please don't misunderstand me -- and also the maturity of the Iraqi political awareness. I would also like to offer this very reason as to why a country like Iraq, composed of contrasting mosaic of nationalities, religious groups and different sectarian believes stayed united and relatively coherent in the face of all upheavals that Iraq has faced for the past eight years.
The significant thing about the subject is that no Iraqi Opposition inside or outside Iraq, in fact no Iraqi, apart from Saddam Hussein that is, has ever spoken about the possible disintegration of Iraq into separate ethnic, sectarian or national states. Unfortunately, everybody else outside Iraq seems to have done so: the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Jordanians, the Turks, the Iranians, many politicians, scholars and media people in the West. Fortunately, none of these have come in support of the idea. And that is, I think, our good fortune. On this point, we are always offered what in my view is a very simplistic and naive argument.
The scenario divides Iraq into the Shi'ite South, the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, and what remains of the rest of Iraq for the Sunni Arabs. The scenario further assumes that the people in these geographic areas would behave uniformly, and because they belong to the same ethnic sect or racial group, they bear the same political ideology and would have the same voting pattern. Those of you who are familiar with the political history of Iraq would know that Iraqis have not in the past, and I don't think will in the future, follow this pattern of behavior. With the exception of the Kurdish national movement -- because I do regard that movement being more or less like a liberation movement -- all of the traditional Iraqi political parties were based, if you follow them up, on some form of ideological trait, or they did represent some group or another, be it perhaps sometimes in a rather vague fashion.
Numerous political parties and groups, as you probably know, were formed during the formative years in Iraq, and of course, ever since. Political activities in Iraq were always conducted through organized political parties and popular movements. Between 1919 and 1958 most of these movements were secular in ideology and very representative of the Iraqi population in membership. It is only during the past three decades, and as a result of continuous campaign of terror, and sectarian cleansing and deportation that a number of Islamic Shi'ite political groups appeared on the political scene. And of course this was very legitimate and very self -- in a self-preservation fashion.
After July 1958 and up to now, military dictatorship and one- party rule left no room for democracy or political parties. What I'm trying to say, ladies and gentlemen, is that Iraqi politics was not, in a sense, ruled by either an ethnic or sectarian divide. The Iraqis should not allow, I believe, external misconceptions to dictate their way of thinking or the future shape of democratic Iraq. We should reject whatever it is we might have heard this morning and this afternoon.
We are all anticipating, and hopefully some of us participating actively, a change of regime, and very soon in Iraq. I can assure you some of us are participating actively. We also hope that such a change will bring with it a pluralistic, democratic and conciliatory political system. I hope this will satisfy you, Brother Hoshyar. He did ask me to say this loudly, so I'm saying it loudly.
Perhaps more by accident than by design, our Kurdish brothers have enjoyed a good margin of political freedom since March of 1991. The journey to virtual self-rule has been long and very costly. It has taken 70 years since the first Barzani uprising in 1931. A major part of the problem between successive Iraqi governments and the Kurds since 1932 has been the wide gap of credibility of the central government.
Again, going back to the title of this conference, the Iraqi- Kurdish issue has been a course for continuous discomfort to varying Iraqi governments since 1931. Unfortunately, the cycle of events has been that in order for the Kurds to assert their national rights they would take to arms, central government would respond in kind, and a great deal of suffering and loss would take place. What I'm saying here is that our Kurdish brothers should have taken the case straight to the Iraqi people so that they will take with them -- not only fight the central government by themselves, but take the Arab community with them to fight the central government. This, of course, they did later on.
Coming to the election -- and I'm really running fast here -- coming to the election of May 1992, I think it was a milestone in history, in the history of Iraqi Kurdistan. The organization, participation and integrity that resulted was hailed as a great success and achievement, and this is really an answer to those who would say Iraqis are not ready for democracy. Iraqis are ready for democracy here and now, not umpteen years later.
In fact, there was another thing -- this is in answer to Peter's intervention -- an exit poll, Peter, was conducted during the election as to whether voters prefer to remain as part of the state of Iraq or whether they preferred separate state. Eighty-one percent said they would rather stay within Iraq; 19% wanted separate states. In my view, this is quite significant, especially while the memories of atrocities committed by Saddam and his henchmen, private army, were still fresh in everybody's mind, including Iraqi Arabs.
Now, during the past 10 years, the Iraqi Kurdish movement has achieved a great deal, most important of which was convincing other Arab-based political parties of their just cause, and they have won the support of other Arab political movements. Iraqi Opposition parties meeting in Salahudeen -- and I had the honor of being on the drafting committee -- have agreed to a federal system of government in the post-Saddam era, and both Kurdish parties have reached some accommodation with Turkey and Iran, be it a rather uneasy one at times. Internationally, they have gained the respect and recognition of most European -- as well as the United States, who, as you know, is still acting as a broker between the two major parties. At present, and in the words of both Kurdish leaders, outright independence does not look likely. It's not my words.
Now, the only other option, I believe, that will benefit the Kurdish cause and bring it to the centerfold of Iraqi politics, is actively to engage in the overall Iraqi political process, not as just Kurds, but as Iraqis; not wanting a minor role, but wanting a major role in the overall Iraqi decision-making process at the nation level. This is of course, hopefully, not very long -- pretty soon, in a liberated post-Saddam democratic era. And I believe, Mr. Chairman, Professor O'Leary, only by doing so they can become major contributors to the stability and the future well-being of all Iraqis.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
MR KUBBA: Thank you very much, Dr. Shaikhly. Our next speaker is Mohammad Sabir. He represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and heads their office here in Washington, D.C.
MOHAMMAD SABIR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ladies and Gentlemen, unlike other panelists, I do speak on behalf of the organization that I represent. (Laughter, applause.)
First of all, I would like to start off by thanking American University's Center for Global Peace, namely Professor Abdul Aziz Said and Professor Carole O'Leary in particular, for arranging this forum that touches on a very important topic, the Kurdish being a key to stability in Iraq.
Since -- (inaudible) -- for the central issue of power in a way that does not truthfully represent the mosaic that Iraq is, coupled with the successive, dictatorial Iraqi government's policies that have consistently violated their obligations in granting the civil and human rights of the Iraqi Kurds, have all resulted in conflicts and continued instability in Iraq. The conflicts and unrest of this state find their roots in the peace treaties that were concluded at the end of World War I.
As a consequence of this state of affairs, resistance and conflicts have been predominant features of the contemporary Iraqi history. There have been Kurdish uprisings in 1990, 1933-34, 1930 in Slomania (ph), the Barzani movement during 1943-1945, the September 1961 revolution, 1974-75 uprising, and the renewed resistance from 1976 up to 1991, as well as countless Iraqi uprisings.
Despite all the events, and the tragedies that have befallen on our people, we, the Kurds, have always shown honest goodwill by welcoming any initiatives to solve the problems between the Iraqi government and the Kurds. All our attempts at negotiating with the central government in 1963, 1967, 1970, 1983, and most notably in 1991, were invariably met with betrayal and treachery from our Iraqi government counterparts.
All of us remember very well the Kurdish exodus after the '91 uprising, which occurred immediately after the Gulf War ceased. The Kurdish people were brutally suppressed by the Iraqi military. It was only after the images of millions of Kurds heading for the mountains of Turkey and Iran that led to humanitarian intervention, which ultimately led to Operation Provide Comfort.
The people of Iraqi Kurdistan finally felt a sense of stability in their world upon the commencement of Operation Northern Watch. The over-flights deterred, except on one occasion in 1996, any future aggression from the Iraqi regime, and allowed the Iraqi Kurds to rebuild their shattered lives. As a result of this new found security, the Kurdish people found it necessary to hold free parliamentary elections on the 19th of May '92, and representatives to the Kurdish National Assembly were elected.
Ladies and gentlemen, it must be noted that the government of Iraq today continues with its ethnic cleansing policy in trying to change the demography of the Kurdish cities like Kirkuk, cities like Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Majer, Mandali, and Sinjar by forcibly evicting those that do not change their identities from Kurds to Arabs. These actions are clear violations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688.
In what is referred to as Liberated Iraq, the Kurdish people are enjoying their freedom as never before.
The regional administration has helped create an environment where there is freedom of speech, freedom of press, and a freedom for one to choose his or her own ideology. Truly a semblance of civil society far greater than any other Arab countries is emerging. With this civil society comes stability, as has been the case in the recent years.
Yes, there have been conflicts between the Kurdish parties in the past, but we are sure that those days are over. Indeed the PUK and the KDP are still two different political parties with their own power struggle, but we have matured to a level where disputes and the struggle for power will not be resolved by force or conflict, rather by diplomacy and discussions. So we are, I think, only 150 years behind the Untied States.
The Washington Peace Accord between the PUK and the KDP provides a momentum for continuing the democratic political process and further stabilizes the situation. As a sign of continued cooperation, it is fitting that on this forum it is mentioned that a cooperative agreement has been signed between the United States government and Meridian International Center where, at the initiation of both Kurdish parties, a major project will begin to improve all aspects of healthcare delivery in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraq and its future: that's the main issue, I don't know. The people of Iraq continue to experience immense hardships. The tragedy of Iraq predated the Gulf War, as we in Kurdistan know all too well. The tragedy stems from the domination of totalitarian regimes and the lack of basic tenets of democracy and the rule of law. Addressing Iraq's problems requires a serious and arduous effort to reshape fundamentally Iraqi politics.
From the Iraqi Kurd's perspective, federalism and a fundamental decentralization of power represents a viable framework for addressing the national identity issue, as well as alleviating our profound security concerns and thus providing a mechanism to transfer the growing stability in Iraqi Kurdistan to the rest of Iraq. The Kurdish parliament, on October 4th, 1992, unanimously endorsed federalism as the framework for Kurdistan's place within the territorial integrity of Iraq.
In proposing a federal democratic state that respects human rights, the Kurdistan parliament has affirmed a long-standing Kurdish position for a voluntary union between the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq. This declaration came at a time when we were essentially enjoying de facto independence. As a columnist with the Arab daily, Al-Hayat, observed, "Iraqi Kurds enjoy independence, but revert back to federalism." The federalism declaration was in no small measure a testament to the realism and maturity of the Kurdish leadership.
It is important to note that the federalism concept is no longer exclusively a Kurdish demand. It has evolved to become an Iraqi platform as it was endorsed unanimously in the Iraqi Opposition conference in New York in 1999. Iraqis of all backgrounds have come to realize that the old political order cannot be maintained. They have come to recognize that Kurdish self-government, even in the present form, which is often seen as a de facto independence, is very significant and must carefully be evaluated by observers of Iraq. As in the current context, the Iraqi Kurdistan region has no political link to the central government. A federal setup should be interpreted as reintegrating Iraqi Kurdistan with the rest of Iraq, rather than how some people refer to it as the separation of Iraq.
What happened in Baghdad, the capital of the proposed federation, is of consequence to all Iraqis. It is a fallacy to think that the Kurdish national rights can be guaranteed without due regard to the political realities of Central and Southern Iraq. Iraq must become a constitutional democracy for the Kurds, and for that matter, other constituent groups, to feel safe and secure. The unity of Iraq can only be made viable if, and only if, it is based on a voluntary union of its people. The centralized dictatorial Iraq is a menace, a failure that cannot be allowed to resurrect. In fact, is can be argued that the Kurdish self-government in Iraq has shown that it might be possible to restructure Iraq along these lines. In any case, the Kurds in Iraq are destined to play a central role in devising and shaping a new state whose model and example will have profound implications for the whole region.
On the other hand, being both secular and democratic, the Kurdish movement in Iraq is strategically placed to make a major contribution to stability in the region. Furthermore, the Kurdish role in Iraq can be crucial for long-term security of the Middle East. To this end, the Kurdish leadership is playing an active role within various Iraqi Opposition groups as well as the INC, an umbrella organization for the Iraqi Opposition, which aims to bring about a democratic, pluralistic, federal system in a united Iraq.
It is important for the international community to become more active in helping to consolidate the economic and democratic gains in Iraqi Kurdistan. A successful and stable Iraqi Kurdistan stands as an important catalyst for a better and stable Iraq. Furthermore, a stable democratic Iraq will not only serve the people of Iraq but will go a long way to stabilize the entire Middle East.
So we are correct in saying that the Kurds can be a key to stability in Iraq. We could take it farther by saying that the Kurds can play a major role in stabilizing the Middle East.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much, Mohammad.
Our next speaker is the representative of the Iraqi National Movement, Mr. Mudhar Shawkat.
MUDHAR SHAWKAT: Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues and friends, I've just been reminded by Professor O'Leary to be as brief as possible. So I'm going to cut out the thanks that I was planning to put to the American University. Thank you very much.
I'm going to concentrate more on an issue that has stirred a lot of debate among Iraqis, and among regional countries. And what else? Federalism. It has been a term that recently has become so popular among those who discuss the future interrelation of Arabs and Kurds in Iraq. Unfortunately, this term is often used with little or no definition of what it may mean or how it would be implemented.
To many people, federalism is a system used in democratic countries under which equal opportunity and political participation are provided to different peoples within the state. It is seen as a way of administrating a country so that everybody can participate on a regional, cooperational or ethnic basis. As a result, it is a way of dividing the wealth of a country more equitably.
In Iraq, although some believe that federalism is the ideal solution for the Kurdish persons, others worry that it may be the first step towards the creation of a separate Kurdish state. Much depends, however, on how federalism is implemented. Advocates of federalism point to its advantages: stability, social justice and equitable distribution of power and wealth. Skeptics worry that federalism dilutes the unity of a state, and may lead to an eventual breakup. They point to the issues of the Kurdish language, the Kurdish flag, the autonomous monetary system, occasional calls for a Kurdish army to replace the current militia, not to mention the autonomous Kurdish government, and wonder where will this all lead to.
The question has always been how to bridge the gap between partisans of Kurdish identity and advocates of a unified Iraq. Many people talk about how democracy will solve this issue. But in fact, this contradiction must be resolved before a democracy can function well. Some say that this issue can be resolved in a new constitution for Iraq. But how is this to be accomplished? Through a popular referendum? But how is the ideal for a unified Iraq to be safeguarded? It is not a simple task to resolve the conflict between national unity and self-determination. The United States faced this issue in the Civil War. Unless the issue is framed carefully beforehand, the results of any referendum might be rejected by the losing side. Many argue that federalism cannot be applied only to the Arab-Kurdish relationship. If it is to work, it must be seen as the answer also for all Iraqis, including the Turkomans, the Assyrians, the Armenians, the Chaldians, the Yazidis, the Sabaeans, who otherwise would feel excluded from the new federalist equation.
In addition, how would this new federalist concept affect the relationship between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, which are complicated by an overlay of tribal, regional and socioeconomic factors.
It is certainly not a secret, for example, that not all Arabs feel that they have an equal opportunity in the Iraq of today. Indeed, this is a serious issue. If federalism has so many virtues, why should it define only the status of the Kurds within a unified Iraq? Many would argue that a new Iraq should perhaps be organized federally along geographical lines, much like the United States, but along economical lines, with incentives for economic investments, as is done in China.
Many people in Iraq today feel grievances against the centralized state system. How these grievances are to be addressed, how Iraqis can be made to feel part of the post-Saddam order would require considerable debate, and cannot be resolved simply with the word federalism. The Iraqi National Movement, though it strongly believes that although some form of federalism may be the only answer for Iraq, this conclusion cannot be reached without a comprehensive study of the federal experiences of the dynamics of successful democracies and the unique circumstances of Iraq, not Bosnia.
The INM believes that the forum to discuss the federalist issue is a top priority. Iraqi scholars, politicians, ethnic and confessional leaders, and ordinary Iraqis of all stripes should have an opportunity to debate this question in detail. Advocates and opponents of federalism would have their say. Different forms of federalism should also be discussed, which would provide opportunities to bridge the gap between advocates and opponents. Eventually a consensus should emerge.
The key aim through such reform -- the key aim through such reform would be to quiet the fears of the skeptics concerning a federalist solution. It is also important to make clear that we cannot achieve unity through coercion. That time is over. We shall not agree with those who place their own aspirations above the aspirations of other groups. We should not agree with those who seek to impose their own views and culture upon others. And we should not agree, certainly, with those who think force and coercion may be a way to preserve a unified Iraq. It has failed. Iraq and all Iraqis have suffered enough. It is a time for dialogue. It is time that the needs of all Iraqis are addressed.
Long ago, King Faisal understood the ethnic and confessional imbalances in the power structure of Iraq and worked to bring all Iraqis together. He opened the doors to the Shi'ites and the Kurds, and brought them into the government. He placed promising Shi'ites and Kurdish young men, and other ethnic -- or people from other ethnic backgrounds into accelerated training programs, and adopted what we would call today a program of affirmative action for disadvantaged Iraqis. During that period, the monarchy period until 1958, Iraqis with different national, ethnic, religious, regional and tribal backgrounds were encouraged to participate in the formation of modern Iraq. They did. They did. We need to recapture that spirit; the spirit that was started by King Faisal.
Today, unfortunately, the imbalances that King Faisal thought to redress have become even more sharply defined. This happened because those who came later were driven only by the lust for power, and sought to solidify their tenuous positions by promoting only those who were personally loyal to them. In the future we do not need simply a government that will abide by a democratic constitution, but we are also in dire need of a government that can implement democratic reforms in a way that address these serious imbalances which plague the party politic.
The Kurds played that important role in Iraq even before the creation of the Iraqi State. In fact, if there were not for the affirmative Kurdish vote in the referendum of the 1920s, most of the North of Iraq would have not have been part of Iraq today. The Kurds must not only take an active role in the building of a post-Saddam Iraq, they must take a leading role. If Iraq is to remain united, all of its people will have to take part in leadership and reconstruction. Only then can Iraqis from all walks of life feel that they are really Iraqis, not simply because they live in a piece of land which we call today Iraq.
On behalf of the INM Chairman, Hassa Nabid (ph), myself, and my colleagues in the executive committee, and all of our INM members, I take this opportunity to salute all of you present and again thank the American University for their invitation and opportunity, and their hospitality and successful effort to convene this conference. Thank you very much.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much, Mudhar.
I would like to ask Dr. Hatem Mukhlis, who is the cofounder of the Iraqi National Movement, maybe to speak for about three minutes, and I think he's got a personal message also to deliver.
HATEM MUKHLIS: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be here today among brothers, trying to make sense of and find solutions for a problem that has burdened humanity in Iraq.
Dr. Shawkat, my longtime friend, and cofounder of our movement, delivered our movement's message. I would like to relay a complimentary message, yet somewhat different. It is a personal and a tribal message from the very people that have kept Saddam in power all these years.
The people of my hometown of Tikrit; the people who have been branded by Saddamism, yet have suffered immensely from this association, they have given sacrifices all these years -- decent men who have put the welfare of all Iraqis above their own, and eventually they gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, for the cause that they believed in: names like my father, Jasim Mukhlis, my uncle Sofer Mucklus, Hardan Al-Tikriti, Dr. Raji Al-Tikriti, a well-known person, Sufian Salih, Omer Al-Hazzaa, Hamid Al-Alawi, Rashid Muslih, Thabit Sultan. Ladies and gentlemen, the list goes on and on.
We need to always remind ourselves that Saddam never discriminated. His atrocities have touched every Iraqi equally. It didn't matter where they came from or where they lived or what they believed in. We should not impugn the good and genuine desires of those patriotic Iraqis who are ready to right the wrong, and rise up to the responsibility that is demanded of every single one of us. It is absolutely exhilarating that we are here, discussing the future of Iraq, with the many options, many wonderful scenarios. But let us not forget that all of these are moot as long as Saddam is enjoying the powers and the riches of Iraq.
We have a moral responsibility to God and to our country t be altruistic to all our fellow Iraqis, whose pleading has hit brick walls and deaf ears. We all need to set aside our mundane interests and differences. Stand up, speak and act in unison in order to rid our Iraq of the pugnacious despot who has violated all rules and all laws under the sun. Let us all stand one arm, one heart and one mind in order to regain our Iraq back. It will take all of us, Iraqis of all aspects of life, to work together in harmony in order to get our strong, prosperous, united and democratic Iraq in any form that's going to please all Iraqis alike. May God help us and bless us to get our endeavor.
Thank you very much.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much, Dr. Hatem.
Our last speaker on the panel is Hoshyar Zebari. We look forward to your statement, as it will be the last one.
HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Ladies and gentlemen, I also would like to thank Professor Carole O'Leary and her colleagues, who have done a very good job in organizing this conference, and Professor Said, who has been supervising this project.
First of all, I'd like to reassure you all that indeed there is no conspiracy whatsoever in organizing this conference, neither by American University, nor by the Kurds, nor by our friends from the U.S. government. This is an independent initiative by the American University. Every year they have an annual conference, an event that the KDP administration do support, in fact, to promote the understanding of the Kurdish issues, culture and history. This year the focus and the subject was chosen to be the rule of Iraqi Kurds and Iraq stability. So be assured that there is no conspiracy whatsoever in coming out with a plan or a project to divide Iraq or to impose our view or vision of federalism on our colleagues in the Iraqi Opposition, or at all -- nothing like that.
Secondly, I'd like to say that, really, we've come a very, very long way. I remember 10 years ago there was a book published by a writer here in the United States. It was titled, "The Kurds: An Unstable Element.
" So after 10 years, to come and say that -- to discuss the role of the Kurds as an element of stability in the region, is really a -- we should take great pride in that.
I also am very proud of what we have achieved in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is a success story by all yardsticks, by all measurements. All those who have seen it, we don't say we have created the most wonderful democracy in the world or in the region, but by comparison really I think we have made the right step toward building civil societies, building democratic institutions, and we need the help of all those who cherish these ideas and values to support us and to help us.
Our thanks -- of course, we would not have been able to achieve that without the support and the backing of our friends, especially the U.S. government, the government of the UK, the government of Turkey. And here this morning, Ambassador Sanberk spoke, whom we owe him a great deal. He was in fact the architecture of Kurdish-Turkish, KDP-PUK relation with the government of Turkey. So we will not forget those friends who have stood with us, who have helped us. And among you here also, we have many, many friends on the human rights fields who also have stood with us when, during some of our dark days, difficult days, nobody would even see us or meet us in any government departments. I showed my colleagues the other day the place where we met a State Department official outside the building for a coffee in 1991.
The other point I'd like to make is that this is one of the very few conferences -- it's not organized or run by U.S. government funding, or by U.S. money. In fact, this is an independent initiative, and we are so pleased. And thanks to the organizers for bringing this very wonderful audience together.
And this is a message also that, really, when you have your objective, you have the will, the determination, most of the Iraqi Opposition can get together because we have a unity of purpose. We have many things in common, more than what divide us. That's possible, we can sit down, talk, discuss our future, because this country's our country, for the Kurds, for the Arabs, for the Turkomans, for the Assyrians. And our rule is to be one of stabilizing. Really, this is for us a great honor, but it is an actual fact of life also. We do hold a number of very positive elements in the Iraq power structure. We could be a balancing factor. We could be a stabilizing factor. We could be a model of what we have achieved now in Iraqi Kurdistan for the rest of the country.
I don't want to go into many of these details, but I'd like to come to a number of things. Racial federalism, as my colleague in the PUK raised, in fact this is not the decision of the KDP or the PUK, or any of the Kurdish political parties. This decision was taken by the representative of the Kurdish people, of three and a half million people who voted in 1992 in a free and fair election and declared that this is the wish, this is the demand of our people. So neither the KDP nor the PUK, or any other group, can backtrack or deny that this was his policy or not.
And it was adopted later on by the whole -- most of the Iraqi Opposition leadership in Salahudeen in 1992. And then this idea was approved again in New York --in the New York conference in 1999. So this is not something new in the region. Federalism is a way of living together, despite differences that can be very profound, while respecting diversity and unity. It's also a way of decentralizing power, of bringing political authority closer to the country's citizens. As much decentralization as possible and as much centralism as necessary, this is how we see that.
But again, our future is tied with Iraq. We cannot go it our own way. We believe unless the issue is resolved in Baghdad, unless the broader issue of regime change is resolved, there is no way we, the Kurds, can resolve our problem independently or separately at all. So the true issues are linked together, and at the moment both we and the PUK, whom we are working together with -- and I can reassure you, all of us who have any suspicion of KDP-PUK relation, of Kurdish differences, disunity, these days are over.
Still, we have our differences, but we can live with those differences. These differences will not become an obstacle for both of us to look beyond our immediate interests. Our focus is more on Baghdad, on regime change, on where we could be fully represented; we could have a say on how this country should be run. Also, we should revisit the whole political system of the Iraqi State since it was created. We feel it is unjust. We feel that it has to be revisited and reconstructed on the basis of a democratic, open pluralistic basis where all the communities would be represented.
Now, are we interested in regime change? Yes, we are interested. We'd very much like to see a new government, a representative government in Baghdad. Some people would say, why should you give up what you have? You've achieved a great many things, for what? Definitely we are willing to give up what we have for a better future, for a better influence, for a more prosperous future for our people, but definitely we will not give it up without charge, or for free, unless we are reassured of a secure future and supported. As some of the speakers and the panelists said earlier, really we will not risk what we have, but we will be in this together, jointly, until the job is done, until the job is finished, and it should be very strong, ironclad security assurances and guarantees that we, the Kurds, will not be let down again.
We have some very bitter experience in the past. There are still living memories in us: '74, '91. We were let down, in fact, by the U.S. government, let down mainly because there were some pledges that were not followed through. So, this time, definitely, we will not be deceived. We also have become wiser; we have become more experienced. Now, especially with the revolution of technology and information, we are able to work, to operate and to communicate, to contact, so unless there are some sound assurances, definitely we will not risk what we have.
Thank you very much, Carole. I appreciate your patience.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you all for these excellent presentations, and very much limiting your remarks to the time.
Now, we all heard some very clear statements, obviously, as far as the position of the - the will of the Kurdish people regarding federalism. We also heard that there is not only a great -- there is a clear goodwill made by the other political representations. But I think the point also has been made that this is a sensitive issue that needs a lot of contextualization, and maybe some sensitive and skilled handling. There is no doubt one would seek justice for all, but if we can achieve fairness for most, I think we've done a good job.
What I want to do is -- as you have seen - again, this is not by any type of plot, but all the people who are on the panel are politicians and civilians, and we have kept the military off the panel at the moment, but we -- as I said, we do recognize both General Fazi Al-Shammari and Brigadier General Al-Salahi. And I would like to give them each a minute if they want to make a comment. Again, as I said, we heard from political movements, and maybe a comment from each of them is welcome before I move forward, and I can see people lining up for questions already.
So maybe one minute, General Al-Shammari.
GENERAL FAZI AL-SHAMMARI (sp): Thank you. Thank you for this sort of democracy: each one has 20 minutes, and I have one minute. (Laughter.)
And I would like to say -- first of all, I thank all the organizers of this meeting. And I would like to express a soldier's view about democracy. Democracy, ladies and gentlemen, the way we see it, is a way of leadership. We were talking about democracy for a long time. We studied democracy since the 5th grade. And we keep talking about democracy. And I would like to mention one event to clarify our democracy.
INM is a group, or is a movement combined of IOM, which is my group, and INL, which is my friend's group. The president of the group is General Hazindaki (ph), he's in Syria, and I'm the vice president. How come that we don't know that we have a representative here?
Thank you for this practice.
MR. KUBBA: General Brigadier Al Salahi.
GENERAL AL SALAHI: (Speaks in Arabic).
MR. KUBBA: If you speak quickly in half a minute, I'll translate in the other half
GEN. AL SALAHI: (Speaks in Arabic).
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much. Let me just -- let me very quickly translate what Brigadier Salahi has said.
Number one is that he just wanted to remind us that the army, prior to 1958, not only was a professional national army, but had some margin of say, and as an institution it was respected and consulted. But with the emergence of a dictatorship, the army has become nothing but an instrument at the hands of the dictator, and it has lost as an institution, like the rest of the people. He very much sees and hopes that the army ultimately would be a servant to the national will that is represented by a democratic government.
What I'll do is I will take four questions, two from each microphone, and then I will ask the panelists to respond. But please, it will be much easier if you direct your question to any of the panelists.
Please go ahead.
Q -- Service, but I am speaking in my personal capacity.
It's very heartening for me as a Kurd to hear representatives of the Iraqi Opposition calling on the Kurdish underdog to play an active and a leading role in Iraqi politics. I conceive that as a sign of political maturity and not of weakness or incompetence. My questions are the following very short ones, and anyone could answer them, because it's directed to all of them.
When can we conceivably expect the establishment of an Iraqi government in exile soon, both outside and inside the country?
The second question is that Dr. Salal Al-Shaikhly mentioned something. He took the example of the elections in Kurdistan in 1992 as the capability of the Iraqi people in establishing democracy. There's a lot of skepticism outside of the Iraqi Opposition and the Iraqi people in being able to do that. You, as representatives of the mainstream of the Iraqi Opposition and the Iraqi people, do you think that your people and your opposition are capable of establishing a democratic alternative or not?
MR. KUBBA: Excellent, thank you.
Q My question is directed to Mr. Hoshyar Zebari. My name is -- (inaudible) -- with Turkey's NTV Television. You said you would need solid security guarantees from the United States to act against Saddam Hussein. What kind of security guarantees, in return for what, and would those include guarantees against possible interventions by Turkey or Iran, if they want to, in the event of a conflict?
MR. KUBBA: Thank you.
Q Trudy Rubin from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I would like to ask Hoshyar Zebari, following up on the previous question, when you talk about security guarantees, what are the signs from the United States -- besides guaranteeing your security, what are the military signs and the guarantees that you would need to believe that the United States was serious about following through to the end?
I'd also like to ask you, you said that the two main Kurdish forces are united now, in order for regime change. Will you be united after the regime changes?
MR. KUBBA: Excellent.
Q Peri Karid (ph), Kurdish Human Rights Watch. First of all, I want to say that after hearing the members of the Iraqi Opposition, especially Mr. Al Bayati, I was very impressed and heartened that there is a future for Iraqi Kurdish partnership in leading the future of Iraq. My question in regards to the federalism, is if there is a federalism, how do you view the role of the Kurds in this federal state, and what would be the role of the Kurds in the central government?
And my second question -- and you, members of the Iraqi Opposition, can respond, and also Dr. Mohammad Sabir and Hoshyar Zebari, any of you can respond - is why do you think it's acceptable for Iraqi Opposition members from the Arab-speaking community to accept the Kurdish federal state, but it is hard for Turkey to accept the Kurdish federal state?
MR. KUBBA: Thank you.
I will go actually to the panels, and ask them maybe to make brief answers so that we can take more questions.
Maybe, Hoshyar Zebari, we start with you, because you had most of the questions.
MR. ZEBARI: Ahmer's (sp) question about security guarantees -- in fact, earlier some of the panelists, especially Peter, I think exposed those needs very eloquently and clearly. One of the assurances that we seek, always, is the protection of our civilian population from retaliation by Iraqi troops. As you know, there are three and a half million people, the majority of them live in the cities, they are very close to the Iraqi front lines for instance. Any move or any shelling or any attacks really could endanger thousands of lives.
This is the most important thing. Of course we enjoy at the moment the no-fly zone and the assurances that if there was an Iraqi attack on the Kurdish population, the United States would retaliate at the time and place of its choosing. We want this reprisal to be turned into a kind of deterrence for any Iraqi troops movement or infantries into the area, really that that needs to be stopped.
About the rule of our neighbors, Turkey and Iran. In fact, an intervention by any country -- I will not say Turkey or Iran or Syria -- in the event there is an effort to do regime change, it will really -- that move will create the real chaos, not the Iraqi Opposition, not the Kurds, not the federalism, whatever, because this will bring all the other countries, all the other players also to intervene in different ways. So this, we have taken a position on that, really that no regional intervention should take place in Iraqi affairs.
Now, your questions I think were the same. I think I answered the first one?
Q No, but what I asked was, what military actions by the U.S. would convince you that the U.S. was committed to following through in assuring that there was a regime change? I don't --
MR. ZEBARI: It's difficult for me really to speak for the U.S. government or officials - (laughter) -- but you've been to Iraq, you've been to Kurdistan, you've been a very active follower of the Iraqi events. I think it's very clear, when you realize that somebody is serious, to follow on his statement, his -- what he's saying, basically, on the ground. I mean the more you talk, the less you do act, really, the less credible you become. I mean, this is a fact of life anywhere, not only here but all parts of the world.
I believe it's very clear what we need to see -- and a commitment that we will be together, we will do this job, we will finish this job, we will not leave you halfway as in the past, or before -- so many people who would take the risk of joining the opposition, or the resistance movement, then would wait for a pardon from Saddam to go back again, as our military officers know that fact very well.
Whether our unity will remain after regime change, well, we are doing our best to keep this unity to work together.
In fact, we have been doing that for the past two or three years, I would say, very, very, closely, and we have no future. We will not gain anything unless we act in a united way, both the KDP and PUK, and both leaderships really recognize that. It's not a tactical move. Both of them have come to the conclusion that unless we are united, unless we -- there is an opportunity definitely, but unless we work in unity, and in unity with the Iraqi Opposition, with our allies, we will gain nothing.
MR. KUBBA: Actually, what I'll do, I'll take one more comment from the panel and go back to taking questions because I don't want to keep everybody there waiting for long. So maybe I'll ask Bayati to reply to the question that was raised to you?
MR. AL BAYATI: The question is about the role of the Kurds in the future government of Iraq and Baghdad, and the regional government in Kurdistan.
We believe that all Iraqis -- Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans and other minorities -- should play a role in the changing process of Iraq and the future government, which means that the government of Iraq should consist of all these ethnic diversities and religious sectors. That means that Kurds will have a role in the central government of Baghdad. However, if we talk about federalism -- I talked about regional government, so if we have a federal system - if we have a regional government in Kurdistan, it would be Kurdish government. If we have a federal government, and for example it could be Sunni Arabs, in the South could be Shi'ite Arabs. This is regional government elected by regional people. Central government would be elected by Iraqi people, but Iraqi people will be Kurds, Arabs, or -- (inaudible) --. The Kurds will play a role in central government and the regional government, according to the system which is going to be agreed by the constitution and the future elected parliament of Iraq.
However, I just want to mention one thing. You were impressed, but I cut most of my speech because of the time limit. (Laughter.) You know, they told us we can speak 15 and up to 17 minutes. When I get up, he said 10 minutes, which is half of -- we have still to cover relations between the Kurds and the Shi'ites. Mohsin al-Hakim was the highest religious authority for the Shi'ites in the world between 1950 and 1970. He issued a fatwa in the '60s that five things -- that Kurds and Kurdistan is forbidden. And this is why actually the sectarian government in Baghdad tried to get fatwas from religion leaders, Muslim leaders, that actually the Kurds are outlaws and they should be - four, they should be killed. But the highest religious authority for the Shi'ites issued a fatwa against killing the Kurds, although he's Shi'ite, they are Sunnis, which is a good example that Iraqis are together, they live together.
Now, as regards to that central government, actually to our sectarian government it was Tikriti basically since 1968, but since 1979 it's become Saddamis, only family of Saddam. This is why his (inaudible) such as mentioned by Hatem Mukhlis, Jasim Mukhlis, and Raji Al-Tikriti and whoever, Omer Al-Hazzaa. But actually, you know, the government started from a sectarian government to a town government, and then to a family government of Saddam himself. We want a broad-based government for all Iraqis, be they Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrian, or whoever.
Thank you very much.
MR. KUBBA: I can still see a lot of room is really needed for defining a lot of the statements that are made, especially in sort of going around the issue of what does it mean, a government that is open to all and everybody participate in it? And I'm sure this will be the subject of a follow-up by all of you.
I'll take maybe four more questions.
Q Thank you. I'd just like to make a brief statement and then I'll have a question.
MR. KUBBA: Can you go straight for the question? I'm sorry, because we will not have time.
Q Okay, I'll go for the question. And my question is to the three major -- the representatives of the three major political groups, the Supreme Islamic Council, the INC and National Accord. There has been a lot of discussion about democracy, about federalism. You all made a very eloquent points and remarks about democracy and federation, and how things are great in Kurdistan and how great the Kurdish people are doing. But one thing that is missing from the discussion, at least for me and probably some others, is, what do you mean by federation? We have heard federation 18, 19 states. We have heard federation, seven regions in Iraq.
As Kurds, we see our whole area, Kurdistan, as a separate area within whatever federation or confederation, or even future partition of Iraq. So I really would like to see what these three gentlemen's views are on federation, and what kind of federation they mean, so it will be clear to us, because I think this will ensure that tomorrow if we agree on this, that it will be a smooth transition to democracy, to whatever we want to do.
MR. KUBBA: Ali.
Q Ali Akmed (ph), independent Saudi journalist in Washington. Free Iraq means vibrant and rich Kurdish culture and identity. It means a vibrant Shi'ite religious institution. These two major elements threaten regional power. In Turkey -- Kurdish identity and culture, as we all know, is forbidden in Turkey, and that could lead to Turkey undermining that. In the same time, Iran would lose its religious authority. Iraq, as we know, is the bastion of Shi'iasm for a thousand years in the House of Najef (ph) and the ayatollahs and grand ayatollahs.
MR. KUBBA: Ali, I need a question.
Q Also, Saudi Arabia, with its anti-Shi'ite -- (inaudible) -- institution. These three regional powers, how do you think the future shape of government in Iraq would deal with these three regional powers?
MR. KUBBA: Excellent, thanks.
Go ahead, please.
Q Yes, this is for Dr. Salal. It's well known that the Arab states in the Middle East dislike Saddam Hussein; would love to see him gone. However, those same Arab states almost uniformly have expressed concern about the destabilizing effects of a military attack on Iran. You and the other panelists seem to see stability coming with this potential attack on Iraq and events that would follow. How do you account for the different perception: stability that you see following the attack, instability that the Arab states seem to perceive?
MR. KUBBA: Excellent, thanks.
And the last question? Please go ahead.
Q My name is Dr. Faregon Kame (ph). I represent myself. My question is to Mr. Al-Hussein from Iraqi National Congress, and to Mr. Al Bayati.
I'm from Kirkuk, and Mr. Al-Hussein said in his speech that the Iraqis' problem is not ethnic problem or ethnic live together peacefully for long time. And I used to believe in that until 1971, when Arab started from south invading my city, and kicking out of the citizens of city of Kirkuk, and prohibiting Kurdish citizens to live there. And since then, floods over there. There's no Kurdish identity left over there. The ideology, the culture, the structure of the city is changed.
Would you, if you believe in what you said -- and also Mr. Al Bayati, who believes in Islamic that prohibits placement of people and -- (inaudible) -- and things - would you assure a statement to Arabs in Kirkuk to leave the city for its own population and go back to their homes?
MR. KUBBA: Okay. I will ask, I think, two of the panel, Sharif Ali and then Salal Al-Shaikhly, to respond to the questions.
MR. AL-HUSSEIN: First of all, I'm not here representing the INC. The INC is not represented on this panel.
We are here in our individual capacities. I am here as a patron of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement. And I'm pretty sure that -- (inaudible) -- is not here as a member of the INC either. Of course we're both members of the INC leadership. (Laughter.)
The gentleman asked what we thought federalism was, what our vision for a federal Iraq was. Actually, I would have been interested to hear what the Kurdish version of federalism was, and neither of the Kurdish speakers mentioned that. And so far, nobody from the Kurdish side has mentioned what their vision for a federal Iraq looks like, so it's still up in the air.
What I can tell you, most likely, is that most of the Arab community in Iraq would not accept an ethnically-based federal system. I think that was also mentioned by the ambassador -- the former ambassador from Turkey about the Turkemans. It opens up a whole can of worms in terms of defining oneself in terms of religion or ethnic background. I think we should move forward and really support the issue of universal human rights and democracy, and not be labeled according to our race or religion.
These are things from the past, and I think that any system that we put in should be placed not to enhance and strengthen and increase the divisions of all peoples all over the world; that we should have a system that respects their ethnic aspirations, their culture and their diversity without turning it into something that was Lebanon or South Africa. Those examples were failures, and Iraq is not Lebanon or South Africa or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Iraq is different.
So that takes me on to the other part about Kirkuk, and I said there were almost no cases. And the issue of the ethnic cleansing, so to speak, that is happening in Kirkuk, is not done by the Arab community, it's not done by the Turkeman community, it's done by the Nazi party of Saddam Hussein. Basically, it was true, the Ba'ath Party of Iraq is a racist, supremist party that believes that the Arab race is superior than any other race. This is contrary to the beliefs of Islam, and it creates an unsolvable contradiction within Iraqi society. And I believe most Kurds understand this.
The fact that the Ba'ath regime perpetrated horrific crimes on the Kurdish people, did not induce them, unlike the PKK, to carry out attacks against civilians. The KDP and the PUK have never carried out attacks against civilians. In the intifada in '91, they took hundreds if not thousands of Iraqi army officers prisoners. They didn't slaughter them; on the contrary. They treated them very civilly and they let them go, which I think is something that was not missed by the rest of the Arabic community in Iraq, and I think it's an indication that the Kurdish people understand that the problem is with the Ba'ath regime, with Saddam, and not with their Iraqi Arab compatriots.
MR. KUBBA: Dr. Al-Shaikhly, on the regional issues that you asked about stability.
MR. AL-SHAIKHLY: I'd be happy to fight with it. Thank you.
The INA is perhaps the only secular Iraqi movement that has very good relations with most Arab countries: the Gulf, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries in North Africa. And we've just been recently honored in trying to persuade most of these countries to fall in line with the overall international perception that Saddam's days are over, and it's time he left Iraq for good and handed the country in one way or another, perhaps yet to be decided, to the Iraqi people to run their own business in a democratic way.
Many Arab countries are supportive of the change. They are, however, very weary of two things. One, they always talk in terms of Iranian and Persian in the South. Second, they talk in terms of a declaration of a separate state North of Iraqi, Iraqi Kurdistan. And for the past 10 years, our job has been to try to persuade, in more ways than one. And we have in the past, as my colleagues at the PUK and KDP know this, we've been trying to introduce some of our colleague to countries where they did not have any representation, to see for themselves the thinking of the PUK and KDP.
Again, we have good relations with Turkey, and the dialog with Turkey has been going along these lines. So, I don't think they believe in this misconception that Iraq would disintegrate if Saddam goes, but they say it just to satisfy and echo what Saddam is saying, because the economic interest is enormous. Some of these countries, with Iraq --trade with some of the Arab countries run into billions of dollars. The balance of trade in favor of these countries is about $3 to $4 billion in each of these countries.
There was another question on the Iraqi government in exile. We in the INA do not feel that this is the time to do so. And in any case we feel there is a liberated part of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and should the opposition think of setting up a government, and should the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan feel it is right to do so, I think it would not be called an exile, but it would be on Iraqi territory.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you, Salal. I have to stop here because I need to take the last batch of questions. Go ahead. We'll take the last six questions, and then we'll maybe give our last two panelists the opportunity to come in.
Q This is a question for the panel in general. I don't speak for any organization; I only speak for myself and many average Iraqis.
The decision to topple the regime in Iraq is pretty much now a political decision. I feel that it's been held hostage by the Iraqi Opposition itself. What steps have you taken, practical steps, to actually unify the Iraqi Opposition so we could speak with one voice before we go out and ask for a political decision to be made and the will to be given to the Iraqi people to topple the regime? I'd like to see practical steps, because we see it like we're worse than we were in 1999 in New York.
My second question is to Dr. Bayati. Probably it's an unfair question because the report just came out today; the Halij (ph) newspaper in the Gulf, saying that you're here not to present the SCIRI, but you're here in your own capacity. And the reason for that is because you cannot get a permission from the Iranian intelligence to join this conference. Do you think it's time for Sayeed Bakal Hakeem (ph) to leave Tehran and go to probably Paris and do what the Khomeini did when he liberated Iran?
DR. KUBBA: Please go ahead. Question.
Q Yes, I have two questions. The first question is for all the panelists, except the two Kurdish representatives. I want each one of you to tell us how many followers you have inside Iraq. So, when you speak in the name of all the Iraqis, tell us the numbers.
And number two -- my question is to Dr. Mukhlis and Mr. Salahi -- General Salahi. I am a Kurd, an American Kurd, from Halabja. I would like you to tell me, how do you guarantee my safety? How should I trust you -- how could I trust you? You, sir - Mukhlis, you just represented -- you gave us a list of names. Each one of those were ex-Ba'athist. They were participants of the Iraqi Ba'ath government.
And General Salahi, he just migrated to America two years ago. In Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, you cannot become a general unless you have shared the bloody history of Saddam Hussein.
MR. KUBBA: Okay, go ahead.
Q (Speaks in Arabic).
MR. KUBBA: Go ahead.
Q (Speaks in Arabic).
MR. KUBBA: (Speaks in Arabic.) Please go ahead.
Q (Speaks in Arabic.)
MR. KUBBA: Wait, please. The question that was asked to us and to the panel, why doesn't America implement the U.N. Resolution 688? And my remark was, this should be asked to the American government, not to our panelists.
And the second question was, the atrocities that are committed, especially in South Iraq, what hope can we send back as a message to the Iraqi people? And again, I cut it short because of the time. But thank you very much for the questions.
Please go ahead.
Q Thanks. I'm Alan McKovsky (sp). Two questions, one for Dr. Al Bayati. Could you clarify what is your party's view of the appropriate relationship between religion and state? And also, for all the panelists, would you be willing to accept, or would you favor the inclusion of Kirkuk in a Kurdish majority state in the Iraqi federation? (Applause.) It's not -- it's just a question. (Laughter.)
MR. KUBBA: Sinjarim?
Q Yes, I'm Hussain Sinjarim, president of Iraq Institute for Democracy, based in Arbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. With all my respect to the gentlemen, I would say that if you will become the future government of Iraq, please don't forget then the role of NGOs. And this is very important indeed. The NGOs are engaged in a grassroots activity, in democracy-building activities. And my question goes to the INC. With all the money you have, why don't you encourage the work of NGOs inside Iraqi Kurdistan so that it becomes a real model for the rest of Iraq for the future? And here I shouldn't forget that foreign organizations like National Endowment for Democracy, like Westminster Foundation for Democracy, England; and of course my thanks also go to his excellency the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, who supports these activities. Why then, INC, with all of your money and other organizations, you don't do that?
MR. KUBBA: Last question, please. Go ahead.
Q My name is Abdulqader Muhammad Amin, I'm editor in chief of Barzan Newspaper. I have just a clarification. For the last 12 years, I have been publishing Barzan Newspaper in the USA. And 95 -- 95 of writers and poets who have published articles are for an independent Kurdistan. I think, sooner or later, that dream will become a reality, so why not focus our efforts on achieving these goals now? Thank you.
MR. KUBBA: Now, before I ask maybe two of the panelists to come in, let me just put it in context. Many of the voices we've heard here are Iraqis, and although they do not come from political parties -- and I think they articulated some very legitimate questions -- nobody on the panel claims or can speak on behalf of the whole Iraq. It is Iraq with this diversity. I think what we would like to see, can this group of Iraqi politicians and movements really move ahead, and I think they've made an excellent case on a number of fronts. I think they need help on other issues.
So maybe I'll ask Mohammad Sabir, then Hatem Mukhlis, then Al Bayati very quickly to make responses to the points that are raised. There's two minutes each, if you may.
MR. SABIR: Considering the model of federalism, of course the Kurdish parties has a view about federalism. But this issue has been discussed -- it should be discussed within the Kurdish political party. For the moment, KDP and PUK are trying to have a joint view about federalism. But still, you are not presenting for the public. That's why I cannot comment about which model of the federalism you wanted.
MR. KUBBA: Dr. Hatem Mukhlis.
MR. MUKHLIS: Those people and those names that I have mentioned - actually, I know for sure my father never joined the Ba'ath Party, my uncle never joined the Ba'ath Party, Raji Al-Tikriti never joined the Ba'ath Party. There was some kind of a ban against all military people to join any party, as a matter of fact. So, you know, that's to answer your first question.
The second question is, can I guarantee that you're going to be safe? I can't even guarantee that I'm going to be safe now if I go to Baghdad. We need to have a constitution. We need to have a law and order that's going to protect everybody, that's going to be respected by everybody, and we should all work towards the protection and guaranteeing that what happened to my father and what happened in Halabja will never, ever happen again. And I go back to the Koran that says, if you take one soul, if you kill one person, it's as if you have killed everybody.
So we all have to work on guaranteeing to each other that we're going to be fair, and we're going to be just in everything in whatever we do, and we have to put the fear of God in our hearts so that we can become better people. Thank you.
DR. BAYATI: Okay, regarding that speculation in the newspapers, last time when the Middle East Institute invited me to come to Washington, I couldn't come, or I didn't come, and then some Gulf newspaper wrote that I wasn't granted American visa to come to Washington. And this time they wrote that the Iranian intelligence didn't give me permission.
I work for Syrie (ph). We are an Iraq independent organization. I have the green light to come to Washington whenever I like. It depends on the sort of invitation I receive. I don't get any permission from anybody. I represent this group, they are independent Iraqis, and we have nothing to do with Iranian intelligence. This is one thing.
Now, the second thing about Sayeed Hakeem (ph) leaving to Paris, we have the largest Iraqi community outside Iraq in Iran -- half a million Iraqis. We mobilize a lot of these Iraqis to fight the Iraqi regime. If we want to liberate Iraq, we need to work from neighboring countries. We cannot work from Paris or London, so we have to be based in neighboring countries. We were based in Iran basically because in the '80s, no neighboring country would allow us to live and be active from -- except Iran. But we have better relation with Saudi Arabia, with Kuwait, with Jordan, with Lebanon, with Syria, with all these neighboring -- with Turkey, with all these neighboring countries. I don't want to go into the details because of the shortage of time.
As regard to relation between religion and state, this is an important issue, needs sometime, but I have to tell everybody that we were oppressed because we were religious. I was watched when I go to the mosque. I was imprisoned, tortured just because I was religious. We were forced to fight this regime because there was no freedom of religion. And the Shi'ites, they were deprived from the basic religious right, from the basic religious rituals. We couldn't go to Carballa (ph). And recently, the Times newspaper reported that 40 people were killed on the occasion of Muharran (ph) because they went to visit Ahman Jusein (ph) in Carballa. So imagine if you go to visit your holy shrine, to visit your holy Imam, you would be arrested, you would be killed. This is why we fight. We need - basically we need our rights. Just like the Kurds, they want their culture and their Kurdish rights, we want our religious rights. This is a basic right for everybody in the world. Thank you very much.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you. I'll give one last word to Hoshyar Zebari.
MR. ZEBARI: Thanks for some of the questions raised about federalism, or what's our vision of federalism. In fact, our vision is very simple. It is a geographical and administrative federalism. In fact, that includes not only -- the Kurds are based purely based on ethnic -- no, it will include the Turkemans, it will include the Arabs, it will include the Assyrians. This is how we see it. This is how we see it. And both -- as my colleague from the PUK said - in fact both we and the PUK have a vision, and we will announce it very soon; both our vision for a future Iraq; how we see it, and within that also how we see our version of federalism. This will be out very soon.
Another point raised by Mohammed Sabir about independent Kurdistan, I'll answer him, really. It's not the policy of the KDP nor the PUK. This is -- we're not being diplomatic about that, this is truly what we believe at the moment. Our policy is federalism within a united, democratic, integrated country. And of course, every Kurd believes in the right of self-determination, but as serious political parties who have responsibilities, in fact that is not our objective. Thank you.
MR. KUBBA: Thank you very much.
Before I close this session, actually, I do want just to make, again, a statement, and use my capacity as a chairman.
I will start actually by the comments made by our Iraqi Kurd from Halabja, and obviously the real hurt that is there. And I think, in the heart of every Iraqi, there are some true, deep feelings that need to be expressed out and recognized, and then we need to work from there on, not to get stuck there. I think obviously these expressions are very hard and very difficult to deal with, but it's not only political formulas and issues about how to deal with future Iraq that is at stake, but we have to deal with real people and real feelings. And I think it's important we simply not look aside at these issues as political issues, but we as Iraqis, all of us, need to work together to move ahead. Otherwise, we'll be stuck in a 10-20-year dark period even after Saddam Hussein.
We have 10-minutes break. You've been excellent participants. Thank you very much.
Q What about the Kirkuk?
MR. KUBBA: Well, if my understanding of the subtext -- it was very clear, it was said that they want to develop their vision of what federalism and future Kurdish -
Q (Off mike.)
MR. KUBBA: So I -- this is the subtext I at least clearly heard, that we would like to present this later. Thank you.
(Applause and end of event.)
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