Dissident blueprint gathers support
Rebel Kurds at heart of plan to split country into two regions
July 10, 2002
Michael Howard in Irbil, northern Iraq
A significant attempt is being made by Iraq's notoriously fractious opposition groups to agree on a model for a post-Saddam state that would guarantee the Kurds their own federal region and the rights of the country's ethnic and religious groups.
One of the two main Kurdish groups controlling the self-rule area in northern Iraq has drawn up a draft constitution which has gained wide currency among the four main Iraqi opposition groups and is being treated seriously in Washington.
The plan, detailed in a document seen by the Guardian, would divide Iraq into two federal regions - an Arab region covering the centre and south of Iraq, and an Iraqi Kurdistan region to the north. Each region would have its own assembly and president, but Baghdad would maintain control of internal security and a federal army.
The document is being seen as an attempt by opposition forces in Iraq to forge a local solution to the problem of governing the country should the current regime fall or be removed.
Until now, opposition groups within Iraq have been wary of taking part in any US-backed campaign to remove Saddam without clear guarantees for their safety and future status.
The constitution's commitment to a "a republican, democratic, parliamentary, pluralistic system" for Iraq also represents a desire to head off any US thoughts about replacing the current dictator in Baghdad with another one.
The draft constitution was drawn up by the Kurdistan Democratic party, led by Massoud Barzani, one of the two main Kurdish groups controlling the self-rule area in northern Iraq.
Hoshyar Zebari, the KDP's head of international relations, said: "Given the country's complex ethnic and religious make-up, Kurds believe it is vital for there to be an agreement among the Iraqi people about what sort of country they want. Otherwise there could be chaos following any regime change."
The draft constitution describes in detail the character of the federal Kurdish entity and its relationship with the central government in Baghdad, but does not prescribe a structure for the Arab federal region. "That is up to the Arab communities to work out for themselves," Mr Zebari said.
Under the plan, each region would have its own constitution and president, and would establish a parliament, freely elected in a secret ballot.
A federal assembly would sit in Baghdad, where a president, elected for a five-year term (and able to serve a maximum of two terms), would preside over a council of ministers accountable to parliament.
In Baghdad, the federal authorities would have the power to declare war and make peace, decide foreign policy and diplomatic representation, sign international treaties and agreements, set general economic strategy, preside over the country's oil wealth and its nuclear energy programme, and issue federal legislation.
But the regional administration in Kurdistan, which would have the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as its capital, would also have wide-ranging powers at its disposal, including taxation and initiating international relations.
The most influential anti-Saddam alliance, the KDP, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan , the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (representing the majority Shia community ) and the Iraqi National Accord are to discuss the plan when they meet US officials in Europe later this summer.
But the plans for a federal Iraq face huge difficulties among Iraq's anxious neighbours.
Turkey is alarmed about the establishment of a Kurdish entity on its borders, fearful that it will stir up its own harried Kurdish population. Ankara is also opposed to the city of Kirkuk becoming the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
A US state department official who follows Iraqi affairs closely said on condition of anonymity: "It is an elegant and equitable solution to the puzzle of how to maintain Iraqi territorial and political unity after a regime change. And we don't have anything else on the table."