BAGHDAD -- Members of the Iraqi Governing Council met leaders of the main Kurdish parties yesterday to discuss federalism, a sensitive issue that the Kurds hope will solidify their autonomy in Kurdish areas of the north.
Dividing Iraq into federal states along ethnic and religious lines has been an issue of prime concern -- and one that has evoked much discussion inside and outside Iraq -- as the February deadline for an Iraqi interim constitution nears.
Eight leading members of the US-appointed Governing Council met with Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party to discuss federalism, Talabani said after the meeting in the northern city of Erbil. "This is a decision for the Iraqi people . . . and not one to divide Iraq into parts," he said.
Council members said earlier this week that they were close to reaching an agreement on including the principle of federalism in the interim constitution, and Kurdish demands for an autonomous region should be decided when an elected Iraqi assembly is in place in 2005.
Neighboring Turkey and Syria have expressed worries that Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy, including redrawing the map to expand Iraqi Kurdistan, may leave the Kurds in control of vital oil resources and incite Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, and Iran to push for similar power.
Talabani also urged calm in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which has seen rising tension among its ethnic groups -- Kurds, Arabs, and ethnic Turks -- over the prominence of the Kurds in the city.
On Tuesday, Barzani said the Kurds agreed to leave the boundaries of the Kurdish region to be determined when a permanent Iraqi constitution is being drafted in 2005. Such redrawing would mean a new population census, and a referendum.