The leader of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq says his people are committed to the country's new constitution, which was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum last week. He made his comments in Washington Thursday, one day after meeting with President Bush at the White House.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani emphasized that Iraq's five million Kurds are in favor of the country's new constitution. He spoke through an interpreter.
"We, as the people of Kurdistan, are committed to this constitution," he said. "This constitution is the guarantor of the unity of Iraq."
Mr. Barzani acknowledged that the Iraqi charter does not completely meet all the aspirations of the Kurdish people, namely their support for independence.
But he said Kurds recognize there is a difference between what they wish and desire, and what they can actually achieve. This, he added, is why Kurdish people support the constitution, which recognizes and guarantees their hard-won autonomy.
"And, of course, we have to ask for something that is achievable," he added. "We have to consider the views and the position of the allies, of the international community."
The Iraqi election commission announced Tuesday that voters overwhelmingly approved the new constitution, although large numbers of Sunnis voted against it. One reason for widespread Sunni opposition is fear that the federalism envisioned in the charter will lead to the break-up of Iraq.
Mr. Barzani said Iraqi Kurds support a federal and democratic Iraq, and will work with the country's other ethnic groups to achieve this goal. At the White House Wednesday, President Bush hailed the visiting Kurdish leader as a man of courage and praised him for helping to realize the constitution's vision of a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse Iraq.
In the 1990s, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed great autonomy, with fully functioning civil offices that were independent of the Saddam Hussein regime. Kurdish territory in the northern part of the country was protected from Iraqi government attacks by the U.S.-enforced Iraqi no-fly zones.