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Most Kurds Favor Proposed Decentralization for Iraq

In an effort to find a solution to increasing sectarian violence in Iraq, some politicians have proposed giving Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds their own semi-autonomous regions. Proponents of the idea, including U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, say decentralization would preserve Iraq as a country.

At this crowded market place in the center of the city of Irbil, almost everyone wants to see more than just autonomy within Iraq.

One man says, "For many years we have struggled and died for our freedom."

Another says, "The Iraqi government has not done anything for us."

And still another says, "Iraq should be divided into four or three regions just like Shias and Sunni and Kurdistan."

Kurds in this region have been struggling for independence since the end of World War I, when their homeland was divided into parts of what are now Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

After the first Gulf war in 1991, an attempted uprising by the Kurds was brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein. To protect the Kurds, the American military gave them autonomous control over the northern region of Iraq and established a zone that banned flights by the Iraqi air force.

Since the fall of Saddam, the northern region has grown more stable and prosperous, as the other parts of Iraq have become more dangerous.

Understandably, many Kurds support Senator Joseph Biden's proposal to partition Iraq into three semi-independent regions that would share border control responsibility and oil revenues.

Salahaddin University Political Science Professor Jafar Khidir, says the proposal offers an alternative to what he says now seems unachievable: that Iraq will evolve into a peaceful, secure, multi-ethnic democracy.

"When it will not be possible to have a democracy in a country like this situation in Iraq, then the only solution is to divide those countries into smaller countries," said Khidir. "Then democracy will be more successful. That is why we say, or people say, the smaller the nicer."

But Khidir concedes that decentralization could lead to the break-up of Iraq and to increased fighting between the regions over control of the oil fields.

Salahaddin University History Professor Kadir Pshdary says the past has taught the Kurds that it is better to be part of a strong country than to be independent and vulnerable.

He says, "Now our leaders think that living in a greater federalist Iraq is better than being totally independent for a year, then losing everything."

Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Pshdary says, an independent, yet isolated Kurdistan would not remain free for long.