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Bush Meets Iraq's Interim President; Kurds Threaten Transition - 2004-06-09

President Bush has met with Iraq's new interim president, a day after the United Nations gave its unanimous approval to the country's transition back to self-rule. But no sooner had the U.N. approved the plan than a potential setback surfaced involving one of the country's three main groups vying for power.

It was a historic first for a G-8 summit. Along with President Bush and other world leaders meeting on Sea Island, Georgia was Ghazi al-Yawar, the newly appointed president of what will be a sovereign, post Saddam Hussein Iraq. Even though the war in Iraq continues, the new leader promised his country will one day become a model for its neighbors.

"We're determined to have a free, democratic, federal Iraq, a country that is a source of stability to the Middle East, which is very important for the rest of the world," he said.

And President Bush held out hope that more NATO countries will now contribute troops to the peace keeping effort. "We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the role that now exists and hopefully expand it somewhat. There's going to be some constraints, obviously," he said.

But a day after the United Nations put aside differences over the Iraq war and gave unanimous support to the country's political transition, signs of potential problems with the handover of power surfaced. The two main Kurdish groups in northern Iraq have written to President Bush, threatening to disrupt Iraq's return to sovereignty.

They say the new U.N. resolution threatens Kurdish interests by failing to provide explicit assurances that the autonomy Kurdish groups have enjoyed for more than a decade will be respected when the country's new constitution is finally written. Leaders of Iraq's majority Shi'ite community have said such rights go too far toward accommodating a minority group.

Still, in Baghdad, Iraq's newly appointed interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, described the resolution as a victory for the Iraqi people, pointing out that it gives the incoming government the right to order the departure of American and other foreign forces if the country so desires.

"Once Iraq stands on its feet, then we will ask the multinational forces to leave Iraq," he said.

He also acknowledged that he has maintained ties with more than a dozen foreign intelligence agencies while he was in exile. This, after the "New York Times" reported Prime Minister Allawi used to run an organization that sent agents into Baghdad during the 1990's to carry out acts of sabotage aimed at bringing down Saddam Hussein. A CIA spokesman had no comment on that report but the prime minister did, saying he has nothing to hide.

"I was personally in touch, I was head of a political organization, in touch with at least 15 intelligence services across the world and in the region, so there is no problem there. We don't feel ashamed of being in touch and having been in touch if it liberated Iraq from the evil forces of Saddam," he said.

Iraqi officials say saboteurs Wednesday blew up a section of the country's northern oil pipeline, underscoring repeated U.S. warnings that unrest is only likely to get worse as the June 30 handover of power approaches.