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Iraqi's Kurdish Leader Calls for Self-Determination

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani told top Iraqi leaders attending a Kurdish party congress Saturday that Iraqi Kurdistan should have the right to self-determination. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki also addressed the congress, indicating that a new Iraqi government would be formed by the constitutional deadline of Dec. 25th.

Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani threw what appeared to be a bombshell at top Iraqi leaders gathered in Irbil Saturday, insisting that Iraqi Kurdistan should have the right to self-determination.

Barzani was addressing a conference of his Kurdish Democratic Party. His declaration followed a lengthy appeal for a referendum in the ethnically mixed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. His call, with special emphasis on the word freedom, drew applause from the mostly Kurdish audience.

Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman told Kurdish television afterwards that the call for self-determination would be "studied by a parliamentary committee in the coming days", to determine how to proceed.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who also heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, appeared to attempt to minimize Barzani's call for self-determination. He stressed that Barzani's father considered himself an Iraqi and vowed never to fight other Iraqis. He argues that Barzani's party is an Iraqi party, both in name and in content, and that its founder, Mustapha Barzani (father of Massoud), insisted that he would not fight the Iraqi people, of which he considered himself part, but that he would fight imperialists and other tyrants.

Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who has been named by President Talabani to form the next government, also addressed the crowd, urging rival leaders to put aside differences and help him to form a government quickly.

He tells Iraqi political leaders to hurry up in presenting their candidates for the government and not to quibble over petty issues, because there is a constitutional deadline (to form the government) and he vows that he will not go beyond it.

Prime Minister Maliki's comments indicated that he may be having some difficulty in putting together his cabinet, despite assurances that he would meet the Dec. 25th deadline.

Rival former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also addressed the conference, insisting that Iraq and the entire region was facing multiple conflicts and that it would behoove everyone to come to terms.

Iraq expert Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington stressed that she found Barzani's call "provocative," and noted that it may be an indication that he was unhappy with the ministerial positions that Mr. Maliki was offering him in the next government. "The fact that (Barzani) took that step suggests to me that he is not happy with what he is being offered and that he wants more than he is being offered (in the next government) and that he is not convinced that Maliki is going to move on the referendum on Kirkuk and probably he is not getting the ministries that he wants," she said.

Ottaway pointed out that it remains to be seen what will come out of the committee discussions for Kurdish self-determination, but that she sensed the move was mostly a political gambit. Prime Minister Maliki, she indicates, has "reportedly been playing "hard-ball" over forming the government and the Kurds may feel that he is breaking certain promises to them.

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