WASHINGTON - The Kurdish militia known as peshmerga will remain intact under an agreement between the major political parties, clearing the way for the national assembly to form the country's first government elected solely by the Iraqi people.
Under the terms of the agreement, the approximately 50,000-man peshmerga will be funded and trained by Iraq's military, but the Kurdish forces will be based in the three Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq. The future prime minister will not be able to command any peshmerga units to leave those areas without consent from the Kurdish regional authorities.
A similar arrangement was struck regarding the status of militias loyal to the two major Shiite parties, the Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both parties will dominate the local and provincial governments in the majority Shiite areas of southern Iraq.
A detailed written agreement outlining the understanding on militias and other matters will likely be released in the coming days.
Today the national assembly is expected to name the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, as president. The assembly will also name two vice presidents: former finance minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, and the assembly's current president, Ghazi al-Yawar. Together they will form the presidency council that is expected to select Ibrahim Jafari Thursday as the country's premier and chief of government.
In February, Mr. Jafari won the nomination from the United Iraqi Alliance, the largely Shiite voting bloc that will control more than half the seats in the 275-person parliament. He was chosen by consensus after Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi bowed out of the race, dropping his demand to have the slate vote for the new leader by secret ballot. Mr. Chalabi is said to have been offered a position in one of three deputy prime minister slots. In his case, the position would relate to finance and the economy.
The question of the militias as well as the future ethnic composition of the oil-rich and recently troubled city of Kirkuk were two major sticking points preventing until now the formation of a government. Under the compromise, Kurdish officials tell the Sun that Mr. Jafari agreed to have the Baghdad government begin repatriating Kurdish families evicted from Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein and compensate Arab families that will be relocated. The arrangement is outlined in article 58 of the transitional administrative law forged by Iraq's interim government more than one year ago.
"We have come to agreements with our Iraqi partners on the key political issues such as implementation of article 58 of the transitional administrative law, rectifying the injustices of the previous regime," a son of Jalal Talabani, Qubad Talabani, told the Sun yesterday. "We have an agreement that the government will begin implementing the program and allow forcibly evicted families to return home and allow for anyone who has to be moved to be properly compensated."
On the question of the militias, Mr. Talabani said the peshmerga would be "commanded and recruited locally," adding that the next Iraqi defense minister "could not appoint a peshmerga commander." "The agreement on security forces is such that the peshmerga will be integrated as an official security force, funded and trained by the military," Mr. Talabani said. "However, any deployment of the peshmerga outside the Kurdistan region would require approval from the Kurdish authorities."
The peshmerga, named for a Kurdish phrase meaning "one who faces death," presented a challenge to the coalition provisional authority and the interim government. Under an arrangement forged last June, the Kurds agreed in principle to turn the peshmerga into a local security force and reduce its numbers by half. Due to increasing security troubles throughout the country, the deal never materialized.
The peshmerga are perhaps the most powerful institution symbolizing Kurdish independence. The forces fought against Saddam Hussein in 1975 when America briefly supported an uprising as a way to pressure Baghdad - only to withdraw support months later. After the defeat, peshmerga loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party fought each other intermittently over the following 21 years, most recently in 1996 when tensions between the two parties boiled over into a brief civil war that ended in a stalemate. The two parties have since reconciled their differences.
"The Kurds are satisfied. There have been assurances: There will be no theocracy and Islam will be one source, not the source of legislation," the president of the Washington Kurdish Institute, Najmaldin Karim, told the Sun yesterday.
Qubad Talabani said yesterday, "This is fitting for my father's career after a lifelong struggle that he becomes the first democratically president of Iraq."