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A country in search of a vision
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

SULAIMANIYA, northern Iraq - Months down the track following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States still does not appear to have a vision for a future of the nation. Iraqi resistance to the occupying forces - fragmented though it might be - in the central and the northern Arab belt is clear for all to see.

And while the Kurdish north has been relatively calm (excluding of course the US raid on a house in Mosul on Tuesday in which Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed), there is a clear line of thinking among the US allies in the region that the US must come up with a concrete formula for a new Iraqi government of the people, by the people and for the people - or else.

The lush green dales and vales of Sulaimaniya, a few hours' drive from Mosul in the northeast of Iraq close to the Iranian border, are a welcome sight after the turmoil to the south, even with welcoming banners saying "Thanks to Mr Bush for liberating us". The immediate feeling is one of calm, seemingly segregated from the political undercurrents that dominate other parts of the country. However, the situation is not as simple as it appears, and it carries with it inherent dangers.

Kasim Jamal is a top leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Sulaimaniya. After the 1991 uprising against Saddam failed, nearly half a million Iraqi Kurds flooded into a zone near the Turkish border. This brought in the international community, which created a safe haven and a "no-fly-zone" policed from Incirlik in Turkey. Following the withdrawal of Baghdad's forces from the area in October 1991, a self-governing Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) zone was established against the Turkish and Iranian borders. The "haven" zone did not extend to the Mosul and Kirkuk oilfields, which nevertheless form part of what has been traditionally regarded as Iraqi Kurdistan. Although relationships between the two main elements of the KRG - the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the KDP - are fragile, this Iraqi Kurdish experiment in self-government and democratization has largely been a success.

The KDP's Kasim Jamal is an American Kurd who went into self exile in 1975 in the US, where he graduated from university in San Diego. He returned to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999, but left his family in Europe and the US. He spoke to this correspondent. "Look, Iraq is not like Afghanistan. It is a very civilized society which has a life style. When US forces removed Saddam, they expected an even better life, but now they are experiencing even worse than before. Certainly, this has repercussions."

He continued, "You can see that 5 million people [in Saddam's time] were associated with different armed groups, whether it was civil defense, the main army, paramilitary troops or volunteer forces. Those people were given something to make their ends meet. Suddenly, these people became jobless. Now, you have to reckon with those jobless peoples' sentiments, certainly they could go on the rampage," Jamal observed.

"The US forces have already made too many mistakes. To start with, they took over all the affairs [of the country] directly in their hands although they do not have the knowledge to handle Iraq. Now it is very high time for them and for us to discuss a formula on a free Iraq, a federation where everybody will have a respected and autonomous area with no centralized dictatorships, but in the last four months there has been no mentionable development in this regard," Jamal added.

He agreed that now was the time for the US to give a share of Iraq's rich resources to the people to help them maintain their standards of living, and any more delays in transferring power to the Iraqi people will force them to view the US as an occupying force rather than as a liberator.

Ms Runnak Faraj is editor of a women's magazine. She has been a political activist from the age of 12, the first time that she was arrested by the Saddam security apparatus. She was subsequently imprisoned several times. A graduate of Baghdad University in history, she has now separated from all political movements and is an activist for broader human values, rather than political ideologies like socialism, which she dumped at college.

Runnak, 37, maintains that years of political and military struggle have left Kurdish society, especially women, with deep problems, including widespread illiteracy. "After the collapse of the Saddam regime, we are looking forward to a spiritual revolution within our society, with progressive and enlightened thinking."

But despite this, she says that she does not see the US as a friend. "No, you cannot call an enemy of an enemy a friend. Now the US has the duty to hand over power to Iraqis. Give us all the right of self-determination, leave the wealth of the Iraqis to them for their own welfare and go back to the place where you came from."

Runnak and Jamal mentioned separately to this correspondent that the Kurds aim to have dialogue with the US to draw up a plan for the future, and that there are no plans for any form of mass resistance, but this could depend to a large extent on just how quickly - and fairly - the US conceives, and implements, a viable political blueprint for the county in general and for Kurdish Iraq in particular.

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