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    Middle East
     May 12, 2006
Iraqi Kurds finally get unified government
By Mohammed A Salih

ARBIL, Iraq - Kurds have long waited for the day when a new prime minister, deputy and cabinet walked into their new unified regional parliament. Now they want to see how the new government can change their lives.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) came together close to 10 years after signing a peace accord in Washington, in a ceremony on Sunday marking a unified government after years of separation.

Nechirvan Barzani of the KDP was appointed prime minister. Omar Fatah of the PUK was appointed deputy prime

minister. A 42-member cabinet took oath in a 105-member parliament.

The coming together of the two Kurdish factions stands in marked contrast to what is happening elsewhere in Iraq. A Kurdish parliament is now in place; in Baghdad it is not.

The Kurdish government took shape after a long history of separation during which the two parties governed different regions of Kurdistan in the north of Iraq. Kurdish provinces have been under Kurdish control since the 1991 Gulf War.

The new Kurdish leadership plans to expand the areas under its control to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which currently falls just outside Kurdish territory.

Barzani said on Sunday that his government will work "peacefully to recover the rights that have been taken away". It was not a remark welcomed by Sunni and Shi'ite leaders at the ceremony. Kirkuk has a large non-Kurd population.

But Barzani's remarks are being taken seriously. When the first Kurdish government was established in 1992, only a handful of guests attended. This time foreign and Iraqi dignitaries swarmed the parliament hall.

"Their presence at the ceremony is a recognition of Kurds' entity, their power and status in the soon-to-be-formed Iraqi government," Kurdish member of parliament Fuad Baban said.

US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad attended the ceremony, and did not fail to acknowledge "the sacrifices of Kurdish peshmerga" (fighters) for the freedom of Iraq.

In the Kurdish parliament there is little sign of Iraq. Everything is Kurdish, down to the flag and the language. Even the Iraqi flag hoisted here is not the one used in Baghdad. It's the one used in Iraq in 1958 after the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of the first republican government.

The new unity, and the distinct Kurdish ways, are driven by good reasons. "The unity and harmony among us is the catalyst for our current and future success," Barzani said.

The new cabinet includes ministers from various ethnic and religious groups to "satisfy all sectarian, ethnic and political groups", new minister Mohammed Haji Mahmoud from the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party said.

Though not satisfied with the small role for his party in the cabinet, Mahmoud said, "We decided to participate in order to add a block to the wall of this government."

The new cabinet was approved in less than 20 minutes, and all 42 cabinet members were ratified with only a few Nay votes.

The formalities done, people are waiting to see what the parliament can do for them. They have become increasingly dissatisfied with the Kurdish government. Quality of services is poor, and corruption has reached alarming levels.

"The government has to be up to people's expectations, and work to provide better living conditions," said Arbil government employee Aryan Mohammed, 23.

(Inter Press Service)

The Kurdish defection (Mar 25, '06)

Turkey warms to talk, not action, in Iraq (Jan 27, '06)


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