Barzani meets Shia leaders ahead of US talks

Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani travelled to the Iraqi city of Najaf on Thursday to confer with senior Shia Muslim leaders before meeting with the United States occupation administration to discuss the country's future next Friday.

    Barzani: No justification for US
    presence after establishment of
    interim government

    Speaking to reporters as he left Baghdad on his first visit to Najaf since 1967, Barzani said: "It's important to exchange views with my brothers in Najaf.” 

    The leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said he would meet Najaf's top Shia clerics - Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Grand Ayatollah Ali Muhammad al-Sistani.
       
    SCIRI and Barzani's KDP have both opposed leading US occupation administrator Paul Bremer's plan to name a 25 to 30-member interim political council, rather than have such a body elected by a national conference as proposed at earlier pre-war conferences in London and Salah ud-Din.
           
    Sistani, who stayed in Najaf during President Saddam's presidency, is believed to wield significant influence over Shias who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

    Further meetings

    The Najaf talks precede Barzani’s meeting with Bremer in Baghdad on Friday, to be attended by seven other Iraqi political groups as well.

    The meeting will discuss the controversial US-British plans to create an interim Iraqi administration. 
        
    The naming of the 25 to 30 member interim council, a post-occupation plan and not something publicized before the war,  is a point for significant change.

    Barzani has repeatedly stated his belief that there is be "no justification" for US forces to remain in Iraq once an interim Iraqi government has taken over ahead of general elections.

    Bremer's Iraq: Different from
    what was agreed before invasion

    Barzani highlighted last month that Kurds, an estimated 20 percent of the population, were not seeking an independent state in northern Iraq for the time being.

    "Our agenda at the moment is for an Iraq that is parliamentary, pluralistic, democratic and federal," he said.

    Change of agenda

    Before the invasion, there was an agreement with the US that Iraqis would be "their own masters" and pick their own interim government, said Barzani, whose fighters aligned themselves with the US-led invasion forces.
     
    "We are pursuing the agenda hammered out at the London conference [of major opposition groups in December] and the Salah ud-Din conference" in February, he said last month, referring to the opposition's endorsement of a federal democratic system.

    Asked whether the Kurds were in fact "pitching their tent wherever they reach" and would eventually demand statehood, Barzani said: "Like all other nations, the Kurdish nation is fully entitled to self-determination and the establishment of a Kurdish state.”


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