BAGHDAD – The Kurdish and Shiite political blocs announced on Thursday they were close to signing a principle of understanding that the Kurds had insisted on before joining any government.
The news came as an official statement by the outgoing parliament said the first session of Iraq’s new national assembly would meet on March 16 inside Baghdad’s fortress-like Green Zone, home to Iraqi institutions and the US embassy.
The three-page principle of understanding that will formalise their alliance has been completed and will be signed by Sunday after a final review, the Shiite side said.
For their part, the Kurds said the sides had agreed on several points and expected to sign the deal within two or three days. The news put Iraq one step closer to having a government after its historic election almost six weeks ago.
“The two sides have drafted their principle of understanding. Both sides agree. Most likely it will be signed Sunday,” said Adnan Ali, an aide to Ibrahim Jaafari, the Shiite frontrunner for post of prime minister.
The document reaffirms Iraq’s commitment to the transitional law (TAL), passed under the US occupation, that will govern Iraq until a permanent constitution is completed and ratified by the end of 2005.
“We all agree that the TAL is the constitution for this government,” Adnan said, adding it would govern the handling of the disputed northern oil city of Kirkuk.
The document also pledges all Iraqi ministers to work for Iraq’s national interest and commits the government to restoring security, fighting unemployment and improving basic services, he said.
He said the sides were in accord that Jaafari would be prime minister and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani would be president.
“There is a general agreement that Jalal Talabani will be president,” Ali said.
Adnan said the Shiites were committed to the TAL’s provisions on Kirkuk, perhaps the most important issue of all for the Kurds.
“The TAL in article 58 says what to do on Kirkuk.”
Indicating the Kurds’ happiness on the current talks, Kurdish negotiator Fuad Kamel said his long-oppressed ethnic group had accepted the commitment from the Shiites on Kirkuk.
“Concerning Kirkuk, we have decided to apply the terms of the TAL,” he said. The Kurds, whose 77 seats give them the second-largest share in the new 275-member national assembly, have insisted on a written pledge from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which swept the polls with 146 seats.
The Kurds had wanted guarantees that more steps would be taken on Kirkuk in line with the TAL’s article 58.
The article pledges that the coming government will redress the mass expulsion of Kurds from Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein who wanted the region’s lucrative oil reserves under Arab control.
It also calls for the government to examine Saddam’s redrawing of provinces in the name of Arabisation, the jailed dictator’s policy of ridding ethnic minorities like the Kurds from strategic areas.
Senior members of Jaafari’s Dawa party had previously balked over Kurdish insistence on a formal pact before they joined the next government.
When the TAL was passed last year, revered Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made clear his displeasure with the document, which granted Kurds greater freedom in the north.
The Shiite majority’s antipathy for the TAL had raised fears in the Kurdish community, long oppressed under the old regime, that their hard-won autonomy would be eroded in the post-Saddam Iraq.