(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – Iraq’s president is issuing an ultimatum to his neighbors: Stop meddling in my country or we will meddle in yours.
In public interviews and speeches during a recent visit here, Jalal Talabani’s remarks became sharper toward Iran, Syria, and Turkey. On September 26, he told National Public Radio that if interference from Iraq’s neighbors continues, the “Iraqi people will support the opposition of other countries and try to make troubles for them as they have for us.”
The threat, which was repeated yesterday on the U.S.-funded al-Hurra Arabic-language satellite network, marked the first time a top Iraqi politician has explicitly laid out what will happen if the stream of improvised explosives, insurgents, and funding for terrorists in Iraq does not end.
Two major Iranian Kurdish opposition organizations have headquarters in northern Iraq, and other Iranian opposition groups have used Iraqi territory as a safe haven as well. Syrian-Kurdish leaders have also kept up relations with their colleagues in the Kurdish north of Iraq. Iraqi territory has also emerged as a viable route for escaping dissidents from both Iran and Syria. The tension between Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Iraq’s neighbors has resulted in shelling by Iran in recent weeks across the Iraqi border and raids by Turkish special forces into areas in northern Iraq where Kurdish separatists are believed to be hiding out. President Talabani, meanwhile, has stepped up his role in the last month as a mediator between America, Turkey, and the radical Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.
Mr. Talabani’s remarks also signify a change for an Iraqi-Kurdish politician who has been loath to criticize Iran and Syria in prior visits to Washington. In 2003, as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Talabani led a delegation of Iraqi politicians to Iran. In that visit, Iraq and Iran signed a series of agreements, including one to combat terrorism. In the mid-1990s, Mr. Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan relied on Iranian material and financial support in the civil war in northern Iraq, when the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party was supported by Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Talabani’s son, Qubad Talabani, who is also a representative of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq here, said yesterday that his father was “fed up, it’s a cumulative effect. The country is fed up and he is representing not just Kurds, but the sentiments of the country,” he told The New York Sun.
Qubad Talabani added: “To put it into context, the president wants good and friendly relations with our neighbors. But everyone knows that our neighbors are playing a double-sided role in Iraq. We are trying to make our relations positive. We cannot sit idly by and watch the kinds of interference that have been happening, that are resulting in deaths of Iraqis and coalition forces.” When asked what his father meant by meddling, the son replied, “Meddling can be many things.”
While President Talabani has expressed his exasperation, it is unclear whether his views are shared by the dominant force in Iraq’s fledgling government — the Shiite majority parliamentary bloc known as the United Iraqi Alliance. Mr. Talabani played a key role in persuading a member of that bloc, Nouri al-Maliki, to step into the premier’s chair after many factions in Iraq grew frustrated with his predecessor, Ibrahim Jafari. Both Messrs. Jafari and al-Maliki, however, hail from the Dawa party, a Shiite Islamist party whose militia has close ties to the Iranian revolutionary guard.
Dawa leaders yesterday denounced Mr. Talabani’s view that American forces should be welcome to establish permanent bases and that America’s presence in Iraq has prevented its collapse. A senior Dawa politician, Haidar Abadi yesterday told United Press International, “It’s a personal view and he has the right to express his opinion the same way parties and blocs have the right to expressed their own on the stay of foreign forces or not.”
Already, Mr. Talabani’s remarks have caught the attention of Ankara. Addressing reporters yesterday, Prime Minister Erdogan denounced what he called “an ugly statement,” adding that he hoped Mr. Talabani would “correct it.”
“This stance of Talabani towards the neighbors of Iraq are also used towards the future of that country,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Those are not well-thought expressions. We have lived together with Iraqi people for centuries and we will continue to do so from now on.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. a) Who is the President of Iraq?
b) What is his ethnicity?
2. a) What warning did President Talabani give to Iran, Syria and Turkey during his trip to the U.S.?
b) Why was his warning significant?
3. a) Why have both Iran and Turkey recently attacked areas of northern Iraq?
b) Why doesn’t that give them the right to attack northern Iraq?
4. How is President Talabani’s warning different from what he has said in the past?
5. How did Mr. Talabani’s son, Qubad Talabani, explain the reasons for his father’s change in attitude toward Syria, Iran and Turkey?
6. How does the Shiite majority in the government view President Talabani’s beliefs?
7. What response have Iraq’s neighbors made to President Talabani’s remarks?
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