0

AS if matters were not complicated enough in Iraq at the moment, Kurdish leaders have just presented a petition with 1.7 million signatures to the Iraq Governing Council; it calls for a referendum on the future of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. This is hardly a surprise although it is interesting that the petition asks only for a referendum and does not push arbitrarily for independence. The Kurds were oppressed during most of Saddam Hussein's period of rule but enjoyed a measure of freedom under indirect Western protection in the decade following the first Gulf War. They have no wish to place themselves under Iraq rule again in whatever new arrangements are put in place when the provisional Iraq government takes power on 1 July. The least they are likely to accept is a federal structure that would give them local autonomy. The future of the Kurds is one of the issues that should have been clarified in Iraq's draft basic law which was due to be completed yesterday. However, reports from Baghdad indicate that the Iraq Governing Council has not been able to resolve basic disagreements among its members about a law which, in effect, would be an interim constitution coming into force on 1 July. The basic dilemma is that the Iraq Governing Council, a body of some thirty representative Iraqis appointed by the United States, has no legitimacy; nor is it likely that its successor will have legitimacy when it takes over as a provisional government on 1 July. Unless the UN finds some magic formula to get round this fundamental difficulty, none of the religious and ethnic groups in Iraq will want a constitution finalised until an elected assembly and government are in place. Meanwhile a dangerous vacuum will have formed.