A key Kurdish leader appealed for unity Thursday, urging Iraqis to rise up and establish a democratic country. Opposition groups named a six-member "interim leadership" for Iraq after Saddam Hussein is toppled.
Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told delegates and U.S. officials attending a conference on governing Iraq after Saddam's ouster that the moment had arrived for the people to "revive themselves and show their power."
"We are people who have struggled. We are struggling for a cause," he said. "We need an independent Iraq."
Late Thursday, Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said the conference had appointed a six-member executive to serve as an "interim leadership" in Iraq a post-Saddam Iraq.
Members included Talabani, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, of the Supreme Council; Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress; Ayad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi National Accord; and Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and an independent Arab Muslim Sunni leader.
Talabani, a veteran guerrilla leader turned politician, gave a rousing and at times pointed speech to those attending the session, which included Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House liaison to the Iraqi opposition; State Department official David Pearce; and Lt. Gen. Colby Broadwater III.
He also sought to assure Turkey that the Kurds will not declare an independent state, a move the Turks fear could inspire its own sizable Kurdish minority to revolt.
"We have a de facto government now, but we are willing to make sacrifices in the future," he said. "If we were planning to announce independence we wouldn't be ashamed to say it. We want a democratic, independent Iraqi state."
Ages-old Turkish-Kurdish tensions are complicating U.S. war plans.
The Turks are considering cooperating with any U.S. invasion, but have told the Americans they want to send tens of thousands of troops to northern Iraq and insist on supervising the armament and disarmament of the Kurds.
Turkey wants assurances that any conflict in Iraq would not lead to a Kurdish state.
The Kurds say they want written assurances that the Turks will have a limited or negligible role in any U.S.-led invasion, said Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign relations chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the other major Kurdish opposition group.
"We, in fact, not only as Kurds but as members of the Iraqi opposition, oppose any intervention by any regional countries in the internal affairs of Iraq," Zebari told reporters.
He warned of unspecified "serious consequences" if the Turks occupy northern Iraq. Earlier this month he had warned that such intervention could lead to clashes between Turks and Kurds.
He also said that the Kurds hope that U.S. war plans "will not be at the cost of the poor Kurdish people."
Khalilzad, speaking Wednesday, promised that the United States would stay no longer than necessary to secure a free, democratic Iraq. But Iraqi opposition figures often contend that there are multiple power centers in Washington pursuing different and, at times, contradictory policies.
Talabani made a pointed warning to U.S. officials who apparently advocate bypassing the Iraqi opposition figures to establish U.S. military rule over Iraq.
"Liberating Iraq is easy," he said. "Ruling Iraqi is difficult. Ruling Iraqi requires the full cooperation of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi opposition."
Talabani, who was elected chairman of the meeting, used his time at the podium to present his vision for Iraq, based on the relatively democratic, prosperous Kurdish autonomous zone established at the end of the 1991 Gulf war.
"If the Kurds, the most unadvanced part of Iraq, can have democracy, why can't all Iraq have democracy?" he said.