Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed several months of relative calm due to a thaw in relations between the two feuding factions which control the region, a senior Kurdish official said.
"There is a considerable improvement in our relations with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)," Sami Abdurahman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said in a weekend interview in the main Kurdish city of Arbil.
Abdurahman, the strongman of Arbil who carries the title of KDP deputy prime minister, told AFP that "peace prevails" in northern Iraq, which has been in Kurdish hands since Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.
A 1998 US-brokered peace accord sealed in Washington to halt several years of conflict between the KDP and PUK that cost more than 3,000 lives is being respected by both sides, he said.
But despite the thaw on the military front in divided Iraqi Kurdistan, a political settlement has proved elusive over the past two years.
"Important problems remain," acknowledged Abdurahman, whose faction gained control of most of the region in the fighting. "There is still a long way to go to set up a joint administration."
Unprecedented Kurdish elections were held in May 1992, resulting in a 50-50 split between the KDP of Massud Barzani and Jalal Talabani's PUK. But the Kurdish parliament has not been able to function because of the clashes.
Backed by Iraqi troops, the KDP seized control of Arbil from the PUK in August 1996, while Talabani's faction has since been headquartered in Sulaymaniyeh near the Iranian border.
New elections to set up a Kurdish regional administration could be held in six months, according to Abdurahman.
A key factor in the dispute remains the tax revenues which the KDP monopolizes through its control of the Habur post on the Turkish border, a major thoroughfare of trade.
On the ground, the KDP official pointed out, residents of northern Iraq can cross the demarcation lines unhindered.
He said the situation in Arbil, which has 900,000 inhabitants and served as a Kurdish capital during the short-lived parliament, was "stable" despite a November 14 explosion in a coffee shop that killed around 10 dead.
A "thorough investigation" is being carried out, he said, without pointing a finger of blame.
"We are in favor of an open society and we don't want to impose stringent security measures. But this also gives rise to terrorist infiltrations," the KDP official explained.
Northern Iraq has also been used by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a springboard for attacks on Turkey that have prompted the Turkish army to launch frequent incursions into the area with the support of KDP fighters.
The PUK, which had close ties with the PKK in the past, has also started to clamp down on the Turkish separatists, resulting in several deadly clashes between the Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish Kurds.
Turkey's military says 5,000 PKK militants have crossed into northern Iraq since September 1999 when the group announced it was laying down arms and withdrawing to seek a peaceful settlement, an offer dismissed as a ploy by Ankara.
Abdurahman stressed the need to maintain the western security umbrella for the Kurds, referring to the exclusion zone over northern Iraq enforced by US and British planes from a base in Turkey to protect the Kurds from Iraqi forces.
But he said the Kurds would one day have to reach a political settlement with Baghdad. The Kurds are already "in regular contact with the Baghdad administration on everyday matters" but not on "political matters," he said.
Kurdish dreams of independence from Baghdad have been dashed by a lack of international support amid opposition from Iraq's neighbors Turkey, Iran and Syria, which also have sizeable Kurdish communities of their own -- ARBIL (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)