A War of Words by Shiites and Kurds

Times Staff Writer

Last-minute wrangling over the wording of Tuesday’s U.N. resolution on Iraq highlighted a dispute that could threaten the unity of the new Baghdad government.

Kurdish leaders unsuccessfully pushed to include mention of Iraq’s controversial interim constitution, also known as the Transitional Administrative Law. The law gives the Kurds special recognition and permits them to veto major government decisions.

“If the TAL is mentioned, it will be regarded as an official document by the U.N.,” said Rosh Shawais, a Kurd who is one of Iraq’s two vice presidents.


In a weekend letter to President Bush, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan warned that they would pull out of the interim government if the interim constitution were abolished.

But leading Shiite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- who has been critical of the interim constitution -- fired off his own letter Tuesday to the United Nations Security Council, warning it to make no mention of the law.

He also mobilized thousands of followers to protest in Baghdad against inclusion of the law.

A senior official with Talabani’s party -- with Barzani’s, one of the two leading Kurdish parties -- said the letter to Bush reflected the unhappiness many Kurds felt at not having one of their own in one of the top two government positions.

“This should not be taken as a threat but should be taken as a statement of the great disappointment ... , “ the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If this trend continues, the Kurdish leadership cannot remain part of a process which is continually marginalizing it and continually -- whether intentionally or otherwise -- looks at Kurdish citizens as second-class citizens.”