Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iran's Kurds discouraged by developments in Iraq

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TEHRAN, IRAN

Iran's 6 million Kurds are avidly following events across the border in Iraq, hoping that the Kurds there will blaze a trail to greater freedoms that can be duplicated in Iran.

But lately, the Iranian Kurds are discouraged.

Their hope was that in Iraq, Kurds would build on the autonomy they had established for all practical purposes since 1991, when routine British and US flights over Iraq kept Saddam Hussein from ruling, and mistreating, the Kurdish region.

Iranian Kurds were jubilant when their brethren across the border won rights in the interim Iraqi constitution recognizing the autonomy of the Kurdish region and granting the Kurds extraordinary powers to protect it.

But now they fear that those powers will be ignored, as the interim Iraqi leaders talk of that constitution applying only until national elections are held. Further, the appointment of non-Kurdish Iraqis as prime minister and president raised fears that Kurds would once again become marginalized.

"The population of Kurds is much smaller than the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq," said Tofiq Rafiee, the editor of Sirvan, a leading Kurdish journal. "Without the right to veto, Kurds can never make any changes to improve the situation for themselves," he said, referring to the Kurdish veto right that is part of the current constitution.

Sirvan reported in September that the current arrangement, in which Kurds serve as vice president and deputy prime minister, was similar to what Saddam granted Kurds 20 years ago and was not what the Kurds were expecting today.

Iran's Kurds, who reside mostly in the northwestern parts of the country, near Iran's borders with Iraq and Turkey, were hoping for a spillover effect if the Iraqi Kurds gained greater powers.

Although the Iranian Constitution recognizes the Kurds as a minority, the government has long treated them as second-class citizens. Unlike the majority of Iranians, who are Shiite Muslims, most of the Kurds are Sunnis.

They have been barred from teaching the Kurdish language at schools or publishing their literature freely.

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