The U.S. Pullout From Iraqi Cities

Scott Simon speaks with Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jilal Talabani, about the upcoming withdrawal of American troops from urban areas in Iraq.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Of course, as we just mentioned, Tuesday is the deadline for U.S. troops' withdrawal from urban areas in Iraq under the Status of Forces Agreement. Qubad Talabani joins us in our studio. Mr. Talabani is the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative to the United States. He also happens to be the son, of course, of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Mr. Talabani, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. QUBAD TALABANI (Kurdistan Regional Government): It's a pleasure, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Glad to see U.S. forces go?

Mr. TALABANI: I'm a little concerned, in all honesty. Obviously it's a major milestone that Iraq is crossing, but with the deployment of U.S. forces out of urban city centers, in a climate that is not quite settled yet - we have seen an uptick in violence over the last few months, we've seen the death toll rise, we've seen tensions brimming beneath the surface. So we have to be cautious. We must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security just because over the last year there has been a steady improvement in the security situation in most parts of the country.

SIMON: In the past week, as I don't have to tell you, I think is as our reporters accounted, about 200 people have died in several bombings in Iraq, which raises the question as to the readiness of Iraq's security status - security forces.

Mr. TALABANI: It's not just the security forces that may not be entirely ready to stand on their own feet. I think that we have many political issues that are equally as important, still unresolved. We don't have full adherence to the nation's constitution, which is causing tension between many various fractions in the country. We still do not have a revenue sharing law passed that equitably manages and distributes the revenues from the sale of oil. And then we still have unresolved the issue of disputed territories, which again, if left unresolved before the U.S. fully withdraws from the country, we could have a very dangerous situation on our hands.

SIMON: Is the region we call Kurdistan determined to remain in Iraq?

Mr. TALABANI: Yes, the region is a thriving, developing region, and the leadership have committed themselves to be a key player in building a federal and democratic Iraq. That comes with its challenges, that comes with its complications. The Kurds in general a skeptical of this new Iraq because they have seen how previous governments in Iraq have been so oppressive towards them. So there is mistrust between the Kurdish people and what is going on throughout the whole country. But at the same time, being a leading component of this new Iraq that is trying to move towards democracy, that is trying to build its institutions, is definitely something worth fighting for.

SIMON: I don't have to tell you there are people who believe that the withdrawal of U.S. forces represents an opportunity for Kurdistan to press its own case. Or for that matter there are people, in Sunni and Shia sectors of the country, who believe that division of the country is something they find desirable.

Mr. TALABANI: I think if Kurdistan had gone the independent route, we would have done it in '92, when there were no Iraqi forces in the region. Saddam was weak and reeling from the backlash after the Gulf War. There was widespread sympathy for the Kurds around the world. We had an opportunity in '92 to break off and become independent. But I think the leadership made a decision to push for federation within Iraq, where the Kurdistan region can maintain a high degree of self-governance yet still be a key player in national politics in the country

We do - it's frustrating that we have to constantly counter critics that are eagerly expecting us to just break away and do our own thing. But we've committed, I think, more than anyone else to progress in Iraq. We've sent our brightest and best to be part of the national government. And we've helped stand up all of the institutions.

But at the same time we're frustrated that some of the demands of the Kurdish people have not been met as we've tried to build this new Iraq.

SIMON: And give of us one of those demands - equitable revenue sharing?

Mr. TALABANI: Equitable revenue sharing. But really the disputed territories issue - an area where Kurds have been forcibly evicted from their homes by previous regimes - has not been returned or that the choice has not been given to the people to claim those territories back in a legal way. And the lack of resolution on this issue is creating a lot of tension between citizens on the ground that are living in these disputed areas.

SIMON: Mr. Talabani, thanks so much.

Mr. TALABANI: Thank you.

SIMON: Qubad Talabani, representative of the Iraqi-Kurdistan Regional Government. Thank so much for joining us.

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