Iraq's Talabani: Constitution Will Pass

Iraq President Jalal Talabani says he believes voters will approve his country's draft constitution in a national referendum. Sunnis have a majority in three provinces, enough to sink the document if they vote it down.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The president of Iraq insists that the UN will be able to get millions of copies of its draft constitution printed and into the hands of Iraqis in time to read the document before they vote on it. Jalal Talabani is visiting the US this week. He meets with President Bush tomorrow, then onto New York where he will address the UN General Assembly on Friday. He's in the US to urge support for Iraq as the referendum on the constitution nears. Sunnis have a majority in three provinces, enough to sink the document if they vote no. President Talabani sat down with us at Blair House, the historic guest quarters across from the White House. My first question: Will the constitution pass?

President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): Yes, I think so. I think the majority of Iraqi people will accept the constitution.

MONTAGNE: There's been much talk about the question of if the Sunnis, in fact, sign up to vote and come out in big numbers and how that will affect it.

Pres. TALABANI: Yes, I think they--Sunnis will vote for this referendum, some of them against and some of them for a constitution. Because not all Sunnis are against the constitution. There are many Sunnis who are supporting the constitution and participating in the democratic process of Iraq.

MONTAGNE: So then you believe that there are enough Sunnis out there who, when they read the constitution, it will pass?

Pres. TALABANI: You will see in the future who are the majority amongst Sunnis; who--those who are against or those who are for. We expect that the majority of Iraqi people, Sunnis included, will vote for the constitution.

MONTAGNE: What if by some chance the constitution passes, but most Sunnis vote against it?

Pres. TALABANI: Let me tell you, madam, Iraq--not all of them are of--Sunni Arabs. Sunni Arabs were a group who ruled the country through a--dictatorships decades. Now this dictatorship collapses and they are feeling that they are outside of the government. They're a minority. They must respect the will of the majority of the Iraqi people.

MONTAGNE: You say Sunnis must respect the will of the majority having ruled as a minority for decades. What if they don't?

Pres. TALABANI: Sunni Arabs were for decades ruler of the country. They got all their main forces, an army in police forces, in security forces. After the collapse of the dictatorship, we have a democratic Iraq. This is music in Iraq. Our brothers, Sunni Arabs, are divided. There's no one leadership or one party or one group representing all Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: Is it a good thing that it's not a perfect constitution? That is, that there's isn't one group that thinks they've got everything they want? Is that a good thing?

Pres. TALABANI: No one can get what they want because we are different kinds of peoples, different ideologies, different societies. Kurds couldn't get the--what all of--they want, Arabs also, Shiites also, Turkomans also. Constitution--there must be a kind of reconciliation of compromise among all these different nationalities who are living in Iraq, and that happened.

MONTAGNE: Because you are a Kurd, I would put this question to you. I mean, you're an Iraqi...

Pres. TALABANI: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...but you're also a Kurd. Do polls show that most Kurds today, just today, if they could have an independent Kurdistan, they would?

Pres. TALABANI: No, they--you must be realistic. We must be realistic. If everything we would decide according to desire, according to the will, a big majority of the Kurds want to be independent. Of course, the Kurdish people are like other nations of the world. They have the right to self-determination. But if you be realistic you cannot have independence now. Imagine Kurdistan will declare independence. And our neighbors, not fighting, but closing the borders. How we can survive?

MONTAGNE: So what makes you an Iraqi...

Pres. TALABANI: Because we...

MONTAGNE: ...more than a Kurd? You, President Talabani?

Pres. TALABANI: I am an Iraqi Kurd.

MONTAGNE: They're always together in your mind?

Pres. TALABANI: Yes, of course. Of course, I'm a Kurd. I'm an Iraqi. There's no difference between being a Kurd and an Iraqi. A democratic Iraq.

MONTAGNE: In a democratic Iraq?

Pres. TALABANI: Yes. Where in the past when Iraq was a dictatorship, we were not feeling that we were Iraqis. We're fighting against that Iraq. A democratic ...(unintelligible) Iraq is our country and our--we are proud to be Iraqis in such a case.

MONTAGNE: President Jalal Talabani, thank you.

Pres. TALABANI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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