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World - Middle East

Iraqi Kurds prepare for elections aimed at uniting rule

Northern Iraq contains the only Kurdish-controlled territory in the world
CNN's Jane Arraf reports on the plight of the Kurds in Iraq
Windows Media 28K 80K

March 14, 1999
Web posted at: 2:56 a.m. EST (0756 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In political limbo since 1991, the Kurds of northern Iraq are preparing for July elections aimed at providing them with a unified government.

The elections are part of a peace accord reached last year between the two main Kurdish factions, which control separate areas of northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have been under the protection of the Gulf War Allies since their failed uprising against Iraq's government in 1991.

U.S. and British jets enforce a "no-fly" zone in the skies above the 36th parallel to protect the Kurds from Baghdad, keeping the area the only Kurdish-controlled and governed area in the world.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party both maintain their own governments and militia in the divided Kurdish territory.

Groundwork not yet laid

Under the peace agreement, checkpoints are supposed to come down, allowing people to travel freely between the two Kurdish areas, before the elections are held -- but that hasn't happened yet.

That leaves some observers skeptical that the elections will take place.

"As a personal opinion, and I have some experience in elections, it would be close to a miracle if they were able to prepare (for the elections) in four months," said Max Gaylard, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for northern Iraq.

PUK officials said other key parts of the agreement -- such as revenue sharing between the two factions -- also still have a long way to go.

"The aspirations and wishes of the parties involved, especially the PUK, have not been fulfilled within the time frame of the accord," said PUK Prime Minister Kosret Rasool Ali.

Kurdish dreams of an independent Kurdistan have been thwarted by more than just internal strife. Both Iraq and Turkey have tried to suppress Kurdish aspirations by force.

Despite the obstacles, some Kurds remain hopeful that the elections will go forward and represent an important step in the road to democracy.

"Democracy is like oxygen for us," said Jalal Talabani of the PUK.

Correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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United Nations
The Iraq Foundation
Iraqi National Congress
Permanent Mission of Iraq to the UN
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