Fri Nov 29, 3:34 PM ET, By JOSEPH COLEMAN (Associated Press Writer)
PARIS - Iraqi Kurds will not join a U.S.-led military strike against Saddam Hussein unless they are included in American planning for postwar Iraq, top Kurdish leaders said Friday.
"Before we are involved in any military action, we have to know the aim," Massoud Barzani, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said after a conference in Paris on the future of Iraqi Kurds.
Barzani, one of two top Kurdish leaders at the conference, said Kurds want to be partners in the restructuring of Iraq should U.S. military action topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Barzani and Jalal Talabani, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, expressed reservations over the possibility of the United States installing a military administration of Iraq after a war.
"We don't want to see any military ruler in Iraq, whether it's an Iraqi military dictator or a foreign military ruler," Barzani told reporters.
The United States has threatened a military strike against Iraq unless it cooperates with U.N. weapons inspectors. The inspectors are now in Iraq, searching for evidence of Iraqi production of weapons of mass destruction.
The Kurds run a protected enclave in northern Iraq, and U.S. forces could use the territory as bases to drive deeper into the country in the event of a war.
The Kurds, however, stopped short Friday of saying flat-out that they were dissatisfied with the level so far of contacts with Washington, saying only that they wanted more.
"It's very important, we need everything to be clear and transparent," Barzani said. "There is a need for more dialogue and more discussions and better understandings among the parties."
Barzani and Talabani — whose groups fought each other for power and land in the mid-1990s — insisted that Iraqi Kurds were united in support of a democratic federal government in Iraq should Saddam be toppled.
They also said about 300 delegates would gather in London Dec. 13-15 for an Iraqi opposition conference to work out a blueprint for a post-Saddam Iraq.
The Kurds say they favor a decentralized system in the aftermath to allow them to hold onto some limited autonomy in northern Iraq, where their enclave is relatively prosperous and liberal.
"It is within a federal Iraq that Kurds can enjoy their rights," Barzani said. "It is possible to have a united Iraqi nation and a united Iraqi state."
Neighboring Turkey, however, is opposed to a federal system in Iraq because it fears Kurdish autonomy could inspire nationalist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority.
The Kurdish leaders said Turkey had nothing to fear from full Kurdish participation in a future Iraq, adding that no refugees will be streaming across the border in the event of a war.
"We guarantee our area will not be a base for the enemies of Turkey to act against them," Talabani said. "We want to have good relations with Turkey."
Barzani said that Kurds would stay on their land in northern Iraq, even if Saddam Hussein unleashed chemical weapons against them, as he did in 1988, killing thousands.
And, they said, there will be no reason for Turkey to boost its military presence in Iraq in a war, even if they are on a humanitarian mission.
Despite the statements of unity behind federalism, there was a show of support among the heavily Kurdish audience and some of the speakers for an independent Kurdish state.
Najmaldin Karim, president of the Kurdish Institute in Washington, said that breaking up post-Saddam Iraq into three states — one for Kurds, one for Sunni Muslims, one for Shiites — might be a good idea.
"There is nothing sacrosanct about a unified Iraq," he said, "A Kurdish state so created will be an element of stability in the region."
Indeed, the chances for disagreements should Saddam fall are high. Kurds are split along ethnic, tribal, religious and political lines, and are squabbling over who would be in charge of the transition.
The lack of a firm deal among the groups could leave open the possibility of a dangerous power vacuum inside Iraq once Saddam is gone.
Washington is pushing the groups to agree on support for a multiethnic, democratic Iraq that pledges not to develop weapons of mass destruction and accepts all Security Council resolutions on Iraq.