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Kurdistan’s man in Washington: Iraq’s not over

At a breakfast with reporters this morning, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington, urged the U.S. not to get “caught up in the euphoria” over withdrawal from Iraqi cities, or think that the job in Iraq is somehow done. “Having lived through ‘mission accomplished 1,’ we don’t want to see ‘mission accomplished ...

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WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 13: Qubad Talabany, representative of the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq to the United States and son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, testifies before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations on Capitol Hill September 13, 2006 in Washington, DC. The Kurdish representative testified during the hearing titled "What Will It Take To Achieve National Reconciliation?" which focused on the problems Iraqis currently face, including the possiblity of civil war leading to the breakup of the country. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

At a breakfast with reporters this morning, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington, urged the U.S. not to get “caught up in the euphoria” over withdrawal from Iraqi cities, or think that the job in Iraq is somehow done. “Having lived through ‘mission accomplished 1,’ we don’t want to see ‘mission accomplished 2,'” he said.

Talabani, who is the son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and was profiled by FP‘s Laura Rozen in 2007, highlighted a number of increasing causes for concern, focusing particularly on the sharing of oil revenue. He called yesterday’s oil auction “a flop” which proves that “the days of state-run monopolies have to end.”

But his biggest concern was the status of the disputed Northern territories of Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh, which he said was the the issue “most likely to result in degeneration” of Iraq’s stability. Yesterday’s bombing in Kirkuk underscored his concerns about the security situation. Talabani worries about the increasing power of Arab nationalists, such as the hardline Hadba party which recently took power in Nineveh. “The only thing standing in the way of rising Ara nationalism in Iraq is the Kurds,” said Talabani. 

Talabani was also concerned the increasing power of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the central government in Baghdad. “We did not sacrifice all of this and the United States didn’t sacrifice all of this to replace one dictatorship with a lighter version,” he said. 

Of particular concern to Talabani is Iraq’s military buildup, since Maliki has the authority to appoint division commanders, many of whom are ex-Baathists. I asked how he thought the U.S. could support the building-up of Iraq’s internal secuirty capacity without threatening Kurdistan, he recommend that the United States “make conditional the sale of militay equipment to sound policies” from Maliki. 

Referring to the recent sale of 140 Abrams tanks to Iraq, Talabani said, “Maybe I’m just an overnervous Kurd, but who are we using these tanks for?  Are we expecting another invasion?”

While Talabani is wary of “Iraq fatigue” setting in among Washington policymakers, he says is reassured by news that Vice President Joe Biden will now be overseeing Iraq policy, saying that it “sends us a message that this administration takes Iraq seriously.”

Overall, Talabani seemed anxious make sure that the region he calls “one of America’s few foreign policy success stories in the Middle East” doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as the U.S. withdrawal proceeds. 

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