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Iraqi People Must Take Responsibility, Kurdish Leader Says

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

LAKE DOKAN, Iraq, June 17, 2004 – The Iraqi people must be responsible for their own security and not depend on American troops to defeat terrorism in Iraq, the leader of the People's Union of Kurdistan said today.

Following dinner with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other members of an American delegation, Jalal Talibani spoke with American reporters traveling with the group.

"Fighting terrorism must be the job of Iraqis; we must not depend on our American friends," he said, in English. "If we need their helicopters we will ask them, but it must be our responsibility."

He also said Iraqis must take responsibility for the state of their own affairs. "We can't always blame the Americans," he said.

Talibani said Kurdish attitudes toward Americans are different from those of many other Iraqis; the vast majority of Kurds want a continued American presence in Iraq.

Both Talibani and Wolfowitz stressed that a unified Iraq with a representative government is the only way forward for the country.

"The way to get unity is to give each party a reasonable degree of say in their own affairs," Wolfowitz said.

Talibani agreed, suggesting that people are able to look out for their own rights and at the same time recognize the rights of others. "We think Kurds within a democratic Iraq can play a role for their own self-interests and for the self-interests of Iraq," he said.

Although neither of the top two seats in the new Iraqi interim government went to Kurds, Talibani said this is not a critical issue. "What is important to us is that we have our rights," he said.

Many young people in Iraq's Kurdish north are disappointed by the new government and want full independence for Kurdistan. Talibani jovially said that young people will dream and it's important to not crush their dreams, but it's more important for them to understand that a unified Iraq is the only practical solution.

"Democracy and federalism are the best way for the Iraqi people," he said. "Separatism is impossible."

Talibani said it's better to focus on what really can happen. "We must get something achievable and tangible," he saidd. "Now we are free. Let us enjoy our freedom in this democratic era."

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Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

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