[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
LINDSEY HILSUM: The security measure, come too late. Today Kurds in Irbil more mornings have… no longer is the Kurdish enclave a behind of haven. Yesterday’s bombing has brought the Kurds the kind of violence and grief which has become common place elsewhere in Iraq. The first thought is that Islamists, maybe foreigners must be behind the killings.
BRIG. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: The characterization or the quality of those attacks is different than the hit-and-run style of the former regime. And because it’s different, it bears additional study. It concerns us that it could be another army, a different enemy, a foreign influence enemy, a terrorist network enemy.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Ansar al-Islam, a group allied to al-Qaida is a suspect. They’ve attacked the secular politicians before. But it could be people fighting not for Islam but to prevent Kurdistan from getting autonomy within the new Iraq. The Kurdish area is the freest and most prosperous part of Iraq because it’s had virtual independence under American protection since 1991. Some of those in hospital in Irbil are severely injured. The death toll may yet rise, and with it feelings of anger and resentment. One funeral today, there will be more tomorrow, including those of one of the wisest and conciliatory politicians within the region. ..
JIM LEHRER: Gwen Ifill takes it from there.
GWEN IFILL: For more on the attacks, and how they may affect the ongoing transition in Iraq, we’re joined by Najmaldin Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish institute. Born and raised in Kurdish Iraq, he’s now a U.S. Citizen, and advises several Kurdish officials on political issues. He returned from Iraq last night. Welcome.
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: How devastating were these attacks over the weekend?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: They were very devastating. Obviously in addition to a large number of ordinary people, innocent people who were there, several key leaders were killed in this accident, in this incident. And people are outraged. It’s going to affect how the security situation will be conducted in the region from now on. But it will not deter people from moving forward to establish what they have, what the people who paid with their lives have fought for for years.
GWEN IFILL: You say several key leaders were casualties of this attack. In other parts of Iraq when we have seen key leaders caught up in either assassinations or bombs or especially in Shiite areas, it’s taken everything off course for at least a while. Is that likely to happen in the Kurdish area?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: I’m sure the security measures will be affected by the latest terrorist incidents, but the overall course of the way things have gone in Kurdistan will probably continue and this will just strengthen the resolve that the people have to achieve the goals they have had for years and they are yearning for.
GWEN IFILL: We just heard one of the chief suspects in this are members of Ansar al-Islam who are considered to have ties to al-Qaida. Is this considered growing evidence that there is a very involved engaged al-Qaida presence in the Kurdish areas now?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Well, there is a group that’s called Ansar al-Islam. This group was mostly concentrated in the Sulaimaniyah area, which is another town near the Iranian border. The Kurdish forces together with the coalition forces — a large number of them were killed. Some of them escaped to Iran but they found their way back, together with foreign terrorists from other countries into some cities in Iraq.
Those include the city of Mosul which is under the coalition’s control, and also part of, in the southern cities, but also part of the city of Kirkuk which is also in Kurdistan, but is under the coalition’s control. And they infiltrated to the Kurdish region and this is not the first time they have tried to commit terrorist acts, they have tried it in the past, but unfortunately this time they were much more successful.
GWEN IFILL: Kurdistan is considered to be a safe haven in many ways for coalition forces, at least it has been before the United States forces went, before the no-fly zone were in effect, protected the Kurds. But now it seems as if that’s maybe it’s not as safe an area any more. Are folks there bracing for increased stepped up attacks?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: You’re very correct that Kurdistan has been a safe haven, and actually some of the American troops who go on R and R, which is rest and recreation, they go to the Kurdish areas if they couldn’t come back home here to the U.S. Just to make it clear to the viewers, there are over 100,000, about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, only 200 of those are in Kurdistan. It just shows you how safe it has been there for everybody.
I think that will continue, but they will need to, and I’m sure they will change some of their security measures. If you look at part of Kurdistan where these terrorists have been evicted from and dealt with very harshly, actually there has been very few terrorist acts in those areas, but in Irbil which is close to both Kirkuk and Mosul, I think they have found I easier to infiltrate into those areas, particularly from Mosul.
GWEN IFILL: You know, the one thing that seems to link this attack to other attacks in other areas of Iraq is that people or groups or organizations that collaborate with the coalition seem to become targets. Does that begin to make the effort to form a transition government which is under way right now risky for people who want to collaborate?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Well, I can tell you one thing for sure. As far as the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish population of Kurdistan are concerned, this is not going to deter them from doing that. Actually to the contrary, I think they will band together, they will probably unite the two separate administrations much sooner than people thought, so they could achieve the goal of federalism and democracy.
GWEN IFILL: So you’re talking about the two separate governing political organizations who were the targets of this attack, they’re more likely to work together to get the elections on schedule rather than to fights each other?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Well, they haven’t fought each other for many years. But yes, that’s absolutely true, and I’ve been in contact with the leadership, I just saw them before we came here and they are moving closer and closer to uniting the two administrations, and they are committed. And the statements they have made since this tragedy yesterday clearly shows a move towards that.
GWEN IFILL: The Kurds have a completely different idea than the Shiites about what this next transition should be. They are much more, they are much more in agreement, if I understand this, with the idea of a caucus system that the United States has proposed, that the coalition has proposed than the Shiites are?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: That’s correct, we are in agreement with that. But we also have made it clear that what we are looking for are the, out of all of this, what comes out of the Iraq, is a federal Iraq where the Kurdistan region will have its own government, its own parliament, its observe ability to collect taxes and to own its national resources. And these are the goals that we are looking for, to achieve and we have fought for, for years, and our people will be part of a democratic Iraq that will serve all its people equally.
GWEN IFILL: Does a security breach like this weekend’s also bolster your efforts or their efforts to try to have Kurds control the militia and control their own internal borders?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Well, I believe that the presence of the Kurdish forces has been the catalyst and the significant factor that we only have 200 U.S. and coalition troops in Kurdistan has opposed to thousands, and without them, the situation will not exist.
GWEN IFILL: Except that even between the 200 coalition forces, these were pretty, your own words, these were pretty damaging attacks this weekend. Is that proof that the Peshmerga is work organize not?
NAJMALDIN KARIM: It’s always worked and will continue to work. What it is, is can you not prevent suicide persons from coming and blowing themselves up, especially on a day like that, a day of reconciliation. Actually that date when this happened, people usually forget about the animosities, if they have had fights among themselves they go and make it up on this day. I think they will change their security measures, but the Peshmergas have been defendants of Kurdistan and they will be defendants of the whole country in the future.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much for helping us.
NAJMALDIN KARIM: Thank you very much.