BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 20 — The alliance between the United States government and Kurdish political parties in Iraq has come under intense strain in recent days, with Kurdish leaders accusing the Americans of trying to block their long stifled hopes for autonomy in the new Iraqi state.
Kurdish leaders say American officials are putting pressure on them to drop some of their main demands for autonomy in negotiations with the other major Iraqi groups, the Shiites and Sunni Arabs, over a temporary constitution to guide the country until the end of next year.
Iraqi leaders on both sides of the negotiations say the talks on the constitution are deadlocked over three main issues: the fate of the 60,000-member Kurdish militia, which Kurdish leaders want to keep; the boundaries of the autonomous Kurdish region, which Kurdish leaders want to expand; and the amount of oil revenue to be set aside for the Kurdish region.
Kurdish leaders also say they want years of Arab migration into Kurdish lands reversed before nationwide elections for a permanent government are held next year.
They say they are especially embittered by American leaders, who they say have forgotten the special relationship that grew up between the Kurds and the United States in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, when they were united against Saddam Hussein.
"Have the Americans forgotten that the Kurds are their best friends in the Middle East?" said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "After all the Kurdish people have been through, the killings, the genocide, I cannot go to my people and tell them to accept the things the Americans are trying to force on us. The Kurdish people will not accept them."
According to Kurdish and other Iraqi officials, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, has told Kurdish leaders that he will not yield on the three major issues holding up the negotiations.
Mr. Bremer, the Iraqis say, has flatly rejected the Kurds' demand that they keep their militia intact, that they be guaranteed a percentage of oil revenue proportional to their population and that their region be expanded to include heavily Kurdish areas once held by Mr. Hussein's forces.
The deadlock cuts to the heart of the future of the Iraqi nation, a patchwork of ethnic and religious groups cobbled together from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
It poses a test for Mr. Bremer, who is faced with the task of reconciling the demands of the three Iraqi groups while putting in place a framework that will hold the country together after the Americans leave.
Kurdish officials said Mr. Bremer, trying to break the deadlock, flew by helicopter earlier this week to the home of Massoud Barzani, the longtime Kurdish guerrilla chieftain and political leader. He stayed overnight, Kurdish officials said, but left empty-handed.
Kurdish leaders say they can only compromise on autonomy so much, because an overwhelming majority of their people want independence from Iraq. That desire is shaped by the historic depredations suffered by the Kurds at the hands of the central government in Baghdad.
"These are our rights — we fought hard for them," said Rowsch Shaways, a senior leader of Mr. Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. "The experiment of Iraqi statehood failed once before. We do not want to repeat the same mistakes."
American officials declined to comment on the negotiations. At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Bremer was asked about oil, militia forces and disputed territories.
While he declined to address in depth the subjects of oil and territory, Mr. Bremer said he expected the Kurdish militias, some of whom have been fighting for decades, to disarm or be integrated into an army under the command of the central authority in Baghdad.
"We have made clear in discussions with the Kurdish leaders and other political leaders that we believe there's no place in an independent, stable Iraq for armed forces that are not under the control of the command structure of the central government," Mr. Bremer said.
The issue of Kurdish autonomy has loomed over the fledgling Iraqi government here since the fall of Mr. Hussein, whose military brutally put down a Kurdish revolt after the 1991 war when the United States and its allies declined to intervene.
Since American and allied forces returned to the area later in 1991 and a no-flight zone was established to exclude Mr. Hussein's air force, Iraq's Kurdish region has largely governed itself. Its flourishing unnerves Turkey, Iran and Syria, which have their own Kurdish populations whose pleas for autonomy they have sought to suppress.
The draft of the constitution that is serving as a basis for the negotiations recognizes the regional government of the Kurdish lands that were held by the Kurds when the latest war started in March 2003.
The document sidesteps an array of contentious issues. It leaves for later, for instance, the settlement of conflicting claims to Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city that was subjected to a government-encouraged immigration of Arabs during Mr. Hussein's time. Kirkuk is the center for oil production in northern Iraq.
Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said he hoped that many of the Kurdish demands could be left for the permanent constitution next year. But the council has already made some compromises to placate the Kurds, he said. In the draft now circulating before the council, Mr. Pachachi said, the temporary constitution enshrines Kurdish as one of Iraq's two official languages.
The council did that, Mr. Pachachi said, even though Kurds make up only about 20 percent of Iraq's population.
But Mr. Pachachi said he opposed the Kurds' demands that they retain their militia and receive oil revenues roughly proportionate to their population.
"This is the national wealth," Mr. Pachachi said of the oil revenue. "In the end, they can't have everything."
Kurdish leaders have been especially adamant on keeping their militia, the force that fought alongside the Americans during the campaign to unseat Mr. Hussein.
Political parties across the country have their own militias, which has raised the prospect of internal conflict. But Kurdish officials say their history of persecution in Iraq has been too traumatic for them to consider surrendering their armed forces yet.
Similarly, Kurdish officials say they will insist that Arab migration into Kurdish lands be reversed before elections next year for a national assembly. Otherwise, they say, a census would enshrine Arab dominance in many areas rightfully Kurdish, and then, with the elections that are sure to follow, any incentive to reverse those policies would fade.
Mr. Othman, the Kurdish member of the Governing Council, said he was so frustrated by the current deadlock and by American policy that he was inclined to let Mr. Bremer be the one to explain the situation to the Kurdish people.
"If I try to go back to my people and sell these things to them, they will choke me," Mr. Othman said. "Let Mr. Bremer tell them."