Two prominent US senators introduced legislation Friday that would remove Iraqi Kurdish organizations KDP and PUK from a terrorist blacklist.
The Obama administration supports the move, which officials have said requires legislative action rather than an executive order from the White House.
Washington designated the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as terrorist groups in 2001 in part for their insurgent activity in the 1990s Kurdish civil war.
In introducing their bill, Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator John McCain argued that the two groups took up arms against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and have since helped stabilize the region.
“It is time we stop treating the KDP and PUK as terrorists,” McCain said in a statement.
Their designation in the Patriot Act as Tier III terrorist organizations “betrays our Kurdish friends and allies who have served as a stabilizing force in the region and displayed consistent loyalty to the United States throughout the years.”
The two groups are now the main political parties in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is a PUK founder, while KDP chief Massoud Barzani is the current Iraqi Kurdish leader. Both men have met with President Barack Obama at the White House.
A US official told lawmakers in February that the administration was seeking a legislative fix that would remove the two groups from the list.
“The PUK, the KDP have been among our closest friends in the region, going back decades. We think they should be removed from this list as soon as possible,” Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We are 100 percent supportive of an immediate legislative fix to this problem.”
The State Department designated another Kurdish group, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
The PKK launched an insurgency in 1984 seeking self-rule in southeastern Turkey that has claimed about 45,000 lives.