by Parveez Syed © Shanti RTV News Agency
Iraq has warned the United States to keep out of its sovereign territory, including northern Iraq where Iraqi forces have moved in to help a Kurdish faction, and threatened to turn the area into another Vietnam if Washington intervened. "The Iraqi people, in the forefront Iraqi Kurds, are ready to provide an example that will inevitably remind the Americans of the Vietnam complex," according to an Iraqi newspaper report. "Beware of the wrath of Iraqi Kurds... They should not believe that what happened can be controlled by force," it said.
The city of Arbil, with a population of 1m, and the villages around it, have frequently witnessed heavy fighting between the KDP and the PUK as the two factions controlling the northwest and southeast of Kurdistan respectively kill fellow Kurds for power.
The Iraqi government in Baghdad said it had decided to "provide support and military aid" for the KDP in its fight against the PUK. Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq's military intervention was in response to a plea from Barzani to President Saddam Hussein to back him against attacks by Iran and Talabani. The KDP has long sought to break the grip of the PUK over Arbil, the seat of a Kurdish government and parliament that was created jointly by the two factions in elections in 1992.
Barzani accused Iran of sending troops into Kurdistan at the end of July 1996 to side with his enemies, the PUK, and Baghdad confirmed Barzani's assertion, saying 3,000 Iranian soldiers had been involved. "We decided to launch a limited military operation in defence of our sovereignty, our people and their properties," Aziz said, relying on the devisive American, British and French forces in northern Iraq has brought the Kurds "nothing but death, destruction, anarchy and the loss of opportunities for development and decent living".
Iran is by no means disinterested in the outcome of the conflict: the Iran has gradually increased its sway in Kurdistan and appear to have found an obedient proxy in Talabani and the PUK. The increasing Iranian influence has worried Washington less than it has Iraq, which fought a bitter war against its eastern neighbour from 1980 to 1988. Despite the fact that Operation Provide Comfort has made Kurdistan a no-go zone within sovereign territory of Iraq for Iraqi troops, Baghdad still determined to ensure the Iranians do not gain any foothold.
Beyond these regional rivalries, the conflict is rooted in the deep animosity between Barzani and Talabani. Barzani is a conservative tribal leader, who inherited the mantle from his father. By contrast, Talabani calls himself "progressive". He was originally a follower of Barzani but broke away and formed the PUK, for which many accuse him of naked opportunism. The rivalry has saddened ordinary Kurds living in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. At some 20m, they are the largest group of people in the world without their own country. Western intervention has made their dream of forging their own nation even more remote.
Iraqi troops backed by armour and artillery intervened on the side of Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to recapture the Kurdish stronghold of Arbil from Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iraq said it would withdraw its troops. Washington expressed scepticism about the pledge. But a senior KDP official in the northern Iraqi town of Zakho said that Baghdad had already pulled more than half its forces out of Arbil. "About 40,000 Iraqi soldiers had entered. A large portion of that -- more than half of them -- have withdrawn," Husameddin Mohammed confirmed.
Earlier a U.N. source in Baghdad said the Kurdish stronghold of Sulaimaniya, the last remaining major Iraqi city held by Talabani, was the target of artillery fire. "According to our reports there has been shelling in Sulaimaniya but we cannot determine where it came from," the source said. PUK leader Jalal Talabani said he had warned Washington three days in advance that the Iraqi forces were prepared to attack Arbil. "The Americans promised to attack them (the Iraqis). They did not act decisively," he explained. Talabani said he had not yet given up hope for U.S. intervention. He said his forces were still resisting the Iraqi attack but that much of the city was under Iraqi control. There had been no mass exodus of civilians, he said. Iraq's official news agency INA later said people arriving in Kirkuk from Sulaimaniya reported the area was not shelled during operations by Iraqi forces around Arbil.
The Iraqi thrust into Arbil was the first in the area since Washington and its Western allies set up an air exclusion zone in sovereign Iraq after the 1991 Gulf assault, allegedly, to protect Iraqi Kurds against attacks by Baghdad. It prompted the United States, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Gulf War foe, to put its forces in the Middle East on high alert and allegedly posed a difficult challenge to U.S. President Bill Clinton in the middle of the American election campaign. Clinton, speaking during a bus tour of the U.S. Midwest, claimed the developments allegedly caused him grave concern. "I have placed our forces in the region on high alert and they are now being reinforced," he said. In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller declared: "Saddam must withdraw immediately."
Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Nateq Nouri told parliament the attack on Arbil "has been definitely carried out in coordination with and a green light from Washington." Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying both Washington and Baghdad "have deprived the Iraqi people of the right to decide their fate and have kept them under pressure." Announcing Iraq's intention to pull back, a government spokesman said: "... Our troops will return to former positions in a very short period." Iraq would withdraw "because the political leadership has not decided yet to resume the government administration of the (Kurdish) autonomous region." The INA news agency said the spokesman issued his statement after a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and leaders of the ruling Baath party chaired by Saddam. At the United Nations, Iraq's deputy U.N. ambassador said Baghdad's decision to withdraw would be implemented shortly. Dr Saeed Hasan also warned Iran not to interfere in the affairs of the Kurdish north but said Baghdad would not reassert its control over these areas at this time. He dismissed suggestions the military action would affect a limited oil sales deal between Iraq and the U.N.: "Since this is a limited operation and has already been finished and achieved, I don't think it has an impact on the oil-for-food (deal)."
Arbil is 12 miles north of the 36th parallel, the line that allied forces had barred Iraqi troops from crossing since soon after the Gulf War. U.S., British and French planes based in Turkey enforce a no-fly zone above the 36th parallel. U.S. defense officials in Washington said more than 300 U.S. planes and 20 warships were immediately available if Clinton should order the use of U.S. force in the crisis. A U.S. Navy spokesman in Bahrain said American forces, combat vessels and fighter planes patrolling the Gulf could respond to threatening Iraqi troop movements in northern Iraq immediately if called upon. "We would be able to respond immediately to the threat in northern Iraq. Within hours," Commander T. McCreary, spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, told reporters.
Arbil residents reported heavy casualties from shelling and said some terrified civilians were fleeing. But in Ankara, the Turkish capital, KDP representative Faik Nerweyi said: "The casualties have been minimal and if the people keep quiet there, normal life will commence tomorrow." The two Kurdish factions, split along political and tribal lines, have a long history of bloodshed and shifting alliances with the main powers in the region -- Iraq and Iran. Nerweyi said Iran, which fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, sent troops into northern Iraq in response to the attack on Arbil.
"The US has been trying to invent a pretext to get into Iraq and Iran. The aim is to kill Iraqi president and replace him with a pro-US puppet, and then move into Iran and central Asia [southern Russian, oil rich Muslim republics]. Jordanians caved in to the US imperialism, and sold out. US forces in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and elsewhere in the the Middle East are ready to move against both Iraq and Iran. It is too late to avert the checkmate. It would be wrong to call it another Gulf war. It is another assault. The US would kill civilians, destroy life support infrastructures remotely [by air only], and then install US-armed zonal dictators. This would give the US total control over oil and trade in the region," a seasoned intelligence official told Shanti RTV news agency [UK].
Factional history of the Iraqi Kurds:
1920 -- Treaty of Sevres, which carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I, calls for creation of an autonomous Kurdish state. Instead, the Kurds are split up mainly between Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
1931 -- Ahmad Barzani, grandfather of current Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani, rebels against Iraqi government.
1961 -- Mustafa Barzani, Massoud Barzani's father, launches a new round of armed resistance against Iraqi rule that continues for 14 years.
1988 -- Western propagandists accuse Iraqi troops of launching scorched-earth campaign against Kurds. Allegedly, thousands are killed in poison gas attacks, including more than 4,000 men, women and children in the town of Halabja in March 1988.
1991 -- In March, shortly after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, US funded and armed Kurdish guerrillas seize several key towns in northern Iraq. Baghdad puts down the rebellion, allegedly sending some Kurds fleeing to Iran and Turkey. Thousands die of cold in the mountains. The United States, Britain and France then establish a "safe haven" for the Kurds in northern Iraq.
1992 -- In May, the first elections for a Kurdish assembly leave Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in a dead heat, leading to fears of unstable leadership.
1994 -- The two main Kurdish factions begin battling each other, leaving some 2,000 dead before the United States mediates a cease-fire in August 1995.
1996 -- On 17 August 1996, the main Kurdish rivals resume fighting one another. On 31 August 1996, the Iraqi army sends thousands of troops into northern Iraq to fight against Talabani's PUK in the main town of Arbil.
[The unfortunate Kurds have long been a pawn in superpower politics.
The 1975 US CIA powerplay which created over 200,000 refugees was
investigated by the Pike Committee. Henry Kissinger, when interviewd by
the Pike Committee about the US role in this melodrama, responded:
"Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."]
Derek Henry Flood, "The
'other' Kurdistan seethes with rage," Asia Times, October 16,