CROSSING THE LINE
SEPTEMBER 2, 1996
Saddam Hussein is once again flouting the United States and the rest of the world. Iraqui troops have surrounded a Kurd safe zone, and President Clinton must now weigh his response options carefully. Elizabeth Farnsworth takes an in-depth look at the situation, including a report from ITN.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We begin tonight with a look at the latest face-off between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the U.S. and its allies. The Clinton administration is considering how to respond to the movement of Iraqi troops into a protected area in Northern Iran. The confrontation has its roots in the 1991 Gulf War. We start with some background.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: After Iraq was defeated in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi Kurds saw an opportunity to establish their own state. Armed with little more than assault rifles and machine guns, the Kurds attacked the weakened Iraqi troops and for a few days controlled much of the Northern part of the country. But Iraqi forces quickly crushed the rebellion, killing 50,000 Kurds and forcing more than a million into Turkey and Iran.
SPOKESMAN: We are homeless. We are stateless, and we don't know what to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pictures of starving and freezing Kurdish families on snowy mountains pushed the U.S. and its allies to establish a safe haven for the Kurds North of the 36th Parallel. The U.N. Security Council set up a no-fly zone there to prevent Iraqi warplanes from entering the air space over the Kurds. American and other allied aircraft based in Turkey regularly patrolled the zone. Although the U.N. resolution made no mention of prohibiting ground troops, Saddam Hussein by and large stayed out of the exclusion zone until last week.
His troops invaded apparently in support of one of the two key Kurdish factions. In 1992, the Iraqi Kurds held an election which evenly split power between two longtime rival factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party called the KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK. But the two groups continued to fight over territory and the lucrative black market trade with Turkey. The KDP has apparently turned to Saddam Hussein's forces in an effort to finally defeat the PUK.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The U.S. was trying to negotiate a settlement between the two rival groups with little success when Saddam Hussein sent troops in last week. We have a report now from Sirah Shaw of Independent Television News.
MS. SHAW, ITN: Iraqi troops in the town of Arbil about 12 miles inside the no-fly zone this weekend, their very presence a snub to the allies which created the zone after the Gulf War to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein. Astonishingly, they were invited in by a faction of Kurds, the Kurdish Democratic Party, which fought alongside them to take the city from its rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Iraq claims its troops have now withdrawn. The U.N. backed that earlier today.
PAUL DAHL, United Nations Spokesman: (Arbil) It looks like the situation is going back to normal and the Iraqi forces that were in the city left yesterday and during the night. And there's no more Iraqi troops inside Arbil City.
MS. SHAW: But the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan claims some Iraqi tanks and forces have stayed behind and that 96 members of the opposition have been executed. The allies, led by the United States, made it clear that they were not impressed by the reports of a withdrawal and that they were considering retaliation. The U.S., Britain, and France already have some 70 aircraft at the Turkish air base of Incirlik. Today the foreign secretary said it was unlikely that British ground troops will be deployed, but he didn't rule out air strikes.
MALCOLM RIFKIND, Foreign Secretary, Britain: The action by Saddam Hussein's regime in Northern Iraq is extremely disturbing. It was clearly a grave violation of the safety area, the safe zone.
MS. SHAW: The Northern no-fly zone applies to the area of Iraq above the 36th Parallel. It's bordered by two regional powers, Turkey and Iran. Iraqi troops moved to the city of Arbil just inside the zone. They claim to have pulled back but may now threaten another Kurdish town just outside it, Sulaymaniyah. Sulaymaniyah, the PUK's stronghold, borders Iran. The PUK, has said it will seek Iranian support if the West does not help it. The PUK's area has been diminished by Iraq's offensive. It's now centered in Sulaymaniyah. The KDP has been left in undisputed control of the North, including Arbil, Dahuk, and the strategic customs post of Zokho on the Turkish border.
Saddam Hussein, the man responsible for numerous atrocities against the Kurds, including the chemical attack at Halabjah, appears an unlikely ally of any Kurdish group. But the PUK has also flirted with Baghdad. The party's leader, Jalal Khalaboni, caused a stir by visiting and embracing Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War. The KDP makes no bones about looking after its own territorial interests. It's all come at a time when the U.N. had approved plans to allow Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil to buy humanitarian supplies for its own population. That plan may now be shelved. What other action will be taken now depends on the allies.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get two assessments now. Mark Thompson is the National Security Correspondent for “Time” Magazine. Geoffrey Kemp was on the staff of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration. He is now director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. Thank you both for coming in on this Labor Day. Mark Thompson, what are your sources telling you about what the United States response is likely to be?
MARK THOMPSON, Time Magazine: In the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, Elizabeth, we're hearing from the Pentagon there will be a fairly broad strike against Iraqi targets. They won't be strategic targets; they won't be civilian targets. They will be narrow military targets, air defense networks, supply depots, where people won't tend to get hurt. They're likely to be carried out by Tomahawk Cruise missiles and by fighter planes from aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you're hearing that this is the next about 24 hours?
MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, they're all ready to do this. This is a recommended option, what the folks at the top, the National Command Authority ultimately decides is not yet known, but that is what they are prepared to do now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it true that this was something that was just about tin the works for last night but for some reason was put off?
MR. THOMPSON: Yes. Apparently they were ready to go last night and whether it was because they couldn't get over-flight rights or basing rights, they've sort of put it on hold for at least a 24-hour period.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So this is a sort of send a message strike?
MR. THOMPSON: Yes, exactly. I mean, the military is chary of doing that sort of thing. They like to have a goal and how do you know when Saddam gets a message? We've been trying that for five years, and we have yet to find a way to deliver it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Was there any consideration, was there any thought of not doing anything?
MR. THOMPSON: I don't think so. I think right from the start we had a secretary of state coming back from California, Anthony Lake, the National Security Adviser, going down to see the President last night. We had Ken Bacon at the Pentagon today declining to answer questions. Why was he working on Labor Day if they weren't planning something? Umm, I think the United States basically has said there will be consequences to this, something has to be done, and essentially we have painted ourselves into a corner. We're going to have to do something to at least show there's a price to be paid for this sort of action.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Tomahawk missiles would be launched from--
MR. THOMPSON: Primarily from ships. We've got, I think, five surface ships in the Gulf capable of firing them, at least one submarine as well, and there could be B-52 Cruise missiles, as well as cruise missiles from other Air Force planes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Mr. Kemp, these are planes that have to take off from airfields in the region. How are--can we count on the cooperation of our friends in the region and also of our allies, France and Britain, which are the co-guarantors of this no-fly zone?
GEOFFREY KEMP, Nixon Center: Well, the delightful thing about warships and B-52s is they don't need bases in the region. They can operate in international waters. And I think that'll be the first preference because it's going to be difficult, quite frankly, to get the allies to agree the way they did during the Gulf War.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just let me interrupt. The B-52's can take off from Guam, for example?
MR. KEMP: They can fly from Guam or Diego Garcia, non-stop or return.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So the smaller planes in Turkey you don't think will be needed because that was kind of a problem?
MR. KEMP: It depends, as Mark said, on what sort of targets they're going after if they expand the operation to try to intervene tactically in the North, then the land-based air in both Turkey and in the Arabian Peninsula would be extremely useful if they could get permission to use it. I doubt if they will from the Turks, and I doubt from the Saudis, maybe the Kuwaitis, because they really are so beholden to us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So doubts about what would be possible from Turkey and Saudi Arabia have to be part of the considerations at this moment?
MR. KEMP: Well, they certainly do, and that's why I think General Shalikashvili and Relapelatro were in Saudi Arabia earlier today. But my sense is the Saudis are very nervous right now because there have been attacks on American troops which reflect discontent with the Saudi regime. They do not want to be seen as ganging up against an Arab brother at this time unless the situation is really grave. And I think from their point of view, it's probably not.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about Turkey's situation?
MR. KEMP: Well, Turkey has a new prime minister, Mr. Ekarbahn, who is very pro-Islamic, and he is trying to improve relations with both Iran and Iraq, and he, it will find it very difficult to support the use of American military power for this type of operation. But the problem he has is that his foreign minister, Mr. Tsila, may be more prepared to help us than he is, so he'll have an internal problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, anything to add to this?
MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. I think what's important here is that this isn't a zero sum gain. It's not anti-Saddam. Everything we do in this case it's anti-Saddam, is also essentially pro-Iran. So the President and the allies have to walk a very careful plank here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that. MR. THOMPSON: Well, the fact of the matter is that what we have in the Northern enclave now are Kurds going against Kurds. And one of the factions is backed by Saddam; the other faction is backed by Iran.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although they do deny that.
MR. THOMPSON: Yes, they do deny that, but I think it's pretty clear that that's the case, and that it's--it just isn't an anti-Saddam effort we'd be leading here. What we would be doing might be tacitly helping Iran gain a foothold in that region.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Geoffrey Kemp, let's go back just for one minute and talk about why Saddam Hussein did this. What does he get out of this in your view?
MR. KEMP: Well, of course, no one knows why he did it so I'm just guessing like everybody else, and we've been right half the time and wrong half the time. But there are two motivating factors behind everything this man does--survival and revenge. Now for his survival, he needs to kill opposition. And there have been increasing signs in recent months that the opposition to him is growing from within his own entourage, from his own Republican guards, even his own tribe. He's paranoid, and I think he felt--I guess he felt that if the U.N.-sanctioned oil sales go ahead the way the United States wants them to go ahead, that this would mean more independence for the North, for the Kurds, more money flowing out of his coffers into the hands of independents.
That could strengthen the opposition to him. And that would be very dangerous. Now, the second thing, of course--the second thing we cannot discount is his capacity to completely miscalculate the United States. He may, through his own vision, see the United States in disarray once more. The Arab-Israeli peace process is on hold. We've already talked about a change of government in Turkey. There is the problem with Iran, and Saddam may think he can get away with it, enhance his reputation on the Arab street. I think he'll miscalculate, as usual, but those are some of the things that go on in his mind.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about the fact that Iraqi--not only were Kurds who are opposed to him in the town that they have taken, but also Iraqi military people who had left, who had defected basically, left the armed forces and were, were hiding out--
MR. KEMP: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: --or underground in Arbil, and they've apparently gone after some of those people, so this allowed him to go after his opponents too?
MR. KEMP: Yes, exactly. It allowed him to use his army to kill opposition. And that's what he will be doing even if he pulls the army out. I don't think for one minute that you've seen the last of this because he'll leave behind agents, provocateurs, and assassins to do--to finish off the job, unless he is well and truly humiliated. This man is fighting for his life and will do anything to stay in power.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark Thompson, anything to add to what Saddam Hussein got out of this, or how we may have miscalculated?
MR. THOMPSON: I think, as Geoffrey says, he is counting on the American election to perhaps give him an opening, and I think that's a now calculation on his behalf. I think it's interesting that Sen. Dole jumped up so quickly in the wake of the weekend's incursion to blame the administration. I think we need to keep in mind that Sen. Dole had a very nice visit with Saddam Hussein prior to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait back in 1990. So there's lots of politicking going on in the United States. I think Saddam thinks he can take advantage of that, but in actuality, I think that may polarize the situation and perhaps make the President more inclined to take some action, knowing at least in the short-term it will probably redound to his benefit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there risks in taking this action? What are the risks?
MR. THOMPSON: Sure there are risks. The biggest risk, obviously, is a U.S. casualty. I think the President has got to be very aware of the intense national interest in the fate of Scott O'Grady a year and a half ago in Bosnia. That's why if American airplanes go in, I can't believe they'll go in after any heavily defended targets. That's why we've got the expensive Tomahawk missiles to go in and take out point specific targets without endangering the pilots, and that's why we got B-52s that can fly very high and out of the range of most Iraqi guns and anti-aircraft artillery.
MR. KEMP: But there's a catch here, you see. We don't want American casualties but we don't want civilian casualties either. And sometimes when you use B-52's flying by with iron bombs, I know I'm not saying they're going to do that this time, but you could have many mis-strikes. And the last thing Clinton wants is, is a Kurdish village destroyed by American bombers because that will be on every television set in the Arab world and will be a very bad setback for the President.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And just very quickly, Mr. Kemp, do you agree with Mark Thompson that whatever we do could end up in some way favoring Iran?
MR. KEMP: Uh--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did I mis-state your point?
MR. THOMPSON: No.
MR. KEMP: No, I don't think so. In the short run maybe, but I think what the Iranians stand to lose is that if we truly punish Saddam Hussein the way I hope we will, it will weaken Saddam to the point where eventually he will go away. What the Iranians are terrified of us a regime in Baghdad that we can talk to, that the United States has much better relations with that will further isolate the Iranian Mullers and make them even more paranoid than they already are.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both for being with us.