KURDS: THE ENEMY WITHIN
SEPTEMBER 10, 1996
Rival Kurdish factions continue to make deals with former enemies in order to control Northern Iraq. Kurdish Democratic Party troops, backed by Saddam Hussein, marched into Sulaimaniya as thousands fled for nearby mountains and the Iranian border. The move is seen as a strategic victory for Saddam, and is likely to guarantee instability in the region. A background report is followed by a discussion with two Iraq experts in the U.S.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Throughout most of their modern history, Kurdish nationalists have dreamed of and fought for an independent republic of their own when they weren't fighting each other. Now 22 million strong, the Kurds are spread across six countries--Iran, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Northern Iraq. Repressed and distrusted by every country in which they live, even the Kurds admit they have few permanent friends and a long history of shifting tangled and usually unsuccessful alliances.
Previous NewsHour Transcripts and Forums:
September 6, 1996:
Browse the Online NewsHour's recent forum: Who are the Kurds?
September 4, 1996:
A panel of experts discuss Saddam Hussein's decision to send troops in the Kurdish Safe Haven."
September 3, 1996:
Secretary of Defense, William Perry, discusses U.S. missile attacks in Iraq."
September 2, 1996:
Two experts discuss the ramifications of Iraqs invasion of the Kurdish "Safe Haven."
May 20, 1996
The NewsHour looks at the U.N. decision to lift sanctions against Iraqi oil sales.
February 7, 1996
The state of Iraq five years after the imposition of sanctions.
While the United States has always had an interest in Kurdistan, it became more directly involved in dealing with the Kurdish question after the Gulf War in 1991. It was then that the allies created a protected zone in Northern Iraq for Iraqi Kurds who were fleeing the area after being attacked by Saddam Hussein.
SPOKESMAN: The important thing to do now is to make certain that the entire international community gets geared up in a hurry with a massive relief and humanitarian effort. It's because these people's very lives are at risk.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A no-fly zone was established above the 36th Parallel to further guarantee Kurdish safety, but the new U.S. commitment depended on Kurdish unity and more diplomatic involvement by the United States to keep the various Kurdish factions together. But the required unity has proved elusive, and to understand this latest crisis means going back to events 60 years ago, well before the Gulf War.
It was in the 1930's that the Kurds came under the gun of their first great nationalist leader, Amad Asani, who soon launched a rebellion against Iraq that was eventually defeated. And today, it's Mustafa's son, Masoud Barzani, who leads the so-called Kurdish Democratic Party or KDP, which has allied itself with Iraq. With Saddam's help, it's Barzani's forces that have now vanquished their principal rivals, the patriotic union forces led by Jalal Kalabani.
Kurdish unity has been fraying for the past two years. But the Barzani forces say the final showdown came after the Telebani forces forged an alliance with Iran earlier this summer. Tareef Aziz represents the Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party in Washington.
TAREEF AZIZ: We have evidence and we have corroborated that the PUK had a collaboration with the Iranians to allow them to attack Iranian opposition movements, in exchange for military hardware, artillery, and so forth to gain a military advantage for the PUK.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The Patriotic Union does not deny its alliance with Iran but says it had no choice after Barzani allied his forces with Iraq. Barham Salih represents Telebani's PUK Party in Washington.
BARHAM SALIH: We were not in a position to stop the Iranians. We did not invite the Iranians to come, because that was--nobody could be more concerned than ourselves, seeing neighboring countries coming, invading our territory. I think the whole issue has been blown up by Barzani and Iraq and Saddam Hussein to justify this aggression against Iraqi Kurdistan. And secondly, unfortunately, some people here have also used it to counsel inaction in the North.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In this latest crisis one of the few things both factions agree on is that the United States is largely to blame. Salih says his PUK faction would never have allied itself with Iran had the Clinton administration been more assertive.
BARHAM SALIH: A whole host of people put their faith in the commitments and the resolve of the United States. My people were assured protection over the last five years.
And these assurances of protection were reaffirmed days before the onslaught. There were public statements by the administration, the White House, the State Department, who said that any foolish act by Saddam Hussein and the context was offensive against Irbil will have serious consequences on people, uh--that was very much in line with the kind of reassurances that the Kurds have received over the past five years, and they will be protected from the vengeance of Saddam Hussein.
The administration by redefining the issue essentially and moving its attention to Southern Iraq has enabled Saddam Hussein to achieve what he was set out to do.
CHARLES KRAUSE: On the other side, Tareef Aziz says Barzani's faction would not have asked Saddam Hussein for help had the United States paid more attention to the Kurds' internal problems.
TAREEF AZIZ: The day after our celebration of our 50th anniversary on the 16th, the PUK started another military aggression against us with the assistance of the Iranians not only in hardware but in personnel and other weapons, and we felt very threatened by that, our military capabilities cannot withstand Iranian pressure.
This was made known to the administration again, and repeated calls, umm, went unheard or ignored, and Mr. Barzani felt, umm, compelled to, umm, seek assistance, and the only assistance that was out there was Baghdad. And so for this very limited period and limited purpose, we took advantage of the similar interests that came together at that time, and, um, evicted the PUK out of Irbil.
JIM LEHRER: Clinton administration spokesmen have said it did not want to be forced to support one faction or the other. The U.S. unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute before the latest fighting broke out. Now thousands of Kurds are fleeing Northern Iraq. We get an update now from Lindsey Hilson of Independent Television News.
LINDSEY HILSON, ITN: Iranian Television had been showing pictures of Kurdish refugees arriving at the border. The Iranians are reported to have turned back most of the Kurds. They say they don't have the resources to help large numbers. Iran backs the defeated Iraqi Kurdish faction, the PUK. Iranian armor is on the border but Iran is likely to be cautious about further involvement. The aid agencies fear a repetition of 1991 when up to a million Kurds fled Saddam Hussein's forces. The Kurds went home when the U.S. and its allies set up a safe haven in Northern Iraq. Yesterday's victory of the KDP backed by Saddam Hussein means the haven is safe no longer. At least now, unlike in ‘91, it's not the dead of winter.
SPOKESMAN: There are mine fields along the border, and I see a lot of stuff dating back to the 1991 war. It is very hard because there could be water problems. Obviously, food will be a problem, but probably most people have taken at least a little bit of food with them. The longer people go on and who are away from any form of support, either agencies or family, and the more difficult it'll become for them.
LINDSEY HILSON: Heading into the mountains, the Kurds have fled the town of Sulamaniyah, taken by the KDP yesterday. Several thousand are at the border town of Penjouin, while others are trying to cross into Iran. The KDP celebrating in Sulamaniyah is not unique amongst Kurdish factions willing to deal with the devil to triumph over Kurdish rivals. The victorious KDP leader Masoud Barzani now acting as Saddam Hussein's proxy was until recently close to the United States.
SPOKESPERSON: We are going to establish a real democratic in our country--we're going to have a new election, free election, and we'll cooperate with the other parties.
LINDSEY HILSON: Saddam Hussein seen chairing the Revolutionary Council on Iraqi television today announced an amnesty for defeated Kurds, clearly showing just who is in charge in Northern Iraq now.