Kurds in middle of Mideast tug-of-war
September 1, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT)
From Reporter Denise Dillon
(CNN) -- The assault on the Kurdish population in northern
Iraq is the latest in a series of attacks against separatist
The Kurds are an agricultural people, squeezed between Iran,
Iraq and Turkey and struggling to build a state of their own.
So far, they have little to show for their efforts.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has steadfastly rebuffed the
Kurdish challenge, violently suppressing them on a number of
In 1988, he deployed thousands of soldiers against Kurdish
separatists -- then followed with a blistering chemical
And just months after the Gulf War ended, in 1991, Iraq's
beleaguered military was dispatched again to the north to
suppress rebel Kurds.
It was that attack that prompted the international community
to step in, imposing stiff restrictions on Iraqi military
activity in the north of the country.
The sanctions of the so-called "no-fly" zone north of the
36th Parallel block Iraqi aircraft and troops from entering
Baghdad has always challenged such restrictions -- but now it
appears Hussein is willing to risk a military confrontation
with the Western coalition. And that's put Washington into a
Marshall Wiley, a former U.S. government representative in
Iraq, said the United States in a difficult position, having
recognized the territorial integrity of Iraq but objecting to
Baghdad's aggression toward Kurds in the north.
Saturday's attack on the Kurds was Saddam Hussein's biggest
military offensive in five years. Why did he decide to move
now? There's no clear answer at this stage, but observers
offer several theories.
Some analysts say he may have acted for nationalistic
reasons, to snub the United States and its allies for his
effective loss of sovereignty over his own soil in the no-fly
Amatzia Baram, an Iraq scholar, told CNN he believes Hussein
attacked the Kurds to shore up waning support in Baghdad. (224K AIFF or WAV sound)
Col. William Taylor, of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, see another motive: an effort by
Hussein to divide the Kurds and counter an alliance by
certain Kurdish factions with Iran.
"The Kurdish minority ... has been cozying up to the Iranians
... and given the traditional hatred between the Iranians and
the Iraqis, maybe Saddam Hussein sees this as a threat to his
dominance of the Kurdish area north of the 36th Parallel,"
Kurds play pawn
After fighting a war throughout much of the 1980s, Iran
remains a bitter enemy of Iraq. And with the Iranians
reportedly training and supplying some Kurdish factions,
Hussein's moves against those Kurds may be calculated to
prevent an Iranian-backed insurgency in his own country.
By forming an alliance with one of the Kurdish factions,
Baram said, Hussein has essentially secured himself an
invitation to the Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, making it
difficult for the United States or its allies to contest the
It's unclear where the conflict will go from here, but amid
the confusion, one thing remains constant -- the Kurds
still have nowhere else to go.
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