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Kurdish Leader Shuns US Move to Oust Saddam

19 June 2002

Kurds in northern Iraq will refuse to cooperate with any US-inspired covert action to topple Saddam Hussein, a Kurdish leader said yesterday, responding to reports that Washington is stepping up secret efforts to oust the Iraqi president.

"The Iraqi issue won't be solved by military action or covert action," said Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic party, one of the two main Kurdish groups controlling the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq.

"We cannot stop the US [from taking covert action], but we would like there to be transparency and clarity, and for there to be no covers or curtains to hide behind," he said in an interview in Salahaddin, overlooking the regional capital, Irbil.

According to the US press, the Bush administration has approved a wide-ranging program of action aimed at bringing about a change of regime in Baghdad, an outcome the White House believes is central to its worldwide fight against terrorism.

The CIA is reportedly being told to use any means to get rid of President Saddam, including beefing-up support to opposition groups inside and outside Iraq, a massive intelligence-gathering effort within Iraq, especially "where pockets of in tense anti-Hussein sentiment have been detected", and the possible use of CIA and US special forces teams with a licence to kill the Iraqi dictator if "acting in self-defense".

The covert program is being seen as a way of softening up the regime ahead of any military strike. But its success, and that of the broader US plans for Iraq, will rest largely on the degree of cooperation from the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south - the main anti-Saddam forces in the country.

Despite a lapse into fratricidal warfare in the mid 1990s, the three-and-a-half million Kurds who live in the Kurdish-controlled area have enjoyed an unprecedented measure of autonomy and security since the establishment of the no-fly zone after the Gulf war.

Mr Barzani said the Kurds now had "a united stand on Iraq" and were a factor of modernization and stability within the country. The KDP leader and Jalal Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, based in Sulaymaniyah, in the south-east, have an estimated 80,000 troops under their command. But both men, wary of past disappointments, are cautious of committing the Kurds to helping to remove President Saddam without clear guarantees from Washington.

The Kurds, he said, would reject any solution that involved replacing the current regime with another military dictatorship.

The Kurds were not asking for an independent state, but "there should be a prior agreement on a federal solution for the Kurdish problem within a democratic, pluralistic parliamentary Iraq".

The Kurds still harbor bitter memories from 1975, when the withdrawal of US and Iranian support caused an abrupt end to their armed struggle against Baghdad.

The Shi'ites also remember President George Bush senior's encouragement to the Iraqi people, after the Gulf war, to rise up against the regime. The rebellion that followed was ruthlessly suppressed by Baghdad.

Michael Howard, Salahaddin
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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