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Saddam's allies advance on rival Kurds

Iraqi troops involved, U.S. officials say

September 8, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT)

(CNN) -- Renewed fighting broke out Sunday between rival Kurdish factions in northern Iraq as forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) wrested control of strategic territory from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Both factions said KDP forces had taken the towns of Degala and Koysanjak, The Associated Press reported. Both towns lie along the road from Irbil to Sulaimaniya, the PUK's last major stronghold in northern Iraq. The PUK claimed Iraqi troops were involved in the fighting. U.N. officials confirmed there were clashes between the Kurdish groups, but could not determine the extent of Iraqi participation or whether the two towns were indeed in KDP hands.

Degala map

Iraqi forces have been encamped in the area since helping the KDP oust the PUK from Irbil on August 31. The U.N. reported that the Iraqi forces were on the move, but said fighting between the Kurd groups was keeping U.N. officials away from the scene.

Irbil, the de-facto capital of the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Iraq and a so-called "safe haven" for Kurds, was under the control of the PUK until last week's offensive. In retaliation for the Iraqi troop action, the United States launched two missile attacks against Iraqi defense and communication systems in southern Iraq and extended the southern no-fly zone to within 30 miles of Baghdad.

The United States, France and Great Britain have enforced no-fly zones -- off-limits to Iraqi aircraft -- in the north and south of Iraq since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. France, urging a diplomatic solution to the current problems, has refused to enforce the expanded no-fly zone in the south.

Call for U.S. intervention

PUK leaders claim the KDP is marching toward Sulaiymaniya, intent on taking control of the region set aside to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein.

Shalikashvili

"Urgent and decisive help is needed," the PUK said in a statement. "We call on the United States-led coalition to move urgently to stop the Iraqi onslaught."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, U.S. Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not rule out further U.S. military action.icon (160K AIFF or WAV sound)

"We will not stand idly by when (Saddam Hussein) turns against his people," he said.

Shalikashvili said he believes Saddam Hussein is "exploiting" the disagreements between Kurdish factions.

Secretary of Defense William Perry said that the U.S. would not participate in the factional fighting in northern Iraq.

Perry

"(But) if the Iraqis do anything to threaten aircraft, we will take whatever military action is necessary," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."icon (192K AIFF or WAV sound)

Perry confirmed that some of Saddam Hussein's troops were involved in the fighting, but was unable to say to what extent.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, meeting in Saudi Arabia, called on Iraq to abide by U.N. guidelines, but avoided mention of the U.S. air strikes against Iraqi targets.

Some members privately expressed their frustration that the U.S. had struck hastily without adequate Arab input.

The Council also condemned Turkey's plans to implement a buffer zone inside Iraq's northern border, and backed the U.N.'s food-for-oil deal -- now on hold after last week's fighting -- that eases restrictions on economic sanctions against Iraq, allowing the country to obtain needed humanitarian supplies.


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