Kurdish leader helped by Saddam rethinks the partnership
He assures world: Kurdish territory ours, not his
September 12, 1996
Web posted at: 10:20 p.m. EDT (0220 GMT)
SULAHADDIN, Iraq (CNN) -- There was more fighting
Thursday between rival Kurdish factions in northern Iraq as
exiled Iraqi opposition groups tried to muster support around
the world for their efforts to topple Saddam Hussein.
Exiles are weighing the effects of the recent Kurdish
Democratic Party rout in Irbil of its rival -- the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan -- with the Iraqi president's help. The
consequences of the KDP victory are still unfolding.
Meanwhile, KDP leader Massoud Barzani seems to be
reevaluating his allegiance to Saddam, whose troops assaulted
the Kurdish enclave August 31, prompting missile attacks from
the United States.
He has hastened to assure other countries that his alignment
with Iraq was only temporary. In an exclusive interview with
CNN, he emphasized that the territory held by the KDP remains
Kurdish territory, not Saddam's.
Barzani also downplayed an obvious rift with the United
States, saying Kurdistan still needs the shield of U.S. air
power. He said his representative in Washington is in regular
contact with the CIA.
The KDP victory triggered last week's U.S. air strikes, and
wiped out a Kurdish safe haven that had been established and
protected by allied forces since Operation Desert Storm.
Now, exiled Iraqi opposition groups are working overtime to
muster support for their efforts to unseat Saddam. They say
the return of his troops to northern Iraq at the invitation
of the KDP is a blow to their work.
"Kurdistan was an important source of information. It helped
Iraqi opposition a lot to send people (there) to get
information," said Hamid Al-Bayati of the Iraqi National
Congress, an anti-Saddam group. "However, our work will
continue inside Iraq. We have cells inside Baghdad and other
A setback for the West
Analysts say Saddam's presence in the north is also a setback
for Western intelligence-gathering operations in Iraq, with
the goal of encouraging an uprising against Baghdad's rule.
"Essentially there's no way of operating an Iraqi opposition
inside areas of Iraq controlled by Saddam Hussein," said
Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International
"To the extent that Saddam Hussein's control will be
reasserted in northeastern Iraq, in Iraqi Kurdistan, that has
wiped out the possibility of a rallying point existing inside
the country to take on the government of Baghdad."
Barzani's request for Saddam's help in gaining control of the
north from the PUK capped more than 30 years of modern
Kurdish civil war. Exiled Kurdish leaders are horrified.
"For a party to ... bring the Iraqi army and hit the other
party and increase the conflict, increase inter-Kurdish fight
and create a situation in Kurdistan in which half are siding
with Saddam and the other half are against, would be
misutilized by Iran and the others, that is a disaster," said
Mahmoud Osman of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front.
"Where does that leave the Iraqi opposition? It's not clear
that there's any main stronghold for that opposition. It
always had a difficulty in terms of reputation, in terms of
viability, in terms of credibility," Hollis said.
Barzani says Iraqi troops have pulled out of the region, and
he isn't even talking to Baghdad about future relations. He
was once the target of a Saddam assassination attempt.
With refugees now mostly back home in Sulaymaniyah in eastern
Kurdistan, he says his biggest concern is promoting what his
neighbors want: stability.
Correspondents Margaret Lowrie and Richard Blystone
contributed to this report.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.