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Iran blames U.S., Iraq for Kurdish refugee dilemma


September 14, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and South African President Nelson Mandela sharply criticized the U.S. policy in Iraq during the Iranian leader's controversial state visit, which ended Saturday. Mandela said no nation should try to act as an international police force.

However, Rafsanjani laid equal blame on Iraq for a problem his country is dealing with: hosting Kurdish refugees who have fled the hostilities in Iraq.

Rafsanjani's trip wasn't well received in some quarters.

Opposition parties and human rights groups argued that Rafsanjani should never have been invited to the country given Iran's record on human rights and its alleged support of international terrorism.

The United States considers Iran a terrorism sponsor and is seeking to contain Tehran's influence throughout the world. Rafsanjani criticized U.S. attempts to stifle Iran's attempts to do business with South Africa.

Mandela said Friday that South Africa's foreign relations would not be influenced by the concerns of the United States or other countries. South Africa will not turn its back on nations that opposed apartheid and no foreign power has the right to tell South Africa to do so, he said.

Refugees seek a haven


Tens of thousands of Kurds fled their homes in northern Iraq after the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah fell to a Kurdish faction supported by Iraqi troops. Most of the refugees have made their way across rugged mountain terrain toward the Iranian-Iraqi border.

A spokesman for the Geneva-based United Nations High Commission for Refugees says many of those who managed to cross into Iran are sleeping outside, because there are not enough tents or other supplies to take care of them.

Iranian officials say they are doing what they can to help, but Tehran's resources are stretched. Iran already hosts some 2 million other refugees -- more, the UNHCR says, than any other country in the world.

Speaking in South Africa Friday, Rafsanjani laid the blame for the situation equally on Washington and Baghdad.

"There are objectives pursued by the United States by creating such tension, and that is to preserve their illegitimate presence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East," he said.

"And, of course, Iraq has provided them with this pretext by this invasion of Kuwait and its recent invasion of the Kurds."

Iran-backed faction


The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, the Kurdish faction that lost in the recent fighting, was backed by Iran, for whom the defeat presumably marks a serious, though not necessarily a long-term, setback.

Regional analysts say that in recent years, Tehran has exercised a great deal of influence in northern Iraq, and that the Iranian government will not be pleased at the prospect of losing that influence as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reasserts control in the area.

Iran wants to have some control in northern Iraq to guarantee that no independent Kurdish state can develop there, and to convince the United States that Iran must be consulted in any potential regional settlement.

The last two weeks have seen Iran's influence in northern Iraq diluted, but it remains to be seen to what degree, and for how long.


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