DAMASCUS: Kurdish leaders observed a five-minute silence on Saturday to mourn thousands of Kurds killed or injured in an Iraqi chemical attack 14 years ago. But the leaders also opposed any military strike against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“The change (of the regime) in Iraq is an internal affair.” said Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), on a visit to Damascus. “No one should get involved in this matter, not even the Americans.” Talabani’s party shares control of northern Iraq with the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Talabani made his party’s stand clear to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. He spelt it out also to US ambassador to Syria Theodore Kattouf and to British ambassador Henry Harger.
His partner in government supported the stand. Mas’ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said: “We will not take part in any foreign military plan to change the regime. This goal should be made by the hands of national Iraqis.”
Nassrallah Sourji, director of Arab Relations with the Kurdistan Labour Party, agrees. “It is true we have differences with Saddam but any change should not be made by the Americans with whom we have certain experiences,” Sourji said.
“In 1991, the US said it was aiming at Saddam but actually it was not,” he said. “Now, they would also not target him. It is only a manoeuvre and a game to smack Iraq’s infrastructure.”
Leaders of other groups too, oppose military action against Saddam Hussein, whatever their own differences with him. Abdullah Ismail, member of the Shura (consultative) Council of the Islamic Unity Movement In Kurdistan, said: “We believe any US strike on Iraq would not aim at the regime but at the economy and the Iraqi people.”
The Kurdish opposition to US strikes against Saddam Hussein is significant, analysts say. Among possible opposition players, they are the only people with a fighting force.
Talabani dismissed a media report that the United States had sent a military reconnaissance team into the Kurdish-controlled north of Iraq. “It is a pure lie,” Talabani said in reply to a question at a meeting with media representatives.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported last week more than 40 US military officers and experts recently spent about ten days inspecting military positions in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, including two airports, “in the framework of the preparations for military operations.”
The Kurds are taking a firm political stand in a difficult situation. “ The Kurds are caught between the threat of an attack by Iraqi troops if they decide to co-operate — they cannot forget Saddam’s shelling of Halabja with chemical weapons in March 1988 which left 5,000 dead and 7,000 injured — and the risk of losing US protection if they remain on the sidelines,” an analyst said.
“The world did nothing when Halabja was bombarded,” he said. “Saddam is still there and who can say he is not going to do it again,” he said. “ It looks safer for them to take such a stand, at least for the time being.”
Talabani spelt out his party’s stand in Damascus following signs of backing from Syria. The meeting between Assad and Talabani came as US Vice-President Dick Cheney toured the Middle East in an attempt to gain support for military action against Iraq.
An official Syrian statement said both leaders “examined the matters related to Iraq and particularly the American threat against Baghdad.”
Syria insists that the US preoccupation with Baghdad is misplaced when fighting is raging across the West Bank and Gaza between the Israeli army and the Palestinians.
State-run Tishreen newspaper wrote in a recent front-page editorial that “the Arabs were expecting US President Bush’s administration to undertake intensive efforts to install a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and not to add to the Palestinians’ tragedy a new tragedy in Iraq.”
President Assad spelt out that position to the vice-president of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim Douri, during recent talks, according to a well-placed diplomat.
Syria and Iraq, ruled by rival factions of the Socialist Baath Party, have been rebuilding ties that were effectively severed when Syria sided with Iran in the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Now Iraq is a valuable export market for the struggling Syrian economy, despite the constraints of UN sanctions against Iraq.—Dawn/The InterPress News Service.