U.S. Said to Ready Kurd Areas in Iraq for Possible War (NY TIMES) By C. J. CHIVERS DOHUK, Iraq 12/22/02)
NEW YORK TIMES
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DOHUK, Iraq, Dec. 21 As the United States and Iraq publicly spar
over the degree of Iraqi compliance with United Nations weapons
inspections, an array of American war preparations are under way here
in the independent north.
American intelligence officials have been working alongside Kurdish
officials in recent weeks, and recruiters for an American-sponsored
opposition group have been selecting candidates for a program to
train scouts and translators that one day may help American forces
inside Iraq, according to Kurdish and Western officials.
American military planners have visited secluded corners of the
country to examine potential basing sites for use in a war, according
to a Western expert familiar with the activity.
No American military forces are based here yet, Kurdish officials
say, and recent Turkish and Arabic news reports of sizable military
deployments appear unfounded.
But teams from the Central Intelligence Agency have been working with
the principal political parties in the Kurdish region the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan in the east, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in
the west for upward of two months. The C.I.A. teams have become a
familiar sight for Kurds, who see them traveling in convoys with
armed local guards.
One team appeared Thursday at the local supermarket here, arriving as
a New York Times photographer stepped outside with his purchases. The
Americans were accompanied by Kurdish gunmen who wore the distinctive
red-and-white headdress of the Barzanis, the ruling clan in the
Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Kurdish officials say the Americans have interviewed members of a
Muslim militant group who have been captured by Kurdish security
forces, looking for links to Al Qaeda. The group, Ansar al Islam, has
been waging holy war against the secular Kurdish government, with
some tactical success.
Other duties of the Americans are less clear. But local officials say
that after a long absence, the American teams have been analyzing the
political and military situation in the autonomous zone and meeting
important figures, deepening Washington´s understanding of the
region. They are also building relationships that would be valuable
if the United States leads a war against President Saddam Hussein´s
government and later occupies this historically unstable land.
The independent northern zone is a tenuous entity, existing with
scant economic and military resources in territory once controlled by
Mr. Hussein. His forces have ruthlessly killed civilians here in the
It is also ringed by neighbors Iran, Turkey and Syria that
express deep misgivings over the intensifying Western involvement
with the Kurds, and with the possible spread of Kurdish democracy to
their own independence-minded Kurdish minorities.
It is no surprise then that the American presence, welcomed by many
Kurds, has caused palpable discomfort elsewhere.
In one testy exchange this month, the head of the Iranian
intelligence office in the eastern city of Sulaimaniya visited a
deputy of Jamal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union, to
register a complaint. The Iranian official protested Kurdish
cooperation with the C.I.A., according to a Kurdish official familiar
with the exchange. "He said, ´Why have you invited them here? We
should not have these Americans in the region,´ " the official said.
"He was told, ´This is a free society. We need them here, and we like
them here. We are free to invite anyone´s assistance as we choose.´ "
Local officials say that apart from the C.I.A presence, there has
been the American-sponsored effort to recruit guides, civil affairs
specialists and translators to work with Western forces should they
Yura Mossa, chief of the minority Assyrian Democratic Party in the
northwestern city of Zakho, said senior party officials had met with
an unspecified group of Americans and then had asked local party
offices to select applicants. The program, underwritten by the United
States Congress as part of Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, would provide
training, perhaps in Hungary, for the recruits.
"We have registered some names, and we have told them we are ready to
register some other names, and to send young people to help America,"
Mr. Mossa said. "In the case of ousting Saddam Hussein, all the
people of Iraq Kurds, Assyrian, Arabs will be ready to help."
Mr. Mossa said that none of the men his office had signed up had
departed for training and that they were awaiting further
A similar effort has occurred in Sulaimaniya, where a former head of
the Iraqi Communist Party has been registering names and circulating
a questionnaire as a sort of job application. His activities have
been reported in the local media and in The Christian Science
Monitor, and have angered Kurdish political parties.
"He is a clown," one Kurdish official said. "He had no local
reputation and no money, and all of a sudden he has a new office and
an Internet connection, and he´s handing out these letters. The
Americans should not work with him."
A Western expert familiar with the region said the recruiting was
coordinated by the Iraq National Congress, an opposition group based
in London, and was unrelated to the C.I.A. teams here.
That led a Kurdish official to say that American government agencies
often seem split in their agendas, and that sometimes it was not
possible to determine the direction and shape of American policy.
Kurdish leaders are generally supportive of the American presence,
and are grateful for protection provided by American and British
warplanes since the United Nations northern no-flight zone was
established in 1991. But Kurds also remember engagements with the
United States that ended in what they consider betrayal.
The United States encouraged Kurdish uprisings in 1975 and 1991, then
withheld support while local guerrillas were routed.
An American-encouraged coup attempt against Mr. Hussein in 1996 also
ended badly. Iraqi security services discovered the plan and sent
security agents into Kurdish neighborhoods to kill opposition members.
As planning goes forward, Kurdish officials worry that Mr. Hussein
might use the American presence as grounds for a pre-emptive strike.
Several Kurdish cities are within artillery range of the Iraqi Army.
"We have to be very careful," a senior official said. "If there are
people who want to overthrow Saddam Hussein, we do not want to be too
far from them. But we do not want to provoke Saddam Hussein in any
way. We know him, and we are responsible for our people, and must be
very careful about what we say and do."
The sense of uncertainty briefly deepened this week, when Turkish and
Arab media reported that 50 military trucks entered Iraq at the
border crossing near Zakho, ferrying American troops and equipment
into village bases. Some reports said American soldiers were
improving airfields in anticipation of war.
Turkish military officials and Western diplomats said the reports
were false, and Kurdish officials investigated and then dismissed
them as baseless. "Until now I have not seen these military trucks,"
said Akher Shekh Jamal, Zakho´s mayor. "If American troops came to
Kurdistan, we would see them. We would have witnesses."
A Western expert said military activity had been limited to surveys
of airfields some weeks ago by American planners near the villages of
Bamarni and Harir in northern Iraq. Tours of northern villages
appeared to confirm a low level of activity.
The Turkish Army has operated inside northern Iraq since the late
1990´s, under an agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The
deployments are part of the army´s counterinsurgency against the
Kurdish Workers Party, or P.K.K., which has engaged in a long
campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey.
With their armored vehicles, including American-made M60 tanks,
Turkish soldiers were visible on Thursday near the airfield in
Bamarni and at the mountaintop village of Amadiya, both roughly 15
miles south of the Turkish border.
But villagers said the Turks were part of deployments that began in
1997 and that have not recently changed in size or composition. The
troops seemed lazily deployed, with few guards. Most of their tanks
were idled and under tarps. Fighting positions had clearly been dug
Moreover, the dirt-and-gravel airstrip at Bamarni showed no signs of
improvement. It had drainage problems, was littered in places with
melon-sized stones, and in sections had shin-high shrubs.
"We haven´t seen American forces come here," said Nori Fatah
Abdullah, of Bamarni, looking down from a hilltop at the Turkish
tanks. "We would like it if they came, because they are good people,
but they are not here yet."
(Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 12/22/02)
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