Saddam the Phoenix | The Nation


Saddam the Phoenix

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By then the KDP and the PUK had battled each other, killing several thousand Kurdish fighters, and been reconciled; but the control of Arbil, the regional capital, had passed from the KDP to the PUK, a setback that the KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, vowed to reverse, come what may.

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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Its ‘generosity’ toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

To do so, Barzani invited military assistance in late August 1996 from none other than Saddam Hussein--responsible for the death of three of Barzani's brothers, the murder of some 8,000 members of his tribe and the killing of 60,000-150,000 Kurds in counterinsurgency operations in 1988.

Saddam obliged with alacrity. While his tanks and soldiers expelled the PUK from Arbil, his intelligence operators killed the CIA agents and informers. By the time the agency pulled all its local personnel from the region, it had 6,500 Kurds and Iraqi Arabs on its hands at the Turkish border.

What motivated Barzani's invitation to Saddam? The reason, elicited by the Cockburns from Barzani, was: "The Iranians were coming!" More specifically, Barzani stated, the PUK's Jalal Talabani, backed by Iran, was set to wipe out the KDP.

The key to understanding the puzzlingly cozy relationship between Barzani and Saddam is money, a factor largely overlooked in Out of the Ashes. The KDP controls the border post through which 800 trucks carrying Iraqi diesel fuel pass daily. The hefty customs revenue goes to the KDP. This blatant breach of the UN sanctions has been going on for years and is known to all, including the United States. When queried on the subject, following a front-page story in the New York Times last June, the State Department spokesman said that Turkey was a member of NATO and an ally of the United States! What he did not say was that while Washington was not prepared to fund the Iraqi Kurds to administer Kurdistan, it was allowing them to finance themselves through customs duties.

This past February Tariq Aziz, on his way to Ankara overland, not only traveled through KDP-controlled Kurdistan in comfort but also had a clandestine meeting with Barzani. Earlier, finding the KDP on the list of Iraqi organizations eligible for arms training and supplies according to the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, Barzani had promptly said, "Thanks but no thanks."

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