Defeat of Kurdish rivals could stabilize north Iraq

USA TODAY
September 11, 1996, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 6A
LENGTH: 401 words
DATELINE: IRBIL, Iraq
IRBIL, Iraq — Saddam Hussein reasserted his influence in northern Iraq on Tuesday, lifting trade and travel barriers in place since the Persian Gulf war ended in 1991.

He also offered amnesty to the Iranian-backed Kurds who were routed in the fighting.

In Sulaymaniyah, Saddam’s Kurdish allies paraded through the streets and looted the headquarters of their vanquished rivals, looking for trophies like toilet seats and light bulbs.

But fears of a refugee crisis caused by more than a week of factional fighting in northern Iraq eased somewhat as Kurds displaced by the conflict started to filter back to their homes.

Tens of thousands of Kurds had fled Sulaymaniyah during the fighting. But Tuesday, on foot or piled in groaning buses and rusting trucks, many streamed back to their homes.

And officials speculated that the defeat of an Iran-backed Kurdish group by a rival group supported by Iraq may even stabilize the region.

“The military battle is over,” said Poul Dahl, a Danish colonel who directs U.N. security in Iraq. “Now the political battle is starting. If the situation calms down any more, it will be easier to work for the United Nations.” So promising is the situation, he said, that soon, “Maybe I can go home.”

When the victorious Kurdish troops arrived on Monday in Kuysanjaq, crowds lined the street to cheer their arrival. Women, children and older men waved scraps of yellow cloth — the color of the Kurdish Democratic Party flag — and sang slogans.

Massoud Barzani, head of the KDP, told USA TODAY after a meeting with his commanders, “I want to end the fighting quickly and restart a peace process. Then when we will have new elections.”

Since fighting began last week, KDP territory has been without electricity and with very little water.

“We are fighting for peace and electricity,” said Fadhil Mirani, a member of the KDP 11-person ruling Politburo.

Officials said on Tuesday that the Kurdish parliament would stay in power for 18 months before new elections are called.

In clashes Monday, there were no Iraqi troops visible. But dozens of Kurdish soldiers were dressed in regular Iraqi army uniforms.

One of them, Rahim Mohamed, 34, said he was an Iraqi major before being captured by U.S. forces in the gulf war.

“Now I fight for the benefit of the KDP,” he said. “Now I am a volunteer.”

PERSON: SADDAM HUSSEIN (65%);

ORGANIZATION: UNITED NATIONS  (82%); UNITED NATIONS