WORLD

A TIME OF TURMOIL

CIVIL WAR RAGES ON IN IRAQ WHILE KUWAIT MOVES HALTINGLY TO RECOVER FROM OCCUPATION

JOHN BIERMAN April 1 1991
WORLD

A TIME OF TURMOIL

CIVIL WAR RAGES ON IN IRAQ WHILE KUWAIT MOVES HALTINGLY TO RECOVER FROM OCCUPATION

JOHN BIERMAN April 1 1991

A TIME OF TURMOIL

WORLD

CIVIL WAR RAGES ON IN IRAQ WHILE KUWAIT MOVES HALTINGLY TO RECOVER FROM OCCUPATION

As civil war raged in two major regions of Iraq last week, President Saddam Hussein appeared increasingly unable to bring the rebels to heel militarily and named a new government to appease them politically. U.S. policy-makers, clearly hoping for the Iraqi president’s overthrow—but concerned about the regional instability likely to result if the country crumbles—seemed increasingly unsure about how to handle the situation. In two separate incidents, U.S. fighters shot down an Iraqi warplane in northern Iraq, but the Americans took no action to prevent Iraqi military helicopters from carrying out missions against rebels. Analysts said that the White House wants Hussein’s ouster to result from action by a military leadership that could hold the country together by pacifying the Kurdish separatists in the north and the Shiite revolutionaries in the south. But no such solution appeared likely soon. A senior U.S. administration official, who asked for anonymity, conceded that the insurrections were stronger than the Americans had expected. And late last week, Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that American troops occupying southern Iraq could remain there “for some months to come.”

For Iraq, as well as Kuwait, the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War is a time of turmoil. Although Iraqi government claims and rebel counterclaims could not be independently verified, it seemed clear by week’s end that the Kurds had scored major successes, while the Shiites were at least holding out in several

southern towns. The Kurds controlled large sections of their home territory, right up to the Turkish frontier and apparently including the major oil city of Kirkuk (population 800,000). As well, there were reports that the Kurds were closing in on Mosul (population 1 million). And they warned that if Hussein used poison gas against them, they would flood Baghdad by releasing water from behind two huge dams that they now control in northeast Iraq. But according to unconfirmed reports, there were heavy civilian casualties in txffh regions from weapons almost as terrible as gas. Rebel spokesmen said that Hussein’s forces used napalm and phosphorous bombs and also poured sulphuric acid from helicopters onto Kirkuk. For its part, the Baghdad government complained to the United Nations that the Americans were “terrorizing” Iraq by flying a “continual air umbrella” over the country.

The chaos also touched Hussein’s government. The Iraqi leader appointed a Shiite Moslem, deputy prime minister Saadoun Hammadi, as prime minister, a post the president had previously held. Tariq Aziz, a Christian, was dropped as foreign minister while remaining a deputy prime minister. Ahmed Hussein Khudayer, a former head of Saddam’s presidential office, was appointed the new foreign minister. But Hussein’s cousin, hard-liner Ali Hassan alMajid, who became interior minister in early March and proceeded to crack down on the rebellion, retained his post. For all the shuffling, however, analysts said that there will likely be no substantive change in the Baghdad government as long as Hussein remains at the helm.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring country that

the Iraqis once terrorized, the government of Kuwait resigned amid widespread criticism of its failure to restore water, electricity and food supplies since its liberation on Feb. 27 by the U.S.-led coalition. Outgoing planning minister Suleiman al-Mutawa acknowledged that “our performance was not up to expectations,” adding that “maybe the next cabinet can do better.” But analysts were openly skeptical. They pointed out that real political power remained in the hands of the ruling al-Sabah family, whose members lived in luxurious exile in Saudi Arabia during the seven months of Iraqi occupation, and whose head, the emir of Kuwait, was criticized for taking 16 days to return to his ravaged homeland after the liberation. Critics complained that members of the returning Kuwaiti elite brought portable electrical generators with them, ensuring that they alone had electricity and refrigeration. “It’s worse

than irresponsible,” said Faisal al-Marzouk, a former newspaper editor.

But while liberation led to discontent in Kuwait, the flight of the Iraqi occupiers brought fear to the country’s Palestinian community and, as reported in some cases, torture and death. The Palestinians apparently paid a terrible price for their leadership’s support for Hussein during the Gulf crisis. In Kuwait itself, many Palestinians allegedly had supported the occupation forces, and the New York Citybased human rights organization Middle East Watch reported last week, after a 12-day investigation, that there was “considerable evidence of mistreatment of a large number” of Palestinians. Andrew Whitley, the group’s executive director, said that Kuwaiti soldiers and resistance fighters had arrested 2,000 people, kill-

ing 30 to 40 of them while torturing others. Said Whitley: “It is unfair that the Palestinian community as a whole is suffering collective punishment.”

While thousands of Palestinians fled Kuwait during the Gulf crisis, reducing their 400,000member population in the country to about 170,000, the remainder will find no haven in Iraq, where the aftermath of war was even more violent and bloody. As internecine fighting raged in the south of the country, the fundamentalist Shiite regime in Iran denied Baghdad’s allegations that it was actively assisting its fellow Shiite Moslems across the border. Still, the Iranians clearly had a strong interest in the success of the Iraqi Shiites, who account for 55 per cent of Iraq’s total population of 17 million.

The Tehran government repeatedly denounced the Sunni-dominated Baghdad regime, which, it claimed, had shelled Shiite shrines in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The Iranians also protested what they termed the kidnapping by Iraqi troops of the world’s highest-ranking Shiite scholar, 91-year-old Grand Ayatollah Abolqassem al-Khoei. At week’s end, Iraq’s news agency reported that al-Khoei had returned home to Najaf—but only after he appeared on Iraqi television to make a statement in support of Saddam Hussein. The Iranians insisted that he had been forced to do so. “May God turn the evil of the enemies of Islam onto themselves,” said a statement issued by the office of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And at Friday prayers, the influential Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Emami-Kashani declared that Hussein and his government were doomed to “the bottom of hell.” That same day, there were unconfirmed reports that Iran had fil-

formed Iraq that it would keep the approximately 150 Iraqi military aircraft that had taken refuge there during the war.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi information ministry took reporters from international news agencies to inspect the government forces in control of Karbala after 10 days of fighting. The correspondents reported that the air was filled with the stench of decomposition from the piles of bodies in the streets. Civilian casualties were clearly heavy in the north of the country, as well. But there, the Kurds were able to celebrate their New Year’s festival of Now Ruz by claiming that almost all Kurdish territory was in their hands.

According to reports filtering across the Iraqi border into Turkey, early in the Kurdish offensive the guerrilla army, the Pesh Merga (“Those who face death”), claimed a crescentshaped enclave anchored on the Iranian border. They were well armed with captured Iraqi weapons, including armor and artillery. Pro-

tected on their northern and southern flanks by two huge reservoirs, the Kurds moved westward to confront the Iraqi forces, which had been weakened by the removal of two crack armored brigades to defend Baghdad. In the furious fighting that followed, the five Iraqi infantry divisions still in the region “just disintegrated or fled,” said Safeen Dizayee, a Kurdish rebel spokesman. Meanwhile, local uprisings occurred in towns and villages across the region, with members of Jash, the pro-Baghdad Kurdish militia, deserting in large numbers to the rebels.

As the Kurds celebrated their apparent victory, the Turkish and Iranian governments were clearly concerned that the separatist fervor might spread across their borders. The Turkish army, engaged in a sweep against its own Kurdish minority, closed border-crossing points to seal off escape routes into the frontier region now held by the Pesh Merga. But in Ankara earlier this month, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, promised Turkish officials that his umbrella movement did not intend to carve an independent state out of present-day Iraq, or to inter-

vene on behalf of fellow Kurds inside Turkey.

Meanwhile, in Washington, legislators turned their attention to unanswered questions about America’s pre-invasion diplomacy in the Iraq-Kuwait crisis. Breaking a seven-month public silence, April Glaspie, the 48-year-old U.S. foreign service officer who was ambassador to Baghdad when the crisis erupted last summer, appeared before the Senate foreign relations committee. Glaspie, bom in Vancouver but a graduate of U.S. colleges, had been

faulted for allegedly giving Saddam Hussein the impression that the United States would not react strongly if he invaded Kuwait. An Iraqi transcript of a conversation that she had with Hussein one week before the invasion had quoted her as saying that Washington “had no opinion” on inter-Arab conflicts “like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” Last week, however, Glaspie told the senators that the transcript had omitted her strong and repeated warnings to Hussein. She claimed that she had emphasized several times “that we would insist on settlements being made in a nonviolent manner, not by threats, not by intimidation, and certainly not by aggression.”

Members of the panel thanked her warmly. But the explanation plainly did not satisfy many U.S. lawmakers and independent analysts. They asked why the administration had waited until now to counter the impression that it had failed to give adequate warning to Hussein, and why the state department had described the Iraqi transcript at the time as “essentially accurate.” It was one of the many questions lingering after the decisive military outcome of the winter war in the Gulf.

JOHN BIERMAN

CHRIS STEPHEN