Hussein’s postwar fury

Iraq’s strongman is battering the rebels

JOHN BIERMAN April 8 1991

Hussein’s postwar fury

Iraq’s strongman is battering the rebels

JOHN BIERMAN April 8 1991

Hussein’s postwar fury



Iraq’s strongman is battering the rebels

White House spokesman Marlin Fitz-water said that it was “just one of those Washington flaps—a 24-hour kind of thing.” In fact, the brief, heated controversy quickly subsided, and allied field commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf apologized to President George Bush last week for any suggestion that Bush made a military mistake by stopping the ground war in the Persian Gulf too soon. Still, Schwarzkopf did touch a sensitive political nerve. He told a TV interviewer earlier in the week: “We could have completely closed the door and made it a battle of annihilation” by continuing to attack for an additional 24 hours. Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein is now using the forces that had escaped to hammer Shiite Moslem and Kurdish rebels. That action made Bush vulnerable to criticism that he had encouraged the insurrection by calling for Hussein’s overthrow, but had abandoned the rebels to superior Iraqi forces. But said one White House insider, who requested anonymity: “We never made any promises to these people. The American people have no stomach for a military operation to dictate the outcome of a political struggle in Iraq.”

For their part, the rebels last week continued to ask for U.S. action to prevent Hussein from using air power against them. A week earlier,

U.S. fighters shot down two Iraqi warplanes—banned from flying under a temporary ceasefire agreement reached on March 3—apparently as they flew to attack Kurdish rebel positions in the north of the country. But last week, the Kurds claimed that Iraqi jets made repeated raids on their positions. At the same time, Hussein’s helicopter gunships attacked rebel positions relentlessly. Helicopters had been excluded from the aircraft ban after the Iraqis assured Schwarzkopf—who claimed last week that he had been “suckered”—that they would be used only for transporting officials and cargo.

Despite Hussein’s military superiority, his already shaky position is likely to be weakened further by tough peace terms about to be

imposed on Iraq. A draft resolution likely to be passed by the UN Security Council this week called for the destruction of all of Iraq’s missiles and chemical and biological weapons. It would also ban all arms sales to Iraq indefinitely, and confiscate a percentage of the country’s future oil income as war reparations.

Schwarzkopf made his comments on Bush’s decision to end the ground offensive after 100 hours during an interview in his command bunker in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His recommendation to the President had been to “con-

tinue the march,” said Schwarzkopf. “We had them in a rout and we could have continued to reap great destruction on them.” But Bush’s call to halt the offensive, the general added, had left “some escape routes open for them to get back out.”

Although Schwarzkopf stressed that Bush’s decision had been “very humane” and “very courageous,” his comments, interpreted by some journalists as criticism, led to immediate formal statements from the White House and the Pentagon. Declared Bush: “There was total agreement in terms of when this war should end.” Defence Secretary Richard Cheney added that the decision to halt the offensive

was “co-ordinated with and concurred in” by Schwarzkopf. The general himself apologized to the President for his “poor choice of words” when Bush phoned him the following day to assure him that he was not in trouble. At an impromptu news conference on Friday to set the record straight, Schwarzkopf declared: “I agreed 100 per cent with the decision and I think it was the correct decision.”

Still, the incident added to a growing debate over Washington’s decision not to go to the aid of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiites in the south. Said Norman Omstein, an analyst at Washington’s conservative American Enterprise Institute: “We’re seeing mayhem that we have the power to stop and we’re making a policy decision not to stop it.” Conservative columnist William Safire of The New York Times accused Bush of a “loss of nerve and sense of moral purpose.” He added that by not trying to stop “the wholesale slaughter of innocents,” the President was abandoning “the last best hope of the beginning of freedom in Iraq.” Lawrence Korb, a foreign policy special-

ist at Washington’s nonpartisan Brookings Institution, said that the administration was displaying “tremendous confusion” in its postwar policy on Iraq. But Brookings’s ranking Middle East expert, William Quandt, said that there was “no good alternative” other than to allow events inside Iraq to take their course. Added Quandt: “Supplying a small amount of matériel and moral support for the Kurds and the Shiites won’t help them to stand up.”

Leaders of the United States’ main Arab ally in the war, Saudi Arabia, appeared to agree. Lt.-Gen. Khalid ibn Sultan, commander of the joint Arab forces that fought alongside the Americans to liberate Kuwait, said that events

in Iraq were “a sad case.” But he added: “What is happening in Iraq is up to the Iraqi people.” Meanwhile, inside Iraq, both sides claimed successes as a battle raged around Kirkuk, a major northern oil city that Kurdish rebels captured early last week. “Hundreds of civilians are being killed,” said an official of the Kurdish Democratic Party as bombs, shells, rockets and missiles rained down on the city during a massive assault by government forces. Within hours, the Baghdad regime claimed Kirkuk’s recapture. Reporting on a visit to Kirkuk by Izzat Ibrahim, vice-chairman of Hussein’s ruling Revolutionary Command Council, Baghdad radio declared: “The dear city has been fully and totally cleared of all agents.” In the Syrian capital of Damascus, a Kurdish spokesman confirmed later that the Pesh Merga (“those who face death”) guerrilla forces had abandoned Kirkuk and had taken up positions “about one mile outside the city.” But still later, Kurdish spokesmen in London issued a statement claiming that their forces had retaken the city.

In Paris, Mahmoud Othman, a spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, one of several rebel factions, said that Hussein had massed 16 army divisions—more than 150,000 troops—to retake Kirkuk. Othman appealed to the United States and its Gulf allies to destroy Hussein’s ability to bomb civilians. “Kuwait has been liberated, but Iraq needs liberating too,” he said. Another Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also claimed that the Iraqis were using Soviet-built Sukhoi fighter-bombers in contravention of the temporary ceasefire agreement. Said Talabani: “They are using warplanes to liquidate our people.”

In the south of the country, the Sunni Moslem-dominated army claimed to have crushed a revolt in dozens of Shiite towns and cities along the lower Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. But late last week, a spokesman for the rebel Islamic Dawa party claimed that its forces had recaptured the Moslem holy city of Karbala “after fierce fighting with government troops.” Indeed, a Dawa spokesman said that the overall situation in the south was swinging back in the rebels’ favor. But most analysts said that seemed unlikely.

At the same time, thousands of Shiite refugees from the fighting in and around Basra, Karbala, Najaf and other major southern cities streamed into the area south of the Euphrates, occupied by U.S. troops until there is a permanent ceasefire. The refugees told horrifying tales of atrocities by Iraqi troops. A doctor from Najaf, Jaffar Makki, said that soldiers burst into a hospital and murdered rebels who

had been wounded, as well as the doctors who were treating them. Declared Makki: “The doctors were executed by knife, not even by gun, [and] the women doctors, they ripped their clothes and cut them.”

Another man from Najaf claimed that troops hanged captured resistance fighters from electricity poles and towed the bodies of others through the streets behind their tanks. And Ghazi Abdul-Razak, a Shiite who escaped from Samawa, which government forces captured after five days of fierce fighting, appealed for help as he reached a U.S. army checkpoint: “Tell the world about us. We need help to get rid of the butcher.”

The growing number of refugees—estimated at 4,000 last week alone—presented a problem for the U.S. forces, who hastily improvised camps and brought in extra army rations to feed them. Adding to the problem was a steady stream of Iraqi deserters, giving themselves up at U.S. checkpoints. Under the Geneva Conventions, they cannot be sent back, and the Americans were transporting them to

camps already housing 60,000 POWs who were captured during the Desert Storm campaign to free Kuwait. Like the new arrivals, many of those earlier prisoners are refusing repatriation as long as Hussein retains power. Said one senior international relief official: “Many of the prisoners, particularly the officers, fear they may be killed or forced to fight their own people if they go back.”

As the fighting raged, conditions for those outside the civil war zones grew steadily worse. A UN report had earlier described as “near-apocalyptic” the situation caused by relentless allied bombing of Iraq. Later, visiting

medical teams forecast massive health hazards as a result of tainted water, shattered communications and shortages of medical supplies. With UN Security Council permission, emergency food and medical supplies were entering the country, but the embattled Kurds pointed out that none of those supplies were reaching them in the north. Said rebel leader Talabani: “We will face starvation if we don’t receive food in one month.”

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the United States pushed for a swift vote on the resolution that would formally end the war while curbing Iraq’s power, perhaps for years to come. According to Soviet ambassador Yuli Vorontsov, the five permanent members of the Security Council—the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China—had agreed on the resolution’s main elements, although other details remained to be discussed. Approval by the whole 15-member council was widely expected this week, even though at least one of the nonpermanent members, Yemen, which does not have veto power, denounced the draft as “vindictive.”

Politically, the resolution requires Baghdad to recognize the Iraq-Kuwait border and authorizes the use of “all necessary means”—clearly including force—to guarantee it. A UN observer team will be deployed along that frontier in a buffer zone extending about five kilometres into Kuwait and 10 km into Iraq. As for reparations, an unspecified share of Iraq’s oil revenues would be allotted to a fund to aid Kuwait and other countries that suffered losses as a result of Baghdad’s aggression. Until those conditions are accepted and implemented, the United States will not withdraw its ~ troops from southern Iraq, nor will the United Nations lift its trade embargo against Iraq.

The draft presented extremely strong demands. Vorontsov, who described it as “the mother of all resolutions,” said that the Soviet Union as well as the Western allies wanted to make sure it was impossible for Iraq “to launch the same type of adventure again.” The resolution calls for on-site inspection of the destruction of Iraq’s chemical, biological and ballistic missile weaponry. It demands that Iraq relinquish all its weapons-grade nuclear materials and that it guarantee that it will not make additional attempts to acquire or develop nuclear arms. It also prohibits the importing of any kind of military matériel without the Security Council’s approval.

Some UN diplomats described the 20-page document as unprecedented in the scope of its attempt to control the future behavior of a country defeated in war. Clearly, its provisions were aimed, at least in part, at forcing Hussein out of office. The dictator’s fall, which the United States was unable to achieve by direct military action, and was unwilling to accomplish by aiding the Iraqi rebels, might still be achieved by the United Nations itself.

JOHN BIERMAN with HILARY MACKENZIE in Washington and correspondents’ reports