Why Not an Airlift for the Kurds?

April 05, 1991

The United States Air Force, having demonstrated its military power, now has a chance to show off its humanitarian capabilities. Starting immediately, it should begin parachuting vast quantities of food, clothing, blankets, tents and medicine to the tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees pinned up against Iraq's border with Turkey. All our pilots need is the go-ahead from President Bush.

Vigorous, massive relief action by the United States is something the American people owe Iraqi insurgents and refugees who heeded U.S. calls to rise up and overthrow the despicable Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush is correct when he says he never offered to intervene militarily in Iraq's internal struggles. But this should not prevent him from using non-belligerent means to ease the plight of Kurds fleeing an Iraqi army Mr. Bush chose not to annihilate when he had the opportunity to do so.

U.S. Air Force planes by the thousands are still in the Persian Gulf area, and many more with cargo-carrying capacity could be flown to airfields in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. From these points they could drop supplies to the Kurds without interference from Iraq's grounded fixed-wing aircraft or much danger of hostile ground fire.

An airlift for the Kurds would take some of the sting from rebukes now raining in on the Bush administration for not coming to the rescue of a people who have suffered too long and too much from Saddam Hussein's depredations. It would have the added advantage of taking some pressure off Turkey, a stout wartime ally that is understandably wary of admitting too many kinfolk of Turkish Kurds who have their own grievances with the Ozal government.

If the administration would initiate an airlift, it should combine the effort with U.S. support for a United Nations resolution making an end to the massacre of refugees an added condition for lifting economic sanctions against the Baghdad regime. This would be as justified, in our view, as the other harsh punishments Iraqi must accept to obtain a permanent cease fire.

The U.N. resolution, provided Iraq accepts it, would rightly require Baghdad authorities to use parts of future oil revenues to recompense Kuwait for the enormous damage caused by Iraqi forces. It would also require the destruction of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear warfare arsenals and fix its border with Kuwait along a 1963 line of demarcation giving Kuwait control of disputed oil fields. This is tough stuff -- and well deserved.

All these penalties, however, will not achieve their ultimate purpose unless Saddam Hussein is overthrown. Mr. Bush has carefully modulated his latest appeals for Iraqi resistance by calling only on the army to get rid of the Baghdad butcher. But his earlier appeals to all the Iraqi people cannot be erased from history. They are a permanent part of the record -- one that virtually requires a U.S. airlift for the Kurds if this nation wishes to hold its head high.

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