Refrain on Hill: Do something to help Kurds

April 10, 1991|By Peter Osterlund | Peter Osterlund,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Congress to president: Do something about Iraq.

That, at least, was the message telegraphed from Capitol Hill yesterday, as lawmakers returned to business after a two-week Easter recess. Many expressed outrage over Iraq's attacks on its Kurdish minority, with Democrats gingerly suggesting that the Bush administration had not developed a coherent policy to counter it.

"I just want to know what his strategy is," said Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash. "I'm not sure he has one."

Others allowed that President Bush might be following the proper course of action now, if only because events had vindicated his initial war policy against Iraq. Still, they expressed a certain unease at the thought that, somehow, he had failed to finish the job he'd started.

"He's the president. He knows things I don't know," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn. Nevertheless, he added, "When I voted to support the president and the use of force, I wasn't voting just for the liberation of Kuwait, but also the removal of Saddam Hussein."

Having said all that, there was little agreement over what to do next. Two influential Democratic senators, both of whom had opposed the use of U.S. force to liberate Kuwait, called on President Bush to use U.S. air power against Iraq if Saddam Hussein's legions continued their attacks on the Kurds.

"We have a moral obligation to do what we can to stop Saddam from killing those who have the courage to resist," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I.

"Any time you get into a conflict like this, there are certain obligations that flow from it," said Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga. "I thought we were going to shoot down the helicopters," he added, referring to Iraqi helicopter gunships that have been attacking Kurdish encampments.

But Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., appeared to endorse the latest policy move at the White House, where officials plan to send Congress an emergency request for Kurdish financial assistance.

Mr. Gephardt suggested that calls for renewed U.S. military action against Iraqi forces attacking the Kurds had been rendered moot because "we have a de facto situation now where the Kurds are in areas where they are not being attacked."

Consequently, Mr. Gephardt continued, "by sending humanitarian aid, we are doing the right thing."

Some lawmakers appeared unwilling to wait for the administration's request. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., introduced a bill authorizing $50 million in non-military aid for the Kurds and calling on the United Nations to provide military protection for civilians.

Generally, however, Democrats avoided offering specific policy prescriptions for the situation in Iraq, while lambasting President Bush for Mr. Hussein's brutal repression of Iraq's minorities. Privately, several Democrats conceded that the postwar crisis in Iraq placed them in a political dilemma: Since they opposed U.S. force to free Kuwait, they are not sure they can advocate the use of U.S. force to defend the Kurds.

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