U.S. missiles strike Iraq Kurds slain, reports allege

Iraqi troops hunted foes, hundreds killed, aid workers say

September 03, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- Soldiers from Saddam Hussein's army, who overran and captured the northern Iraq town of Erbil this weekend, conducted house-to-house searches for those Kurdish leaders they viewed as enemies or traitors and killed hundreds of people, fleeing aid workers arriving here said yesterday.

The attackers arrived in several hundred tanks early Saturday morning, surrounding Erbil and cutting off escape routes. Senior officials of the Kurdish group that controlled the town until then were said to have been among those captured and possibly executed by Iraqi soldiers and their Kurdish allies.

"Tanks from the special forces of Iraq took over the city, including the Parliament building and the radio and television station, before nightfall on Saturday," said German Urrea, a European Community aid administrator who lived in Erbil until he fled Saturday. "There was no massive bombardment. It wasn't necessary because the people defending the city had only light weapons and there was no way to resist this kind of attack."

Urrea and other aid workers said that one Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, had appealed to Hussein to intervene in northern Iraq to crush the ascendant power of its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is led by Jalal Talabani and enjoys the support of Iran.

"According to our information, at 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon PUK officials gathered to plan a breakout from the city, but it was already too late," said one aid worker. "We have reports from people, who I believe as much as I believe my own eyes, that all or most of them were captured and killed. The Iraqis were after a good 100 people. Any that weren't caught must be hiding inside Erbil, since there is no way out."

Witnesses to the fighting estimated the total number of dead in HTC Erbil at between 1,000 and 2,000. They said dozens of trucks full of jubilant KDP fighters and their Iraqi allies careened through the streets, with occupants singing songs and firing celebratory bursts of gunfire into the air.

Tanks and other armored vehicles began withdrawing from Erbil after the outcome of the battle was decided, the witnesses said, but Iraqi security forces remained.

"Iran's forces entered a part of northern Iraq six weeks ago to bombard an Iranian refugee camp, evidently with permission from Talabani, whose people controlled that area," said Urrea. "After that happened, the Barzani forces went to Saddam and complained that this was part of a campaign to upset the balance of power in northern Iraq, and that it could be a precursor to full-scale Iranian involvement inside Iraq. They asked Saddam to intervene to help them, and he did."

The Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq was created by the United States in 1991 to prevent Hussein, who had just lost the Persian Gulf war, from moving against Kurdish groups there.

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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