Saddam Hussein again Iraq's machinations: Invasion of Kurdish zone must be met with U.S. response.

September 03, 1996

SADDAM HUSSEIN, the Iraqi dictator, has achieved a tactical victory by installing through force of arms his own Kurdish faction in part of the "no-fly zone" established by his U.S. conquerors after the Persian Gulf War. The Clinton administration, which according to some critics had been paying less than appropriate attention to this volatile region, has vowed retaliation.

A military response, with air or missile strikes the most likely options, is the easy part. Far more dubious would be any U.S. action to restore the situation to what it was before the Iraqi president sent his troops into the Baltimore-sized city of Erbil and commenced the slaughter of Kurds aligned with Iran.

Once again, as was the case during the long Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1980s, the United States has to twist and turn as its deals with two pariah states that hate each other with centuries-old passions even as they vent their enmity toward the comparatively new American intruder. This is not a struggle Washington can walk away from. Its strategic interests demand that neither Iraq nor Iran gain control over Persian Gulf oil. While they are easily the most populous and powerful states of the region, the biggest petroleum producer is sparsely populated and ever-fragile Saudi Arabia, the de facto U.S. protectorate in the region.

When the United States defeated Iraq in 1991, the Kurdish people in northern Iraq rebelled against rule from Baghdad. The Iraqi president quickly unleashed his forces against the Kurds thus prompting the U.S.-led international community to offer aid and establish a no-fly zone. However, there was no prohibition against Saddam Hussein's use of ground forces. As the Kurds split into pro-Iraq and pro-Iran factions, the dictator saw his opportunity -- especially since the U.S. has had off-again, on-again relations with both.

Part of the U.S. dilemma is that the Kurdish people, once promised nationhood by Woodrow Wilson, are spread over the mountainous regions of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and are in periodic rebellion against their rulers. Since the U.S. did nothing when Turkey sent its troops into northern Iraq to suppress subversive Kurds, it may have difficulty rallying its allies to punish Iraq's use of troops in its own territory.

Yet this country must maintain a stable supply of Persian Gulf oil, not subject to the pressures and and blackmail of an Iraq or an Iran. To the extent that Saddam Hussein has to be reminded of his limitations, U.S. retaliation in this latest incident must be unmistakable.

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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