Uneasy allies of the Kurds Massoud Barzani: Protected by U.S., then sought help from Saddam Hussein.

September 21, 1996

THE U.S. ACTED from humanitarian instincts in creating a zone in northern Iraq where Kurds might live unmolested by the government of Saddam Hussein. American aid was given and American lives risked. The State Department tried valiantly to broker an accord between the two rival Kurdish armies, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani, but failed.

This U.S. trust was betrayed when Mr. Barzani invited the brutal Iraqi dictator to defeat the forces of Mr. Talabani, who had taken aid from Iran, leaving Mr. Barzani supreme in Iraqi Kurdistan. Along the way, people supported by the CIA were killed and humanitarian workers of the USAID had to flee, some no doubt to become immigrants in the U.S.

But now Mr. Barzani is suggesting that Saddam Hussein is still a menace to him, which is true. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau met the duplicitous Mr. Barzani in Ankara, along with British and Turkish observers, to reopen a channel of communications with the de facto ruler of Iraqi Kurdistan.

American voters will not want another U.S. life risked for such an ally. But then, Mr. Barzani, feels the same way. Having lived in both Washington and Tehran, he believes the great powers cannot be trusted, for reasons going back three-quarters of a century. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani both put their rivalry with each other above their obligations to the Kurdish people. Their alliances with Iran and Iraq have been reversed in the past.

U.S. policy makers are over their heads in such thickets of intrigue. Saddam Hussein is seemingly the victor, but he knows that is illusion. Mr. Barzani will never be his loyal subject. Saddam Hussein destroys those who betray him, which Mr. Barzani understands. The U.S never would have wanted Iran to exert influence in the north of Iraq through Mr. Talabani, so it shares that interest with Mr. Barzani and Saddam Hussein.

The Kurdish people deserve sympathy. But Kurdish leaders put their own people at risk inviting either Iran or Iraq in to kill Kurds. Where no one trusts anyone and no loyalties last, it will be harder in the future for the U.S. to protect the Kurdish people or trust their leaders.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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