- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

LONDON — Iraqi troops are massing near the northern no-fly zone for what military analysts suspect may be an attack inside Iraqi Kurdistan that could frustrate U.S. and British plans to revise international sanctions.
Military experts in Iraq said the buildup is centered just south of the town of Arbil, in the Western-protected enclave set up in April 1991 to protect the Kurds and to deter Iraqi attack.
President Saddam Hussein, they said, has sent tanks, artillery and armored vehicles to the northern region of Kirkuk in what was described as "excessive military activity."
A smaller number of troops and armored units have been moved to Haditha, on Iraqs western border with Jordan, and the Iraqi president has also reopened the al-Baghdadi air base in the same area.
"By invading Kurdistan, Saddam is going to try to goad Britain and America into retaliating with air strikes," an Iraqi military expert said.
"If they do, Russia and China, who both oppose the reformed sanctions, would demand further reviews before any new sanctions plan could be implemented. Any confrontation will also boost Saddams popularity."
So-called "smart sanctions" are under negotiation at the United Nations with the goal of reducing smuggling by tightening inspections while allowing nonmilitary supplies to flow freely, thus denying Saddam the opportunity to claim his people are being starved by the West.
Iraq, which said last week it would fight the sanctions plan, has a hidden oil trade worth $3.1 billion a year on top of the $16 billion it earns officially.
A British foreign ministry spokesman said over the weekend: "We are monitoring the situation in Iraq very closely. We remain determined to protect the Kurds by enforcing the northern no-fly zone. There is no weakening in our resolve to protect them."
A defense ministry spokesman added: "We are aware of a troop concentration in the Arbil area and are keeping a close eye on it. What Saddams intentions are we do not know yet."
There is other evidence that Saddam is preparing for some kind of confrontation with the Kurds.
In the past week, he has moved ministries and security units to secret locations close to schools and hospitals, making them problematic targets. The last time Iraq moved its ministries was in December 1998, just before the Operation Desert Fox air strikes on military targets.
Iraq invaded Arbil in August 1996 when it destroyed the opposition headquarters of the Iraqi National Congress, killing hundreds of dissidents.
Saddam, who has put Qusay, his son and heir, in charge of security aspects of the current operation, has also brought in Field Marshal Ayad Alrawi, a former commander of the Republican Guard, and Field Marshal Salah Abood, both senior Baath party members.
In recent television broadcasts, Saddam has called for a "final war" and has warned of imminent attack from the West and a threat from Iran. Last week, he claimed that Allied war planes fired at a playing field in the Kirkuk area, killing 23 persons. The United States and Britain denied the attack.
One Iraqi dissident in the area said it was most likely that an Iraqi missile had exploded accidentally. "They are moving a lot of weapons around at the moment, and Im pretty sure there was an accident," he said.

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