- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

A U.S. delegation will evaluate the need for continued flights over northern Iraq during a visit this week to the region, where U.S. and Kurdish sources say Saddam Hussein has deployed as many as 10,000 members of his elite Republican Guard.
Military experts have told the London Sunday Telegraph they suspect Saddam may be planning an attack into the north to create a crisis that would undermine international support for a plan to amend U.N. sanctions on Iraq.
Farhad Barzani, the Washington representative for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said KDP sources inside Iraq estimate that close to 9,000 members of Saddam's Republican Guard have massed northwest of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Other sources in the region said Iraq over the last three weeks has concentrated troops in an arc between Ba'adra and Shakhan.
An administration official said yesterday that recent intelligence reports estimate the number of troops in the area at between 8,000 and 12,000.
Mr. Barzani, interviewed Tuesday evening, said, "This is a little bit more than a routine exercise, [but] I still cannot say the threat is significant and imminent."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was asked Tuesday about the buildup after the London Telegraph report appeared in The Washington Times.
"We have seen reports that Iraq is moving troops towards the Kurdish areas. We are trying to establish the facts on the ground. We are watching the situation closely," he said.
Qubad Talabani, a Washington representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the other main Kurdish political party inside Iraq, said U.S. and British forces patrolling the northern no-fly zone had responded effectively to such troop movements in the past, and that the PUK was confident the Western aircraft would defend them in case of an attack.
"We are seeing movement … beneath the KDP territory. The response of Operation Northern Watch to a similar movement in December was very effective. It reassured the Kurdish people and sent a message to Saddam Hussein," he said.
The Iraqi troop movements come as the Pentagon evaluates the U.S. policy for patrolling the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, which have grown more dangerous as Iraq, with Chinese help, has upgraded its air defenses.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, have proposed changing the rules of engagement to let U.S. planes strike Iraqi targets pre-emptively and defend civilian targets against Iraqi attacks, according to administration officials.
However, these sources said, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have opposed this tack in policy meetings, arguing instead for less-frequent flights.
The policy is bound to come up this week when a two-person State Department delegation meets in the Kurdish Iraqi cities of Sulemani and Irbil with the PUK leader Jalal Talabani and his KDP counterpart, Masoud Barzani.
A State Department official said the purpose of the visit is to try to determine "what is and what is not possible in northern Iraq — what can we move forward on."
The official added, "There will be some discussions on how important the no-fly zone is to the north."
Kurdish leaders visited Washington in March for talks with officials at the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the State Department and the office of the vice president.
"Everyone reassured us the no-fly zone would continue," Farhad Barzani said. "People assured us there would be technical changes on the rules of engagement, but the mandate would remain for the north."
Other sources who attended the meetings said the Kurds were not given a direct assurance that Iraqi strikes against Kurdish civilian targets would be answered with American air power.
On Tuesday, Mr. Boucher said, "Our long-standing policy has been that if Iraq reconstitutes its weapons of mass destruction, threatens its neighbors or U.S. forces, or moves against the Kurds, we do maintain a credible force in the region. We are prepared to act at an appropriate time and place of our choosing."

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