- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq The Kurds' statue of liberty depicts a proud woman breaking her chains with joy as she looks to the sky.
The 33-foot-high white-plaster statue was unveiled during the weekend to mark International Women's Day and the 12th anniversary of the 1991 uprising against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that led to the establishment of the autonomous Kurdish enclave.
It made Kurds reflect on all they have lost during the decades, all they have won since 1991 and all they have at stake as the United States prepares for a war to change the regime in Iraq and possibly the Middle Eastern political order.
"This freedom and liberty we obtained 12 years ago was like a gate we opened that let all the other freedoms come through," said Zaher Siddiq, the statue's sculptor. "Even since 1991, we've made more than one revolution against this regime."
The community suffered enormously at the hands of Saddam's Ba'ath party, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds from their homes in oil-rich areas under a policy of "Arabization."
Saddam's campaigns against the rebellious Kurds in the 1980s left 180,000 people missing and presumed dead. His chemical bombardment of Halabja left 5,000 dead. His suppression of a March 1991 uprising led to a massive refugee crisis, displacing millions.
Those scars have left an imprint on the Kurdish national psyche. But those fears also could complicate U.S. war plans or any attempt to establish a postwar peace in Iraq.
On Friday, the Museum of Kurdish Suffering, at the site of a former Ba'ath party security office here, opened a photo exhibition with pictures of men tortured to death and barefoot children crying while trudging through mud to escape Saddam's wrath. The Kurds vow they will not allow themselves to be subjected to such treatment again.
"There was a great enthusiasm burning in our hearts when we rose up in revenge against Saddam," said Barzan Hassan, a former peshmerga, or guerrilla warrior, who says he hid in alleys and fired at the security office when Kurds stormed the compound in March 1991.
The compound, open to the public, is a horrifying reminder of the bad years. Dark corridors lead to dank, tiny prison cells with tiny ventilation shafts. Hooks where men were once hung by their feet protrude from ceilings. Chilling plaster statues of men being tortured stand in corners. On the lawn, flowers have been planted spelling out, "So as not to forget."
The three governorships of northern Iraq are a bustling, relatively open and lawful corner of the Middle East. With their fast-food restaurants, well-stocked bazaars and kaleidoscope of political and social organizations including a society for dwarves the Kurds know they are well-off compared with those living in Saddam-controlled sections of Iraq.
"Before we were under the dictatorship of Baghdad," said Bahra Mohammad, head of the Union of Beauty Salons. "Now we can struggle for ourselves and find our own way. We can start associations that we never had. We can have real social movements."
But the emerging Kurdish nationalism has complicated U.S. war plans. As Washington tries to persuade Ankara to let it use Turkey to attack Iraq from the north, the Kurds vow they will never allow the Turks, a historic enemy, to enter their lands.
They have vowed to use all means, including a 70,000-strong army, to resist Turkish plans to establish a buffer zone along their common border.
"Saddam Hussein is better than Turkey," said Kawa Qarib Kader, a businessman in the city of Irbil. "If Turkey insists on sending its troops, we will start fighting them as we fought Iraqi troops for many decades."
While Washington tries to convince the Turks and Iraq's other neighbors that Kurds won't exercise their claim on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a historically Kurdish city, Kurds with ties to the city say they will return as soon as possible.
One high-level Kurdish official said privately that the Kurds would send an army of women and children to retake the city.
While the United States tries to assure Iraq's Arab neighbors that there will be no reprisals against Iraq's ruling Sunni Arab minority after a war, hatred toward the regime in Baghdad is strong among the Kurds.
Jeza Jabbar, a former warrior monitoring the checkpoint to Saddam-controlled Iraq at Chamchamal on Friday afternoon, described with rage the story of a Kurdish woman, now lying in a nearby hospital, who was nearly burned to death by Iraqi soldiers several days ago for trying to smuggle fuel out of Kirkuk.
"Our only hope and desire is to fight against the Ba'athists," he said.

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