- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Evidence that Mohammed Atta, one of the alleged hijackers, met with Iraqi intelligence in Europe within the last year suddenly grafts a significant and complicating fact onto the emerging body of evidence against Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Again, attention is focused on Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism. Iraq's likely and obvious motivation would be revenge and its need to shatter the perception of U.S. impregnability to attack.
And, there is more. According to Jane's Foreign Report, Israel's military intelligence service, Aman, has also fingered Iraq as the state sponsor of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Among other things, Aman officers believe that Iraqi intelligence officers shuttled between Baghdad and Afghanistan during the last two years, meeting with Ayman Al Zawahiri, a senior member of al-Qaeda and possible successor to Osama bin Laden. Rafi Eitan, former head of Mossad, also believes that Iraq is behind the attacks.
While nothing has been proved to date, former CIA head R. James Woolsey and Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie have been in the media providing clarion reminders of evidence that links Iraq to the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center and the 1998 attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa. They also argue that these antecedents to Sept. 11 should now be revisited.
Now the issue rests with a very different administration. In addition to punishing the perpetrators of terrorism, President Bush has said the United States will move against those who harbored or sponsored the terrorists. U.S. officials should also take a hard, exhaustive and fresh look at the evidence linking Iraq to the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers, the 1995 and 1996 attacks in Saudi Arabia (the Riyadh and al Khobar bombings) and the 1998 attack on our embassies in East Africa. Hitting back at bin Laden is the immediate task. No one in government disagrees with this. However, the next stage of the battle will be to punish, combat and deter terrorism's state sponsors. If Iraq's involvement is proved, policy-makers must bring nuanced understanding of present day Iraq to the fight. The Iraq faced by Bush 43 is not the same Iraq as faced by Bush 41.
Secondly, Mr. Bush has declared that we are now in a war that pits those who love freedom against those who do not. In this context, the experiment in democracy that has taken root in Iraqi Kurdistan since the establishment of the Kurdish safe-haven in 1991 can no longer be ignored by the United States, Iraq's Arab neighbors and Turkey. As the defender and self-proclaimed "beacon of freedom," the United States must protect and nurture what is happening in Iraqi Kurdistan in the event conflict erupts between it and the Iraqi regime.
It is not too soon to think about such a scenario. As I write, Saddam's forces are massing on borders of the Kurdish safe-haven, testing U.S. and British commitment to enforcing the northern no-fly zone, and Kurdish forces are battling Islamic radicals linked to the Taliban. Last week, the Iraqi newspaper Babil, controlled by Saddam's son, Uday, argued that while Iraq should remain neutral in the early stages of the U.S. response, it should "restore" read "invade" the Kurdish north at some point in the future.
More ominous still, Babil refers to a possible future "biological attack," in which a "small can no bigger than the size of a hand can be used to release viruses." While not identifying the agent of such an attack, Babil suggests that "it might be done by the Zionists." Iraq's record speaks for itself in this regard.
Most foreign affairs analysts know that the Kurds are second to none in bearing the brunt of Saddam's brutality. Many have been tortured in unspeakable ways. The Iraqi regime has razed more than 4,000 Kurdish villages and hamlets. In 1983, Saddam liquidated 8,000 Barzani Kurds and his 1987-88 Anfal campaign killed at least 180,000 people, 5,000 of whom died in the chemical attack on Halabja.
What is less understood is the Kurds are transforming Northern Iraq into a model of political participation. In late May, Iraqi Kurdistan's Dohuk and Irbil provinces held internationally monitored municipal elections in which 15 political parties participated. Sulamania province held its elections a year earlier.
This is significant in its own right as a rare example of democratic and civil development within the setting of an ethnically and religiously diverse Middle Eastern community. Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved an Iraqi regime eager to stamp out this success. The evolving, vibrant polity there also holds the possibility of one day helping teach a united, federated Iraq how to transition to democracy. This flowering of democracy is also a seed-bed.
The diversity of Iraq's population is often cited as a weakness by specialists who, for ample reasons, reflexively react cynically to those who believe broader, deeper democratization is possible. My hope is that its strength of diversity can be tapped. Constructing a constitutional framework that institutionalizes the rights of ethnic and religious groups within a federal system is the responsibility of the Iraqi people. Supporting such an effort, however, is a necessity for the United States, Turkey and the Arab states.
The United States is now moving quickly and delicately to assemble the world's friends of freedom into a coalition against terrorism. The challenges before our leaders are vast and complex. Amidst all the planning under way, the needs and concerns of the close to 4 million people living in Iraqi Kurdistan who have accomplished so much in the last 10 years should be factored in.
Should Iraq's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks be proven, and retaliation by the United States follow, every effort should be made not to disrupt what Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved in the spheres of economic, civil and democratic development. In a war against those who hate liberty, and in the rush to exact just punishment, it's in no one's interest for Iraqi Kurdistan's democratic progress to be reversed.

Carole O'Leary, a scholar-in-residence at the American University Center for Global Peace, is co-editor of the forthcoming book "The Kurds: Search for Identity."

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