- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

The United States agreed yesterday to protect Kurds in northern Iraq during any operation to oust Saddam Hussein to avoid a repeat of an aborted 1991 uprising that the Iraqi leader crushed.
But a senior U.S. official declined to say the United States would offer similar protection to dissident Shi'ite Muslims in southern Iraq, who contend that Washington abandoned them during their simultaneous 1991 uprising.
The official said that "should Saddam move against the Kurds, we would respond."
"Beyond that, all is hypothetical," the official told reporters after a day of meetings with six dissident Iraqi groups at the State Department to coordinate strategy to oust Saddam.
"We realize these Iraqis are running risks," the official said of Shi'ite Muslims, who occupy Iraq's southern marshlands.
"That's why we have in place Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He was referring to no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq that are off-limits to Iraqi aircraft and patrolled by American and British fighter jets.
In Baghdad, official Iraqi media warned that U.S. forces would be walking to their own graves if the "cowboys" in Washington unleashed a military campaign.
"The Iraqi people will make Iraq the graveyard of U.S. attackers and leave their bodies to be devoured by wild animals," the official Al-Iraq newspaper said.
"The Iraqi people will not disarm. They will go to the end to bring victory or die as martyrs."
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a key U.S. ally, ruled out German participation in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, in an interview on public television.
"I think that if there is military intervention, we should be cautious. That means that Germany will not take part" in any US-led action against Iraq, Mr. Schroeder told the ARD station.
Despite the clear signs of opposition in the ranks of allies, including public sentiment and Britain's Labor Party's reluctance in Britain to go to war, the United States stayed on the offensive in confronting Saddam.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said a long-standing U.S. strategy of using economic sanctions and no-fly zones to contain Iraq is not working because it still has weapons of mass destruction.
"So there is no way any reasonable person could look at that record and say that it's worked. It hasn't worked. And it's not working," he said at a Pentagon news conference.
It was Mr. Rumsfeld's most direct repudiation yet of the strategy pursued by the U.S. government since the 1991 Persian Gulf war to keep the Iraqi leader in check.
After the day of meetings at the State Department, the dissident Iraqi leaders issued a statement saying, "The Iraqi opposition had productive meetings with Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and agreed to work for the overthrow of the dictatorial regime in Iraq.
"We asked for the protection of all Iraqi people under U.N. resolutions," in case threats or military action by the United States sparks repressive measures by Saddam Hussein, said Hamid al Bayati, who represented the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, reading from the statement.
Mr. Bayati's group primarily represents the Shi'ites in southern Iraq, who had been reluctant to back the latest U.S. campaign because of its failed attempt to oust Saddam in 1991.
The group, based in Iran, says it has 10,000 armed fighters ready to take on Saddam.
The Iraqi opposition leaders agreed yesterday to summon a conference in the near future of all Iraqi opposition groups, including those unable to attend yesterday's meetings.
No time or place for the conference was announced.
Yesterday's meeting sought to revive U.S. cooperation with the splintered opposition movement.
Congress voted to spend $97 million on the Iraqi opposition, including some military training and equipment, but the Clinton administration was reluctant to give out the money.
Failure to provide reliable accounting for whatever funds were disbursed further dampened enthusiasm for the Iraqi opposition.
The Iraqis at yesterday's meetings said they had major fears that they would be abandoned by America and left to be picked off by Saddam.
"The question is, are the Americans serious? I think this administration is serious to change the regime," said Mohammed Sabir Ismail of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
"We have had experiences in 1991," Mr. Ismail said, referring to the uprising in which Saddam bombed the Kurds and his troops forced them to flee barefoot into snow-covered mountains.
He cited a 1996 campaign by Saddam to crush an Iraqi opposition group operating in the Kurdish region and an earlier Kurdish uprising, in 1975, that faltered after initial sponsorship by the United States.
Mr. Ismail discounted warnings by Arab leaders that unless the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is settled, it will be impossible to overthrow Saddam.
"For us, Iraq is important the Iraqi people suffer too much," he said.
What most impressed the U.S. side, the administration official said, was that all the six groups represented agreed on the need for a democratic, pluralistic Iraq that would maintain the "territorial integrity" of the Arab nation of 23 million people.
Turkey fears that an independent Iraqi Kurdish state would encourage Turkish Kurdish separatists. And Arab countries, as well as the United States, fear that Shi'ite Iraqis might be absorbed by Iran.
The opposition leaders' statement spoke of a "federal" government once Saddam is replaced, reflecting a desire by the diverse ethnic and religious groups such as Kurds, Sunnis, Shi'ites and others to have local control over their regions.
The opposition leaders included Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Hoshyar Zebari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Sharif Ali bin Hussein of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord.
In a sign that Iran is quietly endorsing the Bush administration's moves to oust Saddam Iran's enemy from their 1980-1988 war the leaders of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq also attended the meeting yesterday by traveling from Iran, where the group is based.
The opposition groups did not ask for military assistance, training or weapons yesterday, the administration official said.
The Iraqi opposition leaders today are to hold a televised conference with Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who is spending this month at his Wyoming residence.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell walked into the room and met the Iraqis during their meeting at the State Department yesterday.

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