- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

The Bush administration's campaign against global terrorism has the potential to transform the Middle East and usher in a new era of democracy and peace. Nowhere is this more evident than in Iraq, which continues to menace its neighbors and is governed by one of the world's most brutal dictatorships.

Yet as the White House considers targeting Saddam Hussein in the next phase of the war on terrorism, it must deal with an issue that successive administrations since the end of the 1991 Gulf War have been reluctant to confront: granting independence to the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Two prominent human rights organizations have recently released a report that documents Saddam's genocidal campaign of mass murder and ethnic cleansing against Iraq's Kurds.

Ever since coming to power in 1979, Saddam has established a totalitarian police state aimed at eradicating the Kurdish people. During the late 1980s, in a campaign known as "Operation Anfal" Saddam's security forces unleashed a wave of terror that led to the deaths of more than 180,000 people, the deportation of 2 million Kurds and the destruction of 4,500 villages and towns.

The report goes on to state that Saddam's genocidal campaign against the Kurds continues to this day. Those Kurds not living in the autonomous enclave in northern Iraq established by the United States and Britain following the Gulf War continue to suffer human rights abuses by Saddam's death squads such as mass murder, forced expulsions, arbitrary arrests and confiscation of homes and property.

The latest tactic in the terror campaign has been to order the beheading of women deemed to be "prostitutes." As the report notes, fabricated charges are often used as a weapon by Saddam's regime to silence political opponents. Pro-democracy activists live under the constant fear that their wives or daughters may be hauled in front of a kangaroo court and convicted of having participated in prostitution. Nearly 2,000 women have been beheaded since 2000.

Despite the long record of crimes committed by Saddam's sadistic regime, the plight of the Kurds has received little attention in the West. They have become the modern-day equivalent of the Jews prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 a persecuted, stateless people who desperately seek a homeland as a strategic buffer against foreign occupying powers.

Yet administration officials fear that the creation of an independent Kurdistan would lead to turmoil in Iraq and destabilize neighboring Turkey. The State Department is under the illusion that the prospect of a "Greater Kurdistan" threatens regional peace and stability. Hence, it has turned a blind eye to Ankara's brutal 15-year military campaign to subjugate Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey.

The result is that many of the opposition groups in Iraq including the Kurds do not believe that Washington is serious about toppling Saddam from power. They are convinced that the United States is more interested in preserving Iraq's territorial integrity than in providing assistance to the country's disenchanted nationalities, who despise not only Saddam's iron-fisted rule but centralized control from Baghdad.

Thus, by backing the right to self-determination for the 3.6 million residents in Iraqi Kurdistan, the administration would be sending a powerful signal that it is determined to promote democracy and human rights in the region. Iraq is a synthetic state, created during the era of European imperialism. Rather than insisting that Baghdad's current borders are sacrosanct and not subject to change, the Bush foreign policy team should focus on supporting the breakup of Iraq into its constituent parts an independent Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni Muslim state in the center, and a Shiite Muslim nation in the south.

Ankara's concerns that a sovereign Kurdish state threatens Turkey's internal stability is nothing more than a pretext to justify its abysmal human rights record; in fact, the creation of an independent Kurdistan will compel the Turkish government to embrace genuine democracy and do the one thing that will resolve its long-standing minorities problem: give real autonomy to the country's Kurdish population.

Besides their humanitarian and geopolitical significance, the Kurds are important because they are living proof of the destruction that Saddam is capable of unleashing upon his enemies, including the United States. The Iraqi strongman has shown that he is willing to massacre countless Kurdish civilians, women and children by using chemical poisons such as mustard gas and sarin gas in order to entrench his hold on power. There is no doubt that should he get his hands on weapons of mass destruction, he will use them against his adversaries whether it be Saudi Arabia, Israel or America.

Saddam is a murderous despot who poses a grave threat to the security of the United States. It is high time the administration remove the Butcher of Baghdad from power, and grant his number one victims, the Kurds, the independence that they deserve and have suffered for so dearly.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is an assistant national editor at The Washington Times.

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