Assessing the Kurd-Iraq Conflict Middle East Experts Give History and Views

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Byline: Amy Carr Daily Herald Staff Writer

It seems a million miles from home, but when U.S. troops fired on Iraq Tuesday morning, the Persian Gulf once again came all too close to where we live and breathe.

Bartram S. Brown is an international law and human rights expert with Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has served as a consultant to the United Nations and a consulting counsel for Amnesty International.

Guity Nashat is an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Nashat, who was born in Baghdad but raised in the United States, specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and history.

What follows is a compilation of their views on the latest battle in the Persian Gulf.

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Q. Who are the Kurds and what is the history behind their conflict with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein?

A. For more than 3,000 years, the Kurds have inhabited the region divided between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and a small section of Syria.

Leaders have been trying to create an Arab state in the Kurdish region of Iraq since the end of World War I, but Hussein took a harsher stance when he become Iraqi president in 1978. Hussein has used severe punishment, including the use of chemical gas bombs, against the Kurds in an attempt to force them into becoming loyal Iraqis. His efforts have failed, however, and the Kurds have continued to fight for autonomy.

Q. What is the United States' interest in protecting the Kurds?

A. When the United States first became involved, it was a matter of protecting human rights, but the Persian Gulf War altered the nation's interest somewhat.

"Our interest is in the fact we gave our word," Nashat said. "The U.S. said in 1991 we are going to protect the Kurds. If we do not keep our word, I think this is going to give a green light to a lot of bullies around the world."

Q. Has Hussein violated the terms of the agreement made after the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War?

A. The allied forces established a "safe zone" following the end of the war. The area north of the 36th parallel was designated as a safe territory for the Kurds. By sending more than 40,000 ground troops into that area, Nashat believes Hussein clearly has violated that agreement.

Brown, however, says the issue isn't as black and white as it may seem. Although the agreement was approved by the allied forces, it was not sanctioned by the United Nations, according to Brown, who said Hussein's actions, therefore, do not violate international law. …