Caldron in Northern Iraq. (Comment)

Article excerpt

Erbil, northern Iraq

Northern, "free" Iraq looks more and more like Lebanon in the old days: venue of not one war but many. It should have been so simple. The US armed forces were to land in Turkey and base themselves in friendly Iraqi Kurdistan on their way south in Operation Impose Democracy. Democracy in Turkey, however, intervened, to close the Turkish road to Iraq. Meanwhile, Turkey's real rulers--the army command, Kurd killers as much as Saddam--intend to invade Iraq themselves. That will add at least one extra war to the impending chaos.

Does the United States need a northern front to crush Saddam's feeble army? Probably not. I met an Iraqi Army deserter here who said that only four tanks in his unit of twenty-eight actually work. Other deserters, many debriefed by US officers here, report that most soldiers want only to surrender. The United States wanted a northern front less than it needed another accomplice, Turkey, in its globally unpopular war on Iraq. But if it joins the coalition, Turkey will not fight Saddam Hussein. It will fight Iraq's Kurds.

With 90 percent of its population opposed to the war, Turkey's government demanded a payoff. America and Johnny Turk haggled over money, but the Turkish military wanted a little more: a piece of Iraq. The United States, as prospective liberator, was willing to hand it over. Zalmay Khalilzad, George W. Bush's slow learner at the poker table of Iraqi politics, assured skeptics at the recent Iraqi opposition conference here that Turkey would invade only as part of the US coalition. Turkey's insistence, however, that its army would not fight Saddam undercut its commitment to a coalition whose purpose was to do just that. Meanwhile, Turkey's generals and foreign minister contradicted Khalilzad: Their troops would enter Iraq flying the Turkish flag, obeying Turkish commanders and seeking Turkish objectives.

"If their intention is not to fight Saddam Hussein, it is to demolish our experience here," an angry Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told me. "The Kurds would use all means at their disposal to stop the Turks. So would the rest of the Iraqis." He thought the Turks would attempt "to disarm the Kurds. They want to deny the Kurds a state. They want to end the status quo under which we have governed ourselves. They don't want the Kurds to have Kirkuk or Mosul." On this occasion he speaks for popular opinion here. No Kurd that I have met accepts any Turkish presence, in or outside a US coalition. Businessmen, taxi drivers, teachers and students have told me they would join the fight against the Turks. …