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News, 29/01-05/02/03 (4) NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN * Kurds will not take part in U.S.-led war - Barzani * Growing activity reported at air base in Kurdish northern Iraq * Saddam May Be Creating War Buffer Zone * A War Crime or an Act of War? * Iraqis and Kurds fear ethnic bloodletting when bombing stops * Exiled Turkmen lay claim to oil riches * Once a Site of Death, Now a Whirl of Fun * Interview: PUK will not attack Baghdad - Talabani * Iraqi Islamist denies link with Baghdad * Ansar al-Islam leader threatens to document his links to US NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=75648 * KURDS WILL NOT TAKE PART IN U.S.-LED WAR - BARZANI by Tanya Goudsouzian Gulf News, 30th January Salahuddin, Northern Iraq: The United States will not use areas under Kurdish control in a war against Baghdad, said Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq. "We are not in favour of a war," he told Gulf News in an exclusive interview yesterday. "If there were any other means to achieve the same goal, we would rather do that." In response to a televised threat by Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who said Baghdad would attack any government that assists the U.S. in taking military action against the ruling regime, Barzani said: "No government can stop the U.S. from reaching any goalŠ (But) no attack will be made from Kurdish-controlled areas." He also cited one reason why it would be "very difficult" for the Kurdish militias to take part in a military offensive against Baghdad. "We don't intend to move our troops outside of Kurdish-ruled areas, and within this region, there are no targets for us to hit," he said. In the run-up to a probable U.S.-led military action against the Baghdad regime, the Kurdish role in the process has been much debated. Kurdish politicians have vehemently insisted that the Americans have made no promises to the Kurds in exchange for their assistance in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussain. In the midst of these tensions, Barzani regretted that the international media, as well as local inhabitants, are apt to misinterpret routine military training operations. There have been a slew of reports in the press claiming the Kurdish militias have intensified their training in preparations for war. Barzani, who is also leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), denied recent reports hinting that Kurdish troops were mobilising in Harir, northeast of Arbil. "It is actually very strange," he said, laughing. "The situation is rapidly developing in such a way that any move we make is subject to misinterpretation." Here is the full text of the interview: Gulf News: What role will the Kurds play in a U.S.-led war on Iraq? Barzani: We believe that our role will start after the regime change. Our role will be to preserve and protect the stability and security of the new regime, as indicated in the statement issued at the end of the Iraqi opposition conference held in London last month. We came to this agreement as the representatives of the Iraqi people, and with the approval of the United States. There have been reports of troops setting up military installations in Harir, northeast of Arbil. What is going on? (Laughs) It is actually very strange. The situation is rapidly developing in such a way that any move we make is subject to misinterpretation. Harir is a good place for training and manoeuvres, but whenever we organise the training of our forces over there, it is interpreted differently. People think they are foreign forces, while they are, in fact, our own forces. If people here in the region do not believe it, how can I expect you to believe it? The troops in Harir belong to our force. There have also been reports that Iraqi troops have crossed the line to occupy Kurdish villages in the Bashtapa area, beyond the Kushtapa checkpoint. Is this a cause for concern? We don't have concrete information about this matter, but we know that the area is a part of Baghdad's programme. People have been brought over to replace the local inhabitants. In many cases, these people, who are involved in cultivation and agriculture, have prevented local farmers from continuing their work over there. Sometimes, there have been problems. We will definitely support and defend our farmers because we are against this policy. As I said, we have not received any serious reports about this. But whenever there is any transgression, we will defend our people. On Tuesday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz threatened that Iraq would attack any government, which helps the U.S. pursue its plan against the Baghdad regime. Are you worried they may target areas under Kurdish rule? Tareq Aziz and everybody else knows that no government can stop the Americans from reaching any goal. Having said that, no attack will be made from Kurdish-controlled areas. Do you support a war? We are not in favour of a war. If there were any other means to achieve the same goal, we would rather that. A war is an unfortunate event. Whenever any lives are lost, it is tragic. What would it take for the Kurds to play an active part in a U.S.-led war against Baghdad? We are not thinking of participating in the war because we are focusing on the day after the regime change. It would be very difficult for us to take part in this war for several reasons. We don't intend to move our troops outside of Kurdish-ruled areas, and within this region, there are no targets for us to hit. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told Reuters this week that Turkey would send troops into northern Iraq in the event of a U.S.-led war against Baghdad to protect the Turkmen minority, as well as the Kurds, from a "massacre". What is your reaction? Our position is clear. We are against regional interference into our internal affairs. About 30 days ago, I met with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul. What he told me, and what I have heard from other military officials, is that Turkey has no designs on Kirkuk and Mosul. Turkey has no ambitions to take over any part of this country. They said they would only interfere upon our request, otherwise they would not take any unilateral action. We consider this a positive position - as far as what we have been told officially. What would happen to the Ibrahim Khalil trade route after a war, or regime change? It will be one of the many outlets that Iraq has with regional countries. But it is a main source of revenue for your administrationŠ If there is a regime change, and the situation changes for the better, and stability reins, as well as democracy, then we will have our rightful share of oil revenues from Ibrahim Khalil, as well as other revenues from the country. In such a case, Ibrahim Khalil would only be a small portion of our revenue. What has been the outcome of your talks with the Iranians? I had a very successful visit to Iran, and our relations are very good. How do you gauge the arms inspection reports released by Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei on Monday? My reading of the reports is that they had been worded in such a way that if the United Nations Security Council wanted to consider them as negative, they easily could. And if they wanted to view them as positive, they could also do it. The question is: How will the Security Council choose to evaluate them? This is up to them. Do you think Baghdad is in breach of Security Council Resolution 1441? I don't have any concrete information on the matter to judge whether Iraq has violated the resolution. We should rely on the reports of Blix and El Baradei. Do you believe Saddam Hussain still has a nuclear capability? In the past, definitely Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. They used it against our people in 1988. Right now, whether they still possess these weapons, I am not in the position to either refute it, or approve it. Is it necessary to use military action to remove Saddam Hussain? I don't think Saddam Hussain will step down voluntarily. I don't think he will escape, or leave the country. What is your vision for a post-Saddam Iraq? Will there be another president, a triumvirate, a presidential councilŠ? It is not yet known. There is nothing specific planned. The Iraqi people must be given the opportunity to determine their own government. Out of the London conference, there was a paper issued regarding a transitional government. But this is subject to change. The Kurdish opposition has adopted the slogan of "federalism". But right now, Kurds enjoy a level of autonomy, which only just falls short of full-fledged independence. Do you expect this situation to continue after the war under a federal system? Federalism is not only our slogan. It is the slogan of all Iraqi opposition groups because they have all agreed that the future of Iraq should be a democratic, parliamentary government. This issue has been resolved, and it is supported by the United States. But what about Kurdish-ruled areas? How will your situation be affected? Our situation will not change that much because it will be put under a legal framework, and the relationship between this region and the central government would be based on the tenets of a federal union. Right now you have your own currency, your own parliament, your own armyŠ What concessions are you willing to make in a federal Iraq? We don't have our own currency. It is the same Iraqi currency, but the one being used here is called the "Swiss dinar", though it is actually printed in the UK. Of course, the peshmerga (partisan soldier) forces will join the Iraqi army. It is clear that in a federal system, the foreign policy, defence and mineral resources, as well as financial policies, will all be left up to the federal government. The rest will be left up to the regional governments. Describe your relations with Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Have you reached an understanding? Can we expect a contest for power, or cooperation? Of course there will be cooperation. The struggle will continue but in a civilised way through elections and ballot boxes. Each party will be able to assess its real size, presence and support democratically, on that day. So you do not have a pre-arranged settlement? The cooperation and coordination will continue. If there is any development, we will have one position, one stand and we will work together. And for the future, it is the elections that will determine who is who. This will be finalised during the elections. We are, of course, two different political parties. We might go on one list for the elections, or we might go on different lists. There may be competition. What is the ideological difference between the PUK and your party, the KDP? Outside observers are sometimes puzzled by the presence of two Kurdish parties fighting for the same cause. What is the difference? (Laughs) Not only outside, even people inside are puzzled! There isn't any difference. Whatever has been stated in the manifestos is the same. The difference is some historical background and some other minor issues. Where do Kurds stand now in the long march toward the national dream of independence? Kurds, like any other nation, have the natural right for an independent state. But it is not the right time for that. Right now, this question is not on the table. http://newsobserver.com/24hour/world/story/741849p-5390464c.html * GROWING ACTIVITY REPORTED AT AIR BASE IN KURDISH NORTHERN IRAQ by Borzou Daragahi News & Observer, 30th January HARIR, Iraq (AP) - In a fertile plain in Kurdish northern Iraq, a black, paved air strip runs between a patchwork of fields dotted by dozens of new, white tents. The bustle at this remote airfield - controlled by people without any planes - has convinced many residents that U.S. forces are preparing to use it for a war against Saddam Hussein. At the Pentagon on Wednesday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked whether U.S. ground forces had entered Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Myers said he did not want to discuss the disposition of U.S. forces, but then added, "There are not significant numbers of military forces in northern Iraq right now." Over the past weeks, residents here have reported a sudden increase of movements, such as late-night convoys of trucks and Humvees, a vehicle preferred by the U.S. military. On Monday afternoon, a Humvee all-terrain vehicle could be seen on a nearby hilltop. Trucks with commercial markings were also moving through the area. All this has led to speculation that the airport is being readied for use by the Americans for a northern front against Baghdad's forces, which lie less than 60 miles away. The runway at Harir is 8,500 feet - long enough to accommodate military transports and fighter jets. Asked about reports of U.S. military cargo planes arriving in northern Iraq recently, Myers said he was not aware of any planes there. Officials of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the northwestern section of the autonomous Kurdish zone, denied knowledge of any U.S. military presence and say the Harir airstrip might be used for humanitarian flights. But a high-level Kurdish official said U.S. specialists were expected to staff airfields in three northern provinces, including Irbil, where Harir is located. He spoke on condition of anonymity. The privately owned Turkish television station NTV reported Wednesday that if Turkey does not permit American troops to use its bases, the United States plans to airlift troops to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Presumably, airfields such as Harir would fit into such plans. Saddam's government built the Harir airfield in 1983 and used it to launch air strikes during the war against Iran. Baghdad abandoned the airfield in 1991 with the establishment of the U.S.-British enforced no-fly zone and the autonomous Kurdish-controlled enclave in northern Iraq. The base reopened about four months ago. Abdul Vahid Kheder, a local official of the Kurdish Democratic Party, said reports of new activity were overblown. "It's an international roadway," he said. "Trucks are free to come from Iran, Syria, Turkey. It's no big deal." But the high-level Kurdish official said 2,000 U.S. military and intelligence specialists are scheduled to enter northern Iraq via the Turkish border to staff and protect the airfields in Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaiymania provinces. At Harir, military officials would not allow The Associated Press to enter the heavily guarded air base through the main gate. A German camera team attempting to film the site was briefly detained. But at the air base's ramshackle kitchen - accessible via a nearby dirt road - several Kurdish soldiers said they'd been ordered to Harir a few days ago in preparation for a possible U.S. arrival. Kurdish officials briefly closed the main road passing by the airstrip Monday, as they have reportedly done several times over the last few months. Desert-camouflage vehicles and soldiers in tents guarded access roads. "Everyone is waiting for the Americans to come," says Abdul Samad Ismail, a customer at the Shirwan restaurant in Harir. "We know they're coming." Officials in the Kurdish enclave have long told of occasional visits by American military personnel planners, mostly to survey airfields. According to Kurdish authorities in Sulaiymania, U.S. Special Forces visited the area several months ago. The U.S. presence was far greater from 1991 to 1996, Kurdish officials say, when both the State Department and Pentagon had offices here as part of Operation Provide Comfort, in which some 5,000 American troops were deployed. They left, however, during the civil war between rival Kurdish factions. Some Kurdish Democratic Party officials said the reopening might be unrelated to any U.S. plans. "It is the most realistic method of providing humanitarian assistance in a very urgent situation," Fawzi Hariri, a high-level KDP official said Tuesday. "We hope that the U.N. and aid agencies will take advantage of it." But a Kurdish military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Kurds reopened the base to "secure the runway themselves to prevent unauthorized foreign aircraft from landing." The different accounts of why the airfield has been reopened may stem from political sensitivities. Iraqi Kurds recently have been trying to placate neighboring countries such as Iran, Turkey and Syria, which have Kurdish minorities of their own and which are hostile to the self-rule experiment lest it encourage unrest in their countries. The reopening of the air base at Harir - less than 100 miles from the Iranian border - and other signs of military activity in the Kurdish region have already caused concern in Iran, whose state-controlled Arabic-language satellite television reports such operations with alarm. Iran, which President Bush designated a member of an "axis of evil," fears its territory could become the target of an American military assault following a possible attack on Iraq. http://www.wn.com/p/20/64fa245b1eb6.html?id=117f576 * SADDAM MAY BE CREATING WAR BUFFER ZONE Associated Press, 1st February GUSHTAPA, Iraq (AP) ‹ The sudden expulsion of families from a 20-mile border strip between the autonomous Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq has led to speculation that President Saddam Hussein is clearing a buffer zone to defend against a U.S. invasion from the north. Within the last 10 to 15 days, Baghdad has reportedly moved forces of the Mujahedeen Khalq ‹ a militant Iranian opposition group under Saddam's control ‹ near the boundary with the Kurdish zone, said Rasool Razgai, an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). "It seems like they're clearing a buffer zone," says Fawzi Hariri, a KDP spokesman. "It may be a new method or strategy, and it could well be part of a military maneuver." The Mujahedeen Khalq denied that its fighters were stationed in northern Iraq or assisting Saddam's forces in any way. A spokesman for the group, Farid Soleimani, said the Mujahedeen Khalq had not deployed its fighters in northern Iraq since 1990 when they withdrew southward on the eve of the Gulf War. "It is absolutely false that we have anyone there," Soleimani said in a telephone call to The Associated Press in Cairo. "We are absolutely not under Saddam's control. ... We are independent here." The KDP governs the northwest section of the self-rule area set up by oppressed Kurds after the 1991 Gulf War. The autonomous region operates under the protection of U.S.-British warplanes that patrol a northern flight exclusion zone. The United States, which believes Saddam possesses banned weapons despite Baghdad's denials, is threatening to disarm Saddam by force and wants neighboring Turkey to agree to accept U.S. troops on its soil. Privately owned Turkish television station NTV reported Wednesday that if Turkey does not permit American troops to use its bases, the United States plans to airlift troops to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. And recent activity of newly reopened Harir air base in the autonomous region 30 miles north of the town of Irbil, has led to speculation it is being readied for American troops. Tensions along the border between Baghdad-controlled Iraq and Kurdish Iraq have increased. Stretches along the frontier have become perilous no man's lands where few dare tread. Most fear being snatched by Baghdad's soldiers, who make incursions across the front into the area. Kurdish Ministry of Interior officials estimated that 50 Kurdish families living near the border zone have been forcibly expelled in the past two weeks. Villagers who were hustled out of their homes in the border region near Irbil, 200 miles north of Baghdad, say they were ordered to move deeper into Baghdad-controlled Iraq and managed to slip into the Gushtapa area in the Kurdish zone only after bribing Iraqi officials. Among them was the family of Goli Gerdi Amin, a 40-year-old mother of five who wept as she described how her family was turned out of its home in Makhshooma, 15 miles southeast of Irbil, where they herded sheep and goats and did some planting. "We had everything over there," she said, as she sat in a rudimentary apartment the family is renting for $12 a month. "We had a very comfortable and good life." Five Iraqi soldiers went to her house Jan. 16 just before the evening call-to-prayer. They were ordered outside as helicopters flew overhead. The family was told that they must leave and head toward the Iraqi city of Kirkuk because their farm lay within the no-man's land, that delineates the Kurdish and Baghdad-controlled parts of Iraq. "The commander was very cruel with us," said Zeerak Zaher, Amin's 18-year-old son. "My mother began to cry. She's been crying ever since." The family tried to move their possessions ‹ including an expensive water pump and other agricultural equipment ‹ into the home of a friend, but the soldiers returned and ordered them to move out immediately. At first the soldiers refused to allow them to cross into Kurdish-controlled Iraq, but after several days of haggling, let them go after the family handed over $100 and several sheep and goats. Overnight, says Amin, her family has lost practically all its material possessions as well as its home. Police in Gushtapa, 12 miles southeast of Irbil , estimate that 12 families were evicted from Makhshooma. "Its a nice village," said Amin. "All of the lands around are used for agriculture. It is very green. And the people are very friendly. And they are all Kurds." http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/31/opinion/31PELL.html?ex=1045030380&ei=1&en= 97 * A WAR CRIME OR AN ACT OF WAR? by Stephen C. Pelletiere New York Times, 31st January MECHANICSBURG, Pa. ‹ It was no surprise that President Bush, lacking smoking-gun evidence of Iraq's weapons programs, used his State of the Union address to re-emphasize the moral case for an invasion: "The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured." The accusation that Iraq has used chemical weapons against its citizens is a familiar part of the debate. The piece of hard evidence most frequently brought up concerns the gassing of Iraqi Kurds at the town of Halabja in March 1988, near the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. President Bush himself has cited Iraq's "gassing its own people," specifically at Halabja, as a reason to topple Saddam Hussein. But the truth is, all we know for certain is that Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja. We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds. This is not the only distortion in the Halabja story. I am in a position to know because, as the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair. This much about the gassing at Halabja we undoubtedly know: it came about in the course of a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town, which is in northern Iraq not far from the Iranian border. The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq's main target. And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas. The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent ‹ that is, a cyanide-based gas ‹ which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time. These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran. I am not trying to rehabilitate the character of Saddam Hussein. He has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war. There may be justifications for invading Iraq, but Halabja is not one of them. In fact, those who really feel that the disaster at Halabja has bearing on today might want to consider a different question: Why was Iran so keen on taking the town? A closer look may shed light on America's impetus to invade Iraq. We are constantly reminded that Iraq has perhaps the world's largest reserves of oil. But in a regional and perhaps even geopolitical sense, it may be more important that Iraq has the most extensive river system in the Middle East. In addition to the Tigris and Euphrates, there are the Greater Zab and Lesser Zab rivers in the north of the country. Iraq was covered with irrigation works by the sixth century A.D., and was a granary for the region. Before the Persian Gulf war, Iraq had built an impressive system of dams and river control projects, the largest being the Darbandikhan dam in the Kurdish area. And it was this dam the Iranians were aiming to take control of when they seized Halabja. In the 1990's there was much discussion over the construction of a so-called Peace Pipeline that would bring the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates south to the parched Gulf states and, by extension, Israel. No progress has been made on this, largely because of Iraqi intransigence. With Iraq in American hands, of course, all that could change. Thus America could alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that probably could not be challenged for decades ‹ not solely by controlling Iraq's oil, but by controlling its water. Even if America didn't occupy the country, once Mr. Hussein's Baath Party is driven from power, many lucrative opportunities would open up for American companies. All that is needed to get us into war is one clear reason for acting, one t hat would be generally persuasive. But efforts to link the Iraqis directly to Osama bin Laden have proved inconclusive. Assertions that Iraq threatens its neighbors have also failed to create much resolve; in its present debilitated condition ‹ thanks to United Nations sanctions ‹ Iraq's conventional forces threaten no one. Perhaps the strongest argument left for taking us to war quickly is that Saddam Hussein has committed human rights atrocities against his people. And the most dramatic case are the accusations about Halabja. Before we go to war over Halabja, the administration owes the American people the full facts. And if it has other examples of Saddam Hussein gassing Kurds, it must show that they were not pro-Iranian Kurdish guerrillas who died fighting alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Until Washington gives us proof of Saddam Hussein's supposed atrocities, why are we picking on Iraq on human rights grounds, particularly when there are so many other repressive regimes Washington supports? Stephen C. Pelletiere is author of "Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Persian Gulf." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=%2Fnews%2F2003%2F02%2F02%2Fwi rq402.xml&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=166861 * IRAQIS AND KURDS FEAR ETHNIC BLOODLETTING WHEN BOMBING STOPS by Jon Snow Daily Telegraph, 2nd February "Photo me. Photo me," pleads a fresh-faced young Iraqi soldier as he poses with his friend for my cameraman. "Me too," cries another. We are on a crowded bridge in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Two bridges cross the river in close parallel and both are covered with street traders and market stalls selling everything from contraband Benson & Hedges to mousetraps and cooking spoons. Bargain-hunters of every Iraqi ethnicity surge across both bridges; as in the rest of the country, a litre of oil here costs a penny and a litre of drinking water 20 times that sum. Mingling among them, are dozens of soldiers. Up here, in stark contrast to the almost sleepy complacency in Baghdad, there is a frisson of tension. Kirkuk is a sensitive place, the centre of Iraq's most vulnerable oil reserves - moving around the city, you glimpse the oil flares from an array of wells. Two units of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard are said to be based here. In this garrison town, the bridges on which we are standing will almost certainly be brought down in any battle for Kirkuk. The city is 15 miles from the border with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to the north, 15 miles from the "no fly" zone. Last weekend RAF pilots were in action up here, knocking out communications units. There is something bizarre about these Iraqi boys in their crisp uniforms out in the spring sun, demanding to be pictured by a television crew hailing from the same clime as the RAF pilots. Despite our handshakes, exchanged glances and a few words, these boys will soon have to be depicted as the enemy if, as now seems so likely, war comes. But in Kirkuk, the fear is not of bombs from the RAF but of what happens after the war. The ethnic balances are delicate in the extreme. Most of those thronging the bridges are Kurds, but there are Arabs and Turcomans too. One old Kurdish trader, cross-legged on his mat, told me : "The oil is ours you know. We shall have it when the Americans come." Well, not if neighbouring Turkey has her way. Ankara has signalled that if the Kurds try to grab Kirkuk's oil, they will have to launch a strike for it themselves. Were Iraq's Kurds to possess oil, it would transform the bitter regional struggle for a Kurdish state. And if any of the Arab merchants in Kirkuk were fool enough to try boarding the Kurdish buses that criss-cross in and out of the autonomous Kurdish zone north of the town, they would not come back. "They'd slit our throats", an Arab cotton farmer told me. Such hatred is understandable, given that Saddam has carried out a brutal "Arabisation" programme to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city. Thousands of Kurds are now living in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yesterday the Committee against the Arabisation of Kurdistan, a Kurdish pressure group, wrote a letter to the United Nations and President Bush accusing Saddam of forcibly moving 117 families in January to Iraqi Kurdistan. That the various ethnic groups manage to cohabit at all is due partly to the ruthlessness of the regime and partly to the pressures applied by the "no fly" zone. Remove the regime, and Kurds and Arabs alike fear a vast and bloody settling of scores. The same is true to the south of Baghdad, in the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala. In the streets around the main shrine, you notice that all the buildings are new. For this is where the southern Shi'ite Iraqis rose up in 1991, expectant of US support. The Americans never came, and Saddam Hussein visited the most brutal consequences on the Shi'ites. The town centre was obliterated and no one knows how many Shi'ites died. Sipping sugary tea in a side-street stall, a trader warned: "When it happens, the war, we shall not forget what happened here." Returning to Baghdad, travelling past the reinforced anti-aircraft defences, you sense that the war may be the easy bit. Preserving an Iraq with the rich tapestry of people who make up its productive and intelligent population will prove much harder. The report on the human costs of war in Iraq leaked last week from the United Nations spoke of war producing half a million casualties and a million refugees. Professor Sa'ad Jawad at Baghdad University told me: "It won't be the bombs, but the internecine bloodletting that follows any bombs that will wreck this country. The Kurds will suffer worst. The Americans will deny them a state, the Turks will deny them a state, and I can tell you, at the end of all this, they won't even have the autonomy they enjoy now." That is the fear in Kirkuk. http://observer.co.uk/focus/story/0,6903,887440,00.html * EXILED TURKMEN LAY CLAIM TO OIL RICHES by Jonny Dymond in Istanbul The Observer, 2nd February In a badly lit room in a nondescript apartment in central Istanbul about 150 men and women come this time every year to mourn their dead. Beneath what looks something similar to a Turkish flag, a man sings from the Koran to a sombre audience, some weeping, others lost in their memories. These are the Turks of northern Iraq, known as Turkmen. Many have fled from persecution by Saddam Hussein and every year they gather for mevlit, the mourning ceremony for those who died in either the Iran-Iraq war or in the struggle against Saddam. Next to the flag is a map of northern Iraq; different colours indicate different ethnic groups. A small strip of light blue at the northernmost edge of Iraq indicates Kurdish predominance. Down south is uncoloured, of no interest to the Turkmen. A broad strip is coloured yellow to indicate Turkmen predominance. Firmly within the yellow area lie Mosul and Kirkuk, one of the richest oil-producing areas in Iraq. Every room in the apartment has this map on the wall; in his office at the back of the suite the leader of the Iraqi Turks' Association, Kemal Beyatli, has two copies framed and hanging on the walls. Any expression of interest prompts the donation of another copy. Turkey has always spoken up for the Turkmen community in Iraq, a group most number at about 500,000 in northern Iraq but which Turkey says is three million strong. But in recent months Turkish pulses have been racing at the prospect of a change in control of the areas that the Turkmen say they dominate. Rumblings about a Turkish claim on northern Iraq started during and after the Gulf war in 1991. Since then Turkey has backtracked, sticking to the line of maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity. But recently Turkish politicians have once again raised the issue of sovereignty. Alarm bells began to ring loud among Turkey's neighbours when Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis announced last month that Turkey was inspecting old treaties to 'find out whether or not we have lost our rights to this region'. Mosul and Kirkuk lie just outside the semi-autonomous region of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Turkey claimed Mosul and Kirkuk for itself when it declared its borders after the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1920. Even then the area's oil wealth was evident. But Turkey never secured the territory. It recognised Iraqi control of the area in a treaty signed with Britain in 1926. In his office decorated with paintings, engravings and, of course, maps of Kirkuk, Kemal Beyatli is careful not to step beyond the official line of Turkish policy. He is not, despite the suffering of the Turkmen people at the hands of Saddam, in favour of war. But about Kirkuk's origins, he is adamant: 'The traditions of the people, the architecture, the cemeteries and the folklore prove to which nation it belongs,' he says. 'One can see very clearly that Kirkuk is a Turkmen region.' All of which may come as something of a surprise to the Kurds, seen as the dominant ethnic group in the area. But it is the Kurdish presence in the region, rather than old treaties or ethnic links, that drives Turkey's claims. It is hard to find people in Turkey who really believe that it has sovereignty over Mosul and Kirkuk. Arguments remain over whether Turkey received what it should have from oil revenues, says Hikmet Ulugbay, a former government Minister who ordered research on the issue when he was in office. But he said, 'the 1926 agreement firmly established the borderline. There's no question about it'. Turkey's most recent claims to Kirkuk and Mosul are more about sending a warning to the Kurds and their likely allies, the US. Turkey will not allow Mosul and Kirkuk to fall into Kurdish hands. It has fought a long and bloody war against Kurdish paramilitaries in south east Turkey. It believes that any hint of an autonomous Kurdish state would inflame a separatist problem which it has only recently contained. 'The real problem for Ankara,' said Kurdish journalist Ragip Duran, 'is the thought of an autonomous Kurdish state with access to the oil wealth of Kirkuk and Mosul, which would give it economic independence.' If there is any hint of the oil wealth of the region falling into Kurdish hands, Turkey will not hesitate to move its army - the largest in Europe - into northern Iraq. Turkey announced this week that it was reinforcing its 2nd Army, based near the Iraqi border. The United States insists that if it fights Iraq it will not be fighting for oil; it has said that the oil of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. That may satisfy the great powers. But if Iraq's central authority is destroyed those 'people' may once again become 'peoples', fighting between themselves for the oil wealth that could set them free. Warily, Turkey watches and waits. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/03/international/middleeast/03KURD.html * ONCE A SITE OF DEATH, NOW A WHIRL OF FUN By C. J. Chivers New York Times, 3rd February SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, Feb. 2 ‹ For a few moments, as the Ferris wheel turned and children dashed past, it was almost possible to forget what this amusement park used to be. "When I come here and see all these games and rides, I feel happy and get excited," said Fazil Muhammad Hussein, a 12-year-old boy, offering a perfectly normal statement, except he said it while standing not far from a former mass grave. Advertisement This is Azady Park, a place that captures many of the dizzying contrasts of life in northern Iraq. For three decades this plot of land near the city's center was a dispensary of fear, surrounded by high concrete walls, brimming with guards. It was a headquarters for Iraqi military and intelligence services, known as a place of incarcerations, torture sessions and death. It was from here, in 1963, that Kurds received one of their first tastes of the Arab Baath Socialist Party's designs for the Kurdish region, when units from the compound stormed into this city, rousting suspected dissidents from their sleep and bringing them to interrogation centers inside. Many turned up later in shallow, common graves. The walls are gone now. In what amounts to an astonishing act of replacement, a place of horrors has become the city's version of Disneyland, as well as a social club, a roller-skating rink, an open-air theater and a swimming pool. It is a 500-acre testament to Kurdish resilience, as well as a case of imaginative redevelopment in a region that has tried to separate itself from the image of Saddam Hussein. Kurds speak of this park as a symbol of possibility for all of Iraq, a sign of just how drastic change can be in territory wrested from Baath rule. " 'Azady' means freedom, and this name means that our generation is now free," said Hakim Qader H. Aziz, president of the municipal council. There is no shortage of nightmarish locales in northern Iraq, a region that has been outside Mr. Hussein's control since an uprising in 1991. There is Barzan, where in 1983 Mr. Hussein's forces seized 8,000 men, none whom have ever been heard from again. There is Halabja, where in 1988 the Iraqi Air Force dropped chemical weapons, killing an estimated 5,000 civilians and injuring as many as 20,000 more, the worst of the 281 uses of Iraqi gas on Kurds that have been locally documented. There are huge swaths of silent landscape, minefields laid in the Iran-Iraq war. Much work has been done to renew this land since Kurds began their qausi-independence. Mines have been cleared, villages rebuilt, human remains exhumed and then properly interred. Monuments abound. But there is nothing quite like Azady Park, a place so boldly reconceived that it defies the senses. For the admission cost of 1 dinar, at today's exchange rate the equivalent of about 13 cents, visitors frolic where the Iraqi government killed. "It is one of the greatest things we have done, to change this place of crime into a place of amusement, a playground for all of the people to use," said Sirwan Salih Saeed, deputy director of the park. "The children of this city all come here." Work began here in 1997, and because Kurdish budgets are small it remains a work in progress, with some sections still only bare soil, and more plans awaiting funding. There 14 amusement rides now; 6 more are being designed. Some of the old Iraqi Army buildings have not been torn down, and the small area of the park where they remain has become a home for squatters and refugees. The local government hopes to relocate them. It is also still a place of considerable dread. Now and then, as when digging an artificial lake or planting some of the 12,000 new trees, laborers stumble upon more bones. The remains of 28 people were discovered in the late 1990's under a spot where bushes have been arranged into an outdoor maze. Still, people come, even in the winter, when attendance varies from a few hundred to several thousand visitors each day. In the summer, sometimes 10,000 people pass through the gates, Mr. Saeed said. As attendance has climbed, the park has taken on qualities of its own. For example, Kurdish society is deeply conservative, and dating is restricted. Azady Park has become a place where young couples elude their neighbors' gaze, riding high on the Ferris wheel, clasping hands, or stealing away to the bushes, where they can be seen touching fingertips while sitting on a bench. Advertisement On a recent day, Namo Ghafur walked with Lezan Hamid, a young woman whose hair was covered by a scarf. She looked at the ground while he called her "my beloved." "If you are having an attraction for someone, it is good to bring them here, because it is a free place, and away from everybody's eyes," Mr. Ghafur said. "This is a place that is good for love." The park also has a members-only social club, with a restaurant and dance floor, where influential families gather for holidays and parties. On New Year's Eve the club was packed, and the dance floor shook as scores of people moved through the room in a traditional Kurdish dance. Smoking a thick cigar and greeting visitors with homemade salads and 12-year-old Scotch, one member, Barzan Faraj, marveled at the revelry. "It is incredible that we have this, when you remember what this place used to be," he said. It is a memory that will not die. After the first night of terror, in 1963, the Baath party did not last long. It was ousted in a countercoup months later. But the party reclaimed power in 1968, and is still in Baghdad, the political embodiment of Mr. Hussein. This garrison was used again to carry out attacks on Kurds, or as a place to jail and interrogate them, from 1968 to 1991. Nawroz Saeed, a local engineer, remembers the first night. He can name the exhumed and recall details of their lives: this one was a physics teacher, that one a captain of a local soccer team. He remembers one stylish dresser whose decomposing remains were identified by a particularly handsome buckle on a belt that held him together. "It is in my mind, like a cinema, always repeating," he said. He paused, then continued, "I was in my uncle's house on the morning they came for him." His uncle was Namiq Agha. Iraqi soldiers beat him in his night clothes and led him away. Namiq Agha's wife, Najia Abdulrakhman, recalls his last words. She was pregnant at the time, and had a daughter and a son. "He said, 'Take care of the children ‹ look after them,' " she said. The next winter, runoff from a rainstorm exposed a shallow mass grave just outside the garrison's fence, not far from where the Ferris wheel now stands. Namiq Agha was among the dead. His second son, Yadgar Namiq Agha, was born two days later. He is 39 now, and has two sons of his own. Last summer, almost four decades after the disappearance of her husband, Najia Abdulrakhman took the grandsons to Azady Park. She sat and watched the two little boys, Namiq Agha's descendants, going from ride to ride, as her mind went back and forth, between this new Sulaimaniya and the old. "It is a very nice and interesting place for people, and you know how children are, always wanting to play," she said. "But I always remember that black day." http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=76092 * INTERVIEW: PUK WILL NOT ATTACK BAGHDAD - TALABANI by Tanya Goudsouzian Gulf News, 3rd February Sulemanieh, Northern Iraq: There are no foreign military troops inside Kurdish-controlled areas, said Jalal Talabani, Vice President of the Kurdish Regional Government and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party. "These are personnel, not troops," he told Gulf News in an exclusive interview on Thursday in his home in Sulemanieh. He dismissed as 'rumours' media reports that three U.S. military aircraft had landed in an area under Kurdish control. "If American troops come to our areas, they must first get permission from Turkey, otherwise they cannot come - unless they come by parachute, but I don't think a huge army will be able to come by parachute," he said. "We are expecting them, but not yet." The troops will arrive when the war starts to help secure the area, he added. There are reports that three U.S. military aircraft have landed in an area under Kurdish control. What does this mean? That is not true. We are expecting them, but not yet. When do you expect them? When the war starts. Until now, no American plane has landed here. There were rumours two days ago that an airplane had landed in Harir, but that was not true. The Pentagon said they have their personnel in the area, but no airplanes have landed. Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdish Regional Government, maintains that Kurdish ruled areas will not be used in a U.S.-led war on Iraq. Is this correct? That is true. America's plans do not include the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Iraq, nor do they include using Kurdish forces. The Americans have their own forces. They asked us only to protect and defend our own area, not to participate in any attack against the Iraqi forces. Second, it is not good for future relations between Kurds and Arabs if we were to attack Arab cities like Mosul or Kirkuk. If we attack Kirkuk, we would provoke Turkey. If we attack Mosul, and there are casualties, this would create a kind of animosity between Kurds and Arabs. For this reason, we are not planning to attack any Arab or Iraqi towns. Our plan is to defend our area and protect our people, but we are also looking to liberate Iraq. Perhaps we will participate in a popular uprising. If there is an uprising, it will be in Baghdad and other main cities, and it will start when people see that the regime is close to collapsing. I am sure the Iraqi people will rise up and liberate towns that are now controlled by the Iraqi regime. Are you going to send PUK forces to Baghdad? We don't need to send PUK forces to Baghdad. We think that the people of Baghdad - whether Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Sunnis, or Shi'ites - will rise up against the regime as they did after the Gulf War. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz threatened that Iraq would attack any government, which helps the U.S. pursue its plan against the Baghdad regime. Are you worried they may target areas under Kurdish rule? If American troops come to our areas, they must first get permission from Turkey, otherwise they cannot come - unless they come by parachute, but I don't think a huge army will be able to come by parachute. We are expecting Turkey to grant permission to the Americans. When the U.S. army crosses the Turkish border and enters northern Iraq, we expect a reaction from the Iraqi regime. But I have a question: Can the Iraqi regime really pose a threat to us when it is under attack by the Americans? I don't think so. It is my impression that when they are under attack, they will lose control, the army will not obey their orders, and the regime will collapse. This is only propaganda. If you remember, they did the same thing during the 1991 Gulf War. They announced that if the American army comes, they would do such and such, and they would defeat them. They claimed it would be a second Vietnam. And the result was 80,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendering without fighting. This is pure propaganda by the Iraqi regime. The regime is very weak. Saddam Hussain is totally isolated from the people, and the army. We are not afraid of them. Are you afraid that in a desperate bid to hold on to power, Saddam Hussain may wage another chemical attack, as he did on Halabja in 1988? No, this will not happen. Halabja was not done at the last minute. It was not a desperate act. Halabja was done when Iraq was strong. When Iraq was supported by the Soviet Union, by the U.S., by Europe, and by all Arab countries except Syria. For this reason, Iraq was able to attack us with all kinds of weapons at that time. But when Iraq is under attack by the U.S., I don't think they will be able to attack Kuwait or other places. What is the current state of relations between the PUK and Turkey? They are good. We have no problems. But traditionally they have not been goodŠ A year ago, they were not good. But now, they are not bad. Relations are normal. Before, we were cooperating with PKK, and Turkey was very worried about our policy. But when the cooperation between PUK and PKK ended, there was no longer cause for any kind of animosity. Also, the PUK's relations with Turkmens have always been very good, and this is reflecting on Turkey's attitude toward the PUK. What was the outcome of your talks with the Turkmen Front on Thursday? We received a high-level delegation from the Turkmen Front. We have an agreement with them for cooperation on a wide range of issues. We decided to strengthen and extend our cooperation on all levels, for the future of Iraq, and for the future of our respective ethnic groups. To what extent does the Turkmen Front represent Turkish interests in Iraq? Well, let me say very frankly that the Turkmen Front has a very good relation with Turkey. And the policy of Turkey is to protect and defend Turkmens everywhere. The new government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said they would protect both Turkmens and Kurds in Iraq. He said they consider both Kurds and Turkmens as their relatives and brothers. So, if they come to northern Iraqi, they will come to defend us. Is it a positive thing to have Turkish troops in the area? We prefer that this area remain without foreign troops. But we cannot prevent anyone from entering our area. Why? Because we are weak! How can we prevent them? If there is a war, do you think Europe or other countries will be able to stop the Americans? If they cannot stop them, how can we? Do you think we are so strong? Don't forget, we are Kurdish. We are not the Peoples Republic of China. There are reports that the Kurdish militias have intensified their training in preparation for a war. Yes, that is true. We are expecting a big war! We must be prepared for all kinds of developments. We are not living in Belgium. We are living in KurdistanŠ in Iraq. We are very close to very important cities like Kirkuk, Mosul and even to Baghdad. So we must prepare ourselves for a war. If Iraq were to attack us, we must be able to defend our area. The preparation of peshmerga (partisan soldier) forces is not only for attack. Sometimes it is for defence. Are the peshmerga forces capable of protecting the area? Yes, with the support of the United States. There are reports that Iran will soon be closing its borders to Kurdish refugees. How are your relations with Iran these days? Our relations are very good with Iran. Yes, it is true, Iran may close the border, but instead it has promised to open camps inside Iraq for tens of thousands of refugees. I think they will be glad to have no refugees inside Iran... Describe your relations with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It is very good now. We have a mutual understanding. We have committees, and common rules of operation against terrorism and toward defending our area. We are partners in the Iraqi opposition. We both played an important role in the last Iraqi opposition conference in London. By next week, we are planning to open KDP offices in Sulemanieh, and PUK offices in Arbil. This means that relations will be further improved. There is no tension now. After a regime change in Baghdad, can we expect cooperation or a contest for power between the KDP and PUK? I think there will be more cooperation. But of course, we are two different parties and we will be rivals in the elections. There will not be any infighting. It will be a struggle through the ballot boxes. What is the ideological difference between the two parties? We are a social democratic party. They are a national party. How do your agendas differ? The ultimate goal of the PUK, and social democratic parties all over the world, is a socialist society. But there is also a difference in the structure of the two parties. We are a popular party, including intellectuals, peasants, and workersŠ They are also popular, and have a lot of support, but the structure of their leadership is mostly from the Barzani family, whereas the structure of the PUK leadership is not from the Talabani family. How will you deal with the threat posed by the Ansar Al Islam group? This is a problem. Ansar Al Islam is now a mixed terrorist group. They have about 150 Arabs who came from Afghanistan. They have 100 fundamentalist Kurds from Iran. They also have some Arabs from Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Syria, as well as Kurds from Iraq. They are a terrorist group. They have declared war against all secular parties. They consider these parties as against Islam, and they consider the PUK and other secular parties as the agents of Zionism and Christianity. The government of Kurdistan cannot wait forever while they commit crimes and then hide in the mountains. We are planning to get rid of them. If they surrender, Okay. If they are willing to lay down their arms, Okay. If some of the members are willing to change their ideology and join other Muslim groups that are not against the government, Okay. Otherwise, we are obliged to do something to finish their activities in the area. We will be glad to have the U.S. help us, but if not, we will have to do it by ourselves. When? Well, this is a secret. I cannot tell you. We cannot divulge our war plans. But we are planning to finish them as soon as possible. Before the U.S.-led war against Baghdad? Perhaps, or even at the same time. It depends on the climate. It is now winter in Kurdistan. There are some places with three metres of snow. Geography is affecting our military plans. For this reason, I cannot choose a specific date, but I can say that it will be as soon as possible. Is the Iraqi regime supporting Ansar Al Islam? Yes, I am sure. We have lots of people in our custody who have confessed that the Iraqi regime has been supporting them and providing them with money and people. The Jordanian prime minister said that (suspected terrorist) Abu Masab Al Zerkawi, who was in Jordan, is now in a Kurdish area called Biara. How did Al Zerkawi come from Jordan? By parachute? He was flying? He came through Baghdad. There are Ansar people who committed crimes in Arbil, escaped to Mosul and then to Baghdad, where they were provided with passports. They went to Jordan, then Yemen, contacted Al Qaida people, then tried to return. In Jordan, they were arrested, and handed over to Iraqi officials. But they were released and came back to the areaŠ They were arrested and now they are in our custody. There is no doubt the Iraqis are supporting them. Where do Kurds now stand in the long march toward the national dream of independence? This dream is still a dream. We are revolutionaries, but realistic revolutionaries. We feel that we must struggle for a tangible goal. We must struggle for what we can achieve. In this century, Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iran, and Syria. It is impossible to change the borders of all these countries, but we can achieve our goal of a democratic and federal system in Iraq. This means that the Kurds of Iraq will have self-rule. They will be able to develop the country, economically, culturally and in all other ways. You have repeatedly been betrayed throughout your history. Do the Kurds have any real friends in this world? Socialist International is one of our friends. It has accepted the PUK as a member of Socialist International, and it has recognised the rights of Kurdish people. Nowadays - and I repeat, nowadays - the United States is our friend. Second, the United Kingdom. France is also very friendly to us. The French government has always been kind to the Kurds, recognising our rights within Iraq. The day has gone forever that we had only our mountains. This is a Kurdish proverb, that we have only our mountains. But now we have many friends all over the world. In general, all freedom-loving people and all democrats within Arab countries are supporters of the Kurdish people. This includes Arabs, Turks, and Iranians. Libya is another example. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has been calling for more than what we are asking for. He thinks there should be a united Kurdistan, while we are calling for a federal system in Iraq. Kuwaitis are also our friends. We are not isolated now. We have friends all over the world. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,887577,00.html * IRAQI ISLAMIST DENIES LINK WITH BAGHDAD by Richard Norton-Taylor The Guardian, 3rd February The leader of the Islamist group cited by the US as evidence that Saddam Hussein is supporting al-Qaida yesterday denied he had any links with the Iraqi dictator. Mullah Krekar, leader of Ansar al-Islam, said that far from promoting links with the Iraqi regime, he wanted to see the end of it. "I am against Saddam Hussein. I want [Iraq] to change into an Islamic regime", he said in a telephone interview with the Guardian. Whitehall sources with access to intelligence yesterday also denied claims by President Bush and Tony Blair of links between President Saddam and al-Qaida. "There is a little node of Islamic extremism up there", said a well-placed source, referring to Ansar al-Islam. However, he added: "Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have explicitly opposed any kind of alliance." Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, said last week there was evidence of links between Baghdad and al-Qaida. Mr Krekar said his group, which controls villages near the border with Iran had about 700 Kurdish members. They are fighting the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The group is believed to harbour about 120 al-Qaida supporters who fled from Afghanistan. "Baghdad's writ genuinely does not run there," said a senior Whitehall source. US and British intelligence agencies also believe the group has links with Chechen rebels and is trying to make chemical weapons. Mr Krekar denied this, adding that he had "no contacts" with Islamists in Britain. He was speaking from Norway where he lives after spending four months in a jail in Holland. Mr Krekar was detained there in September after arriving on a flight from Iran because Jordan had asked for his extradition, accusing him of drug trafficking. He was released for lack of evidence. His lawyer, Victor Kope, suggested yesterday that Mr Krekar had been detained because of US pressure. http://www.prolog.net/webnews/wed/du/Qiraq-kurds-us.Rzn2_DF1.html * ANSAR AL-ISLAM LEADER THREATENS TO DOCUMENT HIS LINKS TO US Agence France-Presse, 1st February DUBAI: The suspected leader of a Kurdish Islamic extremist group threatened in an interview published Saturday to produce evidence of his contacts with Washington prior to the September 11 suicide hijackings. "I have in my possession irrefutable evidence against the Americans and I am prepared to supply it ... if (the United States) tries to implicate me in an affair linked to terrorism," Mullah Krekar, who is believed to front Ansar al-Islam, told Al-Hayat newspaper. He dismissed as "fabrications" reports linking his group to Al-Qaeda, saying they were designed to justify a strike against Iraq. Krekar told the Arabic-language daily he had been approached by the United States before September 11. "I had a meeting with a CIA representative and someone from the American army in the town of Sulaymaniya (Iraqi Kurdistan) at the end of 2000. They asked us to collaborate with them ... but we refused to do so," he said. British and US news reports this week claimed that Krekar, who has enjoyed political refugee status in Norway since 1991, and Ansar al-Islam would be key elements of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's proof of links between Al-Qaeda and Baghdad to be presented to the UN Security Council on Wednesday. Kurdish officials said the Americans have been paying particular attention in recent month to a mountainous enclave controlled by Ansar al-Islam fighters in Kurdistan near Iran. The opposition Kurdisih Democratic Party considers the group, whose name means Support of Islam, to be a link between the Baghdad regime and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. Krekar, whose real name is believed to be Fateh Najmeddin Faraj, was arrested in the Netherlands last September and was questioned by US agents about his links while in custody. Ansar al-Islam is an extremist alliance of Muslim guerrillas including some who reportedly fought in Afghanistan. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk