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[casi] News, 19-26/03/03 (8)



News, 19-26/03/03 (8)

WILLING KURDS

*  Kurdish leader demands 'partnership' with U.S.
*  Kurdish Sheik [Mullah Krekar] in Iraqi 'Suicide Bombers' Threat
*  Turks vote over US access to airspace
*  Norwegian Police Arrest Kurdish Leader
*  In northern Iraq, Kurdish military force is mostly nonexistent
*  Special forces attempting to cut off Kirkuk, say Kurds
*  Northern Iraqi cities of Mosul, Kirkuk bombed
*  Missiles clobber wrong faction
*   500,000 Displaced in Northern Iraq
*  Iraq tries to confine Kurds
*  U.S. troops descend on northern Iraq
*  Kurds celebrate Nowruz and affirm solidarity with Iraq
*  Art and war become entwined
*  Iran Turns Away Militant Group
*  Islamic group hit in error relocates
*  Iraqi army proving stubborn in the north too    


WILLING KURDS

http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Artic
le_Type1&c=Article&cid=1048114873453&call_pageid=968332188854&col=9687058990
37

*  KURDISH LEADER DEMANDS 'PARTNERSHIP' WITH U.S.
Toronto Star, 19th March

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi Kurdish forces will permit temporary U.S. control
of key northern oilfields but demand a "partnership" with Washington in the
areas if President Saddam Hussein falls, a top Kurdish political leader said
today.

The future of the oil areas in Kirkuk and Mosul - now under Baghdad's
control - is one of the highest priorities for Kurds in the
western-protected enclave. Iraqi Kurds consider the areas part of their
traditional territory and within the borders of a possible Kurdish zone in a
post-Saddam leadership.

Long-term U.S. control of the areas could become a point of contention
between Washington and Iraqi Kurds, who have played a key role in the
anti-Saddam opposition.

"Our relationship with the Americans is based on a partnership," said
Djowhar Salem, secretary of the political bureau for the Kurdistan
Democratic Party, one of two main Kurdish factions. "We will not be excluded
from any sectors."

He predicted that planned U.S. command of Kirkuk and Mosul would be "fast
and very short term."

The White House special envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad,
said Tuesday in Turkey that U.S. troops would control access to Kirkuk and
Mosul.

Such a plan could ease Turkey's concerns that Kurdish militia could rush to
seize the oilfields. Turkey worries that a richer and more confident Kurdish
region in Iraq could re ignite a full-scale separatist battle by Turkish
Kurds.

Salem told reporters that Kurdish forces remain in a "defensive position"
and have no immediate plans to move into Kirkuk or Mosul. But he said the
militiamen would "take the necessary steps" if the areas turn into a major
battlefield or fall into ethnic unrest.

Saddam's government has relocated thousands of settlers into the regions in
an effort to dilute the Kurdish dominance.

Across the Kurdish area, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to
villages in fear of possible Iraqi missile attacks.

Many Kurds have left the major cities, both out of fear of chemical weapons
and for traditional New Year holidays, which begin the first day of spring.

In the eastern part of the Kurds' self-rule area, Kurds have prepared 10
areas to receive civilians fleeing the war and two sites to hold Iraqi army
soldiers deserting their positions, but have few provisions to supply them,
said Abdul-Razzaq Mirza, the minister overseeing humanitarian operations in
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-controlled sections of Iraq.

"We have asked the United Nations, the international community and NGOs for
food and supplies and tents," he said. "We have received nothing."

The International Office for Migration, an inter-governmental group, said it
would help set up aid stations in the northern regions outside Baghdad's
control. The agency planned to move its operations into other areas of Iraq
following the end of the expected conflict, a statement said.

The migration office said it was prepared for up to three million people
displaced from their homes around the country.

Neighbouring countries, meanwhile, were prepared to handle hundreds of
thousands of potential refugees.


http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=2409416

*  KURDISH SHEIK IN IRAQI 'SUICIDE BOMBERS' THREAT
Reuters, 19th March

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Iraqi Kurdish leader of the Ansar al-Islam
"terrorist" group, which Washington says has links to al Qaeda, warned U.S.
troops in a television interview Wednesday they would be attacked by
"suicide commandos" in Iraq.

Mullah Krekar, who is living in Norway and wanted on drug charges by Jordan,
told Dutch television NOS that Ansar al-Islam "suicide commandos" could
attack U.S forces in the group's stronghold in Kurdish-held northern Iraq if
war broke out.

Krekar said his group had young "suicide bombers" ready to attack U.S.
forces in their small enclave on the Iranian border. He said they were more
dangerous than Palestinian militant suicide bombers who have killed many
Israelis.

"We believe it's America's war against Islam," he said, pointing at a map
during an interview about an expected attack by United States and British
forces against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Weapons from pistols to rockets and mortars were readily available to
guerrillas at low prices in Kurdistan, he said in an interview recorded in
Oslo earlier this week.

"Let them come. Now they bring more than 300,000 (troops). We believe our
God -- Allah -- will be with us," the bearded Kurdish leader told NOS
television's "Netwerk" news program in slightly broken English.

Designated a "terrorist group" by Washington, Ansar al-Islam has been at the
center of controversial U.S. claims of connections and meetings between
Iraqi intelligence and members of al Qaeda. Krekar denied any links with the
Iraqi government or al Qaeda, which Washington blames for the Sept. 11, 2001
attacks on the United States.

In a speech to the U.N. Security Council in February, Secretary of State
Colin Powell said Ansar al-Islam had given safe haven to al Qaeda members,
including a senior agent of Baghdad, and may have tried to make chemical
weapons.


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-617388,00.html

*  TURKS VOTE OVER US ACCESS TO AIRSPACE
by Suna Erdem in Istanbul and Catherine Philp in Salahuddin, northern Iraq
The Times, 20th March

[.....]

Massoud Barzani, the ruler of the western half of Iraqi Kurdistan, denied
that a deal had been struck to put his forces under US control. He said that
such an offer would be refused in any case. "It has not been discussed," he
said. "We are ready to co-ordinate, but our Forces will not be under
anyone's command."

He added that his forces had not received any support from the Americans,
blaming Turkish pressure. He also said that Kurdish forces were prepared to
defy US insistence not to move into the key cities of Kirkuk and Mosul after
the initial bombardment and would not tolerate any US attempt to stop Kurds
returning to their ancestral homes there.


http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-eur/2003/mar/20/032009032.html

*  NORWEGIAN POLICE ARREST KURDISH LEADER
by Kristian Kahrs
Las Vegas Sun, 20th March

OSLO, Norway (AP) - Mullah Krekar, the leader of a Kurdish guerrilla group
suspected of links to al-Qaida, was arrested by Norwegian police Thursday on
kidnapping charges.

Police arrested Krekar at his home in Oslo. Spokesman Erling Grimstad said
authorities were looking into widening the charges against him but did not
elaborate.

Krekar was questioned by Norway's intelligence agency last month when the
rebel leader admitted to briefly holding nine men in Iraq in December 2001.
No further details were available.

Police had released Krekar pending further investigation but confiscated his
passport to keep him in the country.

Norwegian prosecutors can charge suspects for crimes that took place outside
the country's borders, even if the suspect is not a Norwegian citizen.

Krekar, who commanded the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam group in northern Iraq, has
denied the allegations. If convicted he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Calls to Krekar's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, were not immediately returned.

Krekar also faces a preliminary charge of having participated in a military
organization.

Krekar, who had been given refugee status in this Nordic country of 4.5
million, was arrested in September 2002 in the Netherlands. He was released
and returned to Norway.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday night on Dutch television, Krekar said
his group would use suicide attacks to defend itself if U.S. troops invading
Iraq went after the group.

The United Nations has labeled Ansar al-Islam a terrorist organization and
Washington believes some members of al-Qaida fleeing Afghanistan joined the
500-strong group, which has been active in the mountains of northern Iraq
near the border with Iran.

Rival Kurdish groups say Ansar also has ties to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein,
though some terrorism experts doubt the connection.

Krekar has denied any links to Saddam or al-Qaida, but acknowledged that he
considers Osama bin Laden a "good Muslim."

Krekar was scheduled to appear in court Friday.


http://www.iht.com/articles/90240.html

*  IN NORTHERN IRAQ, KURDISH MILITARY FORCE IS MOSTLY NONEXISTENT
by C.J. Chivers
International Herald Tribune, from New York Times, 21st March

CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq: As war began Thursday to remove Saddam Hussein from power,
the Kurdish military presence in northern Iraq was almost nonexistent, a
tiny showing of poorly equipped indigenous gunmen sitting opposite a large
Iraqi force.

Kurds were still waiting to see if the United States would open a
conventional northern front, which remained a possibility after the Turkish
Parliament voted Thursday to allow American planes to fly through Turkish
air space into Iraq.

In the interim, Kurdish fighters were a portrait of both confusion and
restraint.

The shooting here was light and sporadic, and in places there was no firing
at all. But some Kurds worried that their side of the lines, almost empty,
left them vulnerable to Iraqi action and unprepared to check the potential
for opportunism, looting and vengeance killings by civilians.

''The problem is that nobody knows what is going on,'' said one senior
Kurdish official and guerrilla veteran, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
''To fight you need a plan. Right now, no one knows the plan.''

The contrast with the southern front in Kuwait, where the United States and
Britain had columns of armor, infantry and artillery units, could not have
been stronger.

The two principal Kurdish political parties, which have administered a
region that broke from Saddam Hussein in 1991, have long claimed as many as
50,000 regular fighters between them, and almost as many in reservist
militias. The fighters are called pesh merga, meaning ''those who face
death.''

But for all of the pesh merga's considerable lore as guerrilla fighters,
they hardly showed up for the first day of the war, a turnout that suggested
Kurds have exaggerated their strength. Moreover, those who appeared were
operating with no apparent supervision and little ammunition. They mostly
milled about.

In this front-line city, for instance, three pesh merga could be found at a
hilltop fortress that faced the forward elements of an Iraqi corps.

The defense of the city was otherwise left to 250 police officers and
customs agents, who were armed with nothing more than rifles and a few light
machine guns and sat talking in clusters just beyond the range of Iraqi
rifles, waiting, wondering what to do, and assuming that American pressure
would make the Iraqi regime fall.

One senior Kurdish military official said he had not given his fighters
instructions, except to stay in garrisons, typically far from the front.

''We didn't move them forward because we don't know yet what is going to
happen,'' said General Mustafa Said Qadir, the military commander for the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the eastern half of the Kurdish
zone.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which controls
the western zone, described similar instructions earlier this week. ''Their
movement will depend on the developments that take place,'' he said. ''Right
now, there orders are to stay in place.''

Kurdish officials said the reasons for the pesh merga's absence from battle
Thursday were political and practical. Kurds are wary of disobeying the
United States, which has asked them not to go into offensive combat and risk
provoking Turkey. Of particular concern is the city of Kirkuk, just a
20-minute drive from here, on the other side of the Iraqi bunkers.

Turkey has warned Kurds to stay clear of the city and its vast reserves of
oil. ''We know it is a very sensitive issue,'' said Simko Diyazee, chief of
the Patriotic Union's general staff.

More deeply, as war began the Kurdish military was also showing a lack of
significant offensive capability. Those few fighters who did appear Thursday
were not organized into tactical formations, carried little ammunition and
mostly seemed to be watching the other side.

The absence also left a potential va cuum, and one that filled some Kurds
with worry.

Up and down a 55-kilometer (35-mile) stretch of the front line with the
Iraqi-controlled city of Mosul, Kurdish men asked where American forces
were. They said they were vulnerable to Iraqi attack and thought American
troops would prevent the situation from descending into chaos.

''If there were American soldiers here, people will feel peace and feel
secure,'' said Mazin Hamad, mayor of the village of Bardarash. ''We have a
very, very small number of pesh merga.''

The vacuum also presented opportunities to exploit. Back near the Kirkuk
line, Mohammed Haji Mahmud, general secretary of the Kurdistan Social
Democrat Party, an armed minority party, said he planned to send 1,000
fighters to the front, and perhaps into Kirkuk later.

He also said he had already negotiated the surrender of some Iraqi units,
who would defect in the coming days. His statements underscored the tenuous
hold on control and unity here.


http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=389572

*  SPECIAL FORCES ATTEMPTING TO CUT OFF KIRKUK, SAY KURDS
by Patrick Cockburn in Dollabakra, northern Iraq
The Independent, 22nd March

Kurdish military commanders say US special forces are seeking to cut off the
northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul from the south, but they could not
confirm that Americans had seized the Kirkuk oilfields.

"They are using small groups of special forces to cut off the cities," said
General Nasrudin Mustafa, the commander of Kurdish forces just north of
Kirkuk. But he could not substantiate a BBC report quoting intelligence
sources saying the special forces had captured Kirkuk oilfields, the
greatest prize in northern Iraq.

In the village of Dollabakra, the Kurdish outpost 25 miles north of the
oilfields, soldiers said they had heard no sounds of bombing or fighting
overnight. A villager from close to Kirkuk, who had crossed the lines, said
all was quiet around the city and he had heard no sound of planes or
helicopters.

General Mustafa said that he did not expect the Iraqi army in Kirkuk to put
up much resistance, but they were frightened to surrender.

He said: "They tell us that they will surrender if there is any kind of a
fight, but they will not give up now because they fear there would be
retaliation against their families."

The Iraqi army has taken other measures to prevent its soldiers defecting or
going home. At Berdarasha north of Mosul, Ibrahim Ahmed, a local political
leader, said: "We know that the Iraqi army confiscated radios and civilian
clothes from their men last week." Kurdish radio stations yesterday started
broadcasting in Arabic instructions on how Iraqi soldiers should surrender.

Unlike Kirkuk, Mosul, the largely Arab capital of northern Iraq, has been
bombed. General Mustafa said: "The US has forces close to Mosul but they are
there secretly." He added that the war in the north was turning out very
differently from how the Kurds had expected a month ago when they had
thought Turkey would allow an American land army to cross into northern Iraq
and capture Mosul.

Just east of Mosul in the village of Ganilan, shepherds had heard the
bombardment of Mosul in the distance. "We heard the sound of bombing from
the Mosul direction," said Amin Hussein, who, with the other villagers, had
been expelled from his lands as part of the Iraqi government's policy of
ethnic cleansing as long ago as 1974. "We will get the lands we lost back
with the help of God and America," said Mr Hussein. He supposed that the
Arabs who had taken his home would go back to where they came from.

Other villagers recalled how much their little community had suffered at the
hands of Saddam Hussein, naming those who had been killed, such as Abdul
Hadi Mustafa, who had been dragged behind a car until he died.

The northern front of the offensive against President Saddam has been slow
to develop because of the unexpected refusal of Turkey to support the
American and British invasion. Because of that, intelligence reports that
the Kirkuk oilfields had been captured could be an attempt to keep the Iraqi
high command focused on the north of the country.

The Iraqi army is expected to fight for Baghdad and Tikrit, but had probably
written off Basra and the far south from an early stage. Basra is too close
to Kuwait and too far from Baghdad to defend. It is also an overwhelmingly
Shia Muslim city with little sympathy for President Saddam.

The Iraqi leader's strategy, according to one veteran Iraqi observer, is "to
draw the war out, to make it last for 20 days or more".

President Saddam can do that best by forcing the Allies to fight in the
cities where they cannot use their airpower and the Iraqi army knows the
terrain better than they do.


http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/22/sprj.irq.northern.bombing/index.ht
ml

*  NORTHERN IRAQI CITIES OF MOSUL, KIRKUK BOMBED
by Ben Wedeman and Brent Sadler
CNN, 22nd March

MOSUL, Iraq: The northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, major
oil-producing centers, were bombed for the third night in a row Saturday
night.

Shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday (9 p.m. Saturday EST), all was quiet in Mosul,
where bombing was heard regularly throughout the night.

Kurdish intelligence, which has sources in Mosul, told CNN that Saturday's
targets included a palace belonging to Saddam Hussein, a main military
barracks and the headquarters of Iraqi military intelligence in that city.

The Kirkuk airfield was also targeted. A large air base with many
underground bunkers and ammunition storage facilities, the airport could be
important to coalition forces in their efforts to secure the northern parts
of Iraq.

So far, there is no significant presence of U.S. ground troops in the north.

A top Pentagon official acknowledged Saturday that delays in establishing a
northern front in Iraq, caused by prolonged negotiations with Turkey about
moving U.S. troops across its territory, means that the security of the oil
fields around Kirkuk cannot be assured.

Now that officials have abandoned efforts to secure U.S. basing rights in
Turkey, more than 30 cargo ships carrying heavy combat equipment for the 4th
Infantry Division, which waited for weeks off Turkey's coast, are beginning
to move through the Suez Canal, headed for Kuwait.

However, a top Pentagon official said, "We will still have a northern option
at some point," but declined to provide details on when that might happen.

During the next seven days, thousands of U.S. airborne troops are expected
to fly into northern Iraq from eastern Jordan, bypassing Turkish airspace,
Kurdish sources told CNN.


http://www.post-gazette.com/World/20030323northiraqworld6p6.asp

*  MISSILES CLOBBER WRONG FACTION
by Borzou Daragahi
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23rd March

GERDIGO, Iraq -- Early yesterday morning, a barrage of American cruise
missiles slammed into strongholds in northern Iraq believed to be held by
Ansar al Islam, a militant Islamic group with alleged ties to al-Qaida.

But it appears that many of the casualties may have been members of a
moderate Kurdish group unallied with the Ansar militants.

Minutes after the missile attack and less than 20 kilometers away, a massive
car bomb shattered the afternoon calm, killing at least five, including
Australian television journalist Paul Moran, 39.

For nearly two years, Ansar extremists have wreaked havoc on the forces of
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which rules the eastern half of the
autonomous Kurdish section of northern Iraq. They have killed scores with
bombings, assassinations and ambushes.

"We are very happy to get rid of these terrorists," Mustafa Said Qader, a
top Kurdish military commander, told journalists yesterday after the U.S.
attack on Ansar. "We have tried a lot to get them to abandon their terrorist
acts. They caused instability in our country and their destruction is a
cause for happiness."

The celebration was short-lived.

The U.S. airstrikes, far from stabilizing the north of Iraq where American
forces may soon enter to launch a northern front in their quest to topple
Saddam Hussein, may have stirred up tensions and new dangers in the jittery
Kurdish enclave.

As it turned out, many of those killed in the airstrikes weren't members of
Ansar, but Islamists belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Group. The Islamic
Group maintains friendly relations with the Kurdish government as well as
with Ansar, which controls adjacent territory.

Most of Ansar's 700 fighters had been warned of the attack and fled into the
mountains, said Mohammad Haji Mahmoud, leader of the Kurdistan Social
Democratic Party, which has a military base in the area and controls several
villages. "Unfortunately, the Islamic Group fighters didn't take such
precautions."

Mahmoud said the Islamic Group's 1,000 fighters had been uninvolved in the
region's ongoing dirty war between Islamists and secularists, and in the
coming battle between Kurdish forces allied with America and factions
aligned with Saddam. "Now, they're involved," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his February address to the U.N.
Security Council, said the Islamists living in the mountains of northern
Iraq were linked to both al-Qaida and Saddam's regime. But some analysts
don't agree.

The International Crisis Group, a Belgian think tank, says Ansar is a local
group with dubious ties to international terrorism. In a February report, it
said, "Having lost a number of its fighters in clashes with Ansar al-Islam,
it is not surprising that the [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] has sought to
emphasize the group's putative terrorist connections ... [But] there is no
hard evidence to suggest that Ansar al-Islam is more than a minor irritant
in local Kurdish politics."

Mahmoud said about 65 members of the Islamic Group were killed in
yesterday's bombing. Qader estimated the number at 100, but did not specify
how his forces reached that figure. He said one civilian was injured.

"Frankly we pleaded to them to keep away from Ansar's areas," said Qader.
"They didn't think the Americans would strike them."

The attack disrupted the entire area, spurring a minor exodus of residents.
Groups of villagers walked hurriedly along country roads away from the towns
of Biyare, Ansar's stronghold, and Khurmal, under the control of the Islamic
Group. Some crowded onto slow moving tractors, clutching handfuls of
possessions.

Qader said hundreds of residents fled areas near Khurmal and Biyare fearing
more strikes would follow. "We, as the government of Kurdistan, will help
them," he said. "But they all have other relatives in other towns."

He predicted the Ansar operation would last no more than a week. The promise
of a short war in this corner of northeast Iraq provided little comfort for
residents here, who said the attacks had uprooted their lives.

Mohammed Rahman, 17, walked away from Khurmal with his cousins, carrying a
bag of clothing. "I am afraid of another barrage of missiles coming at us,"
he said.

The cruise missile attack was the latest act in a long-running drama of
misery for the Iraqi Kurds in this area.

The valley here was a major battleground in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
Saddam's forces attacked Halabja and nearby villages with chemical weapons
in 1988. It was the scene of a massive refugee exodus following an uprising
against Saddam that was crushed in 1991. And it has been the theater for a
bloody ongoing war between Islamists and secularists for the last decade.

"We're living an abnormal life, said Rangi Said, 18, who carried a basket
with food. "We're living in endless fear and war."

Borzou Daragahi is a writer based in Tehran, who has spent the past few
months in northeastern Iraq.


http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=24128

*   500,000 DISPLACED IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Arab News (Saudi Arabia), 23rd March

GENEVA, 23 March 2003 (Reuters): Up to half a million Iraqis fled cities in
the northern Kurdish areas ahead of the US-led invasion, moving their
families to outlying villages, aid agencies said yesterday.

The city of Dohuk near Turkey is "almost depopulated", and people have also
poured out of the key oil hub of Kirkuk, the UN Office of the Humanitarian
Coordinator for Iraq said in a statement.

After pounding Baghdad with a night blitz, US and British forces made
day-time air strikes yesterday and advanced on Iraq's second city of Basra
in the south.

The UN estimated there were 350,000 to 450,000 internally displaced persons
(IDPs) in the north, and movements continued.

About 90 percent are staying with relatives and do not require urgent
assistance, it said. "Local authorities and UN national staff are attempting
to meet the immediate needs and there are serious concerns for the health
situation of those who are not appropriately sheltered."

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates roughly 500,000
people have left homes in the three northern protectorates over the past 10
days, a spokesman said. "They took cars with their families and belongings,
leaving for villages where they have relatives or friends. A lot of them
decided early on to leave," he said.

"The largest population movements are in the Dohuk area where an estimated
85 percent of the city (population 120,000) has moved to villages east of
the city," the UN said. "Reportedly, asylum seekers do not want to cross the
Turkish border," it added.

Meanwhile, Turkey said yesterday a massive exodus of refugees from across
its border with Iraq had so far failed to materialize despite the intensity
of the US-led attacks on Baghdad. "Despite an increase in the movement of
refugees in northern Iraq, no exodus toward our borders has been reported,"
Turkish government officials said.

The statement, released by a special crisis cell set up by Prime Minister
Recep Yayyip Erdogan, added that Ankara had "taken the necessary steps to
meet all contingencies".

Turkey has said a surge of refugees fleeing the fighting in Iraq would
justify military intervention by its forces across the border to help deal
with them.


http://www.detnews.com/2003/nation/0303/24/a06-116918.htm

*  IRAQ TRIES TO CONFINE KURDS
by Paul Watson
Detroit News, from Los Angeles Times, 24th March

DIANA, Iraq -- The northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk is like a grenade primed to
explode in Saddam Hussein's clenched fist.

His army has blocked most escape routes in an effort to stop civilians from
fleeing. His security forces are going door to door rounding up young
Kurdish men in a campaign to prevent an uprising, say residents who have
escaped.

Interviewed in villages and shelters many miles apart in the Kurdish-ruled
autonomous region of northern Iraq, Kurds who escaped Kirkuk by bribing
soldiers or hiring smugglers give consistent accounts of what has been
happening in the oil-rich city of 400,000.

Iraqi officials, they say, are visiting every home in Kurdish districts of
Kirkuk to check the names of anyone inside against those on
government-issued ration cards for U.N. food aid. Anyone whose name is not
listed on the cards is loaded into a police van and hauled off for
interrogation -- or worse, the refugees said.

Nazanin Mohammed Ali now lives here in the village of Diana in a school
classroom with 13 other people, most of them her children. She said she paid
smugglers in Kirkuk to sneak herself and her 10 children past Iraqi army
lines Wednesday, the day Iraq closed off the city.

They charged her $4, only slightly less than an Iraqi government worker's
monthly salary, for each child. She had to leave behind her husband and two
sons, ages 17 and 23. She said soldiers won't let Kurdish males of fighting
age leave the city, which has been targeted by coalition air strikes for
several days.

"We had to leave the men at the checkpoint," Ali said, sitting on the edge
of a school desk bench that she shared with four of her children. "Police
and soldiers are searching the lanes, and coming to our houses.

"They search every house, and then go to the roofs, where they stay. It's
just like a base for them. They force people to bring them food and water."

The only furniture in the Alis' new home is six desks, where the family
stacks small, knotted cloth bundles holding the only belongings they were
able to carry to this mountain refuge, about 90 miles west of Irbil.

They line their shoes up on the windowsill and walk barefoot on icy cold
floors so they won't track thick mud in from the streets and soil the floor
where they sleep.

Several refugees, and the officials who register them here, say Iraqi
authorities gave little warning before declaring the roads from Kirkuk
closed at noon Wednesday. By then, the security forces' search operations
were well under way, Ali said.

"First they came and said, 'We are only looking for guns,' " she said. "Then
they came back the next day and took prisoners. They even arrested one woman
in our neighborhood. We don't know what happened to her."

Ali's husband told her he saw a leaflet circulating in Kirkuk calling for
people to join Kurdish guerrillas and rise up against Saddam's forces. There
are many guerrillas, called peshmerga, in Kirkuk, Ali claimed proudly.

"Every family has one peshmerga or two," she said. "But they are in secret
places. Even we don't know where they are."

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- which
control the autonomous Kurd enclave in northern Iraq -- both have armed,
underground resistance movements in Kirkuk. The PUK's totals about 5,000
members.

Last week, according to officials in the city of Sulaymaniah, 61 Kurdish
underground members were lined up and executed at the Khalid Garrison, a
sprawling base and airfield controlled by Saddam's Republican Guards. Other
members were arrested and accused of being spies for the United States when
they were found attempting to make calls on satellite phones.

Until the 1980s, the overwhelming majority of Kirkuk's people were Kurds.
But under the ruling regime's "Arabization" policy, thousands of Arab
families were resettled in Kirkuk in a drive to make Arabs dominant.

Kurdish guerrillas seized control of Kirkuk during the uprising that
followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But when Saddam's forces launched a
counteroffensive and Western forces didn't intervene, the Iraqi army crushed
the rebellion and exacted revenge.

Kurds now stuck in Kirkuk fear the same kind of blood bath if Iraqi troops
decide to stand and fight any U.S. military assault on the city, Ali said.

She and her family are among about 3,000 displaced people from areas under
Iraqi control, as well as the autonomous Kurdish region, who have taken
refuge in Diana, said Ashki Abdulla, who heads the local emergency
committee. About 10 of the families are Arabs, he said; the rest are Kurds.

The city has shut down its schools to house the displaced people until
workers can finish erecting U.N. tents in a meadow turned to ankle-deep mud.

About 230 tents are ready for families to move in, camp supervisor Muhammad
Sa'id Mustafal said.


http://www.detnews.com/2003/nation/0303/24/a04-116784.htm

*  U.S. TROOPS DESCEND ON NORTHERN IRAQ
by Borzou Daragahi
Detroit News, from Associated Press, 24th March

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq -- The U.S. military's northern front against Iraq
appears to be building, with American planes landing in the Kurdish north
and more airstrikes pounding positions of a militant Islamic group with
alleged al-Qaida and Baghdad ties.

Four U.S. planes carrying "scores" of American military personnel landed at
the Bakrajo airstrip, 10 miles west of Sulaymaniyah, late Saturday night, a
high-level Kurdish official said. They joined Special Operations troops
already in the region.

Additional U.S. aerial attacks began Friday night and, a day later, targeted
suspected positions of the militant Ansar al-Islam group, military officials
said.

There were no details about casualties. The Friday night assault left scores
dead, mostly members of another Islamist group accused of supporting Ansar,
military officials said.

The Kurdish official said more U.S. planes and personnel were scheduled to
arrive in coming days and already may have landed at other airstrips in the
Kurdish autonomous area, which has been under American and British aerial
protection since the 1991 Gulf War.

The American planes originally were scheduled to land two months ago, but
were delayed as Americans attempted to sort out a military strategy, the
official said.

[.....]


http://www.dailystar.com.lb/24_03_03/art4.asp

*  KURDS CELEBRATE NOWRUZ AND AFFIRM SOLIDARITY WITH IRAQ
by Mohammed Zaatari
Lebanon Daily Star, 24th March

Thousands of Lebanon's Kurdish community on Sunday celebrated Nowruz, which
marks the start of Spring.

This year Nowruz has turned into an expression of solidarity with the Iraqi
people and with the Kurds in northern Iraq, against the US and British-led
offensive against Iraq.

The Kurds and the Iraqis have been placed "in the same trench opposing this
war, after they were on opposite sides in the past," said a participant who
gave his name as Abdullah.

Nearly 3,000 Kurdish men, women and children came from all over the country
to the Wadi Akhdar tourist resort in Multaqa Nahrein, near Damour.

They came in buses, cars and trucks to celebrate Nowruz in an event staged
by the Kurdish Lebanese Cultural-Humanitarian League. The festival includes
a revival of Kurdish folk dances.

The Kurds assembled under a large tent decorated with Kurdish flags, as well
as pictures of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocelan, who is serving a life
sentence in jail in Turkey.

The celebration began with participants observing a minute's silence in
memory of Kurdish martyrs and a message sent by Ocelan was read out.

"Nowruz is the Spring of the people of the Middle East. I salute the Spring
of people throughout the world in Nowruz 2003. As Spring in Europe came in
the year 1950," a reference to the post World War II period. "From 2003
onward it will be the Spring of all the  the Middle East," Ocelan's message
said.


http://www.iht.com/articles/90849.html

*  ART AND WAR BECOME ENTWINED
by Nancy Ramsey
International Herald Tribune, from The New York Times, 25th March

NEW YORK: A conversation these days with Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurdish film
director living in Tehran whose latest feature, "Marooned in Iraq," is set
on the Iran-Iraq border, doesn't stay on the topic of filmmaking for very
long.

Although his plans for the coming weeks include a trip to the United States
to promote "Marooned," and to begin work on a new feature, Ghobadi left
Tehran last Thursday for Sanandaj, in Iranian Kurdistan. There he began to
assemble a team of young filmmakers, a team that includes three of his
siblings, to document life along the Iran-Iraq border, toward which
thousands of Iraqi Kurds have been fleeing since last week.

"I can tell you as a Kurd that if I put myself in the shoes of Iraqi Kurds,
I'd be happy this war is being waged to get rid of Saddam," said Ghobadi,
speaking by phone from Sanandaj. "The Kurds have been rushing toward the
borders because they were afraid that Saddam was going to annihilate parts
of northern Iraq. He has threatened them so many times." The Kurds also fear
a Turkish invasion from the north, he said, and "being betrayed by America,
that America may reach its own goals and then not stay to help the Kurds."

"They also may lose the relative freedom they've been enjoying over the past
several years," he added, referring to the region in northern Iraq that has
been protected from Saddam Hussein's air forces by an American- and
British-imposed no-fly zone. "For the Kurds, war is not a surprise," he
said. "Misery is a sort of eternal in Kurdish life, and the Kurds have
always been a wandering, migrating people."

At 33, Ghobadi is already an accomplished director. His first feature, "A
Time for Drunken Horses," the story of a Kurdish family of motherless
children struggling to survive in a remote, mountainous region - the title
comes from the alcohol given to the pack animals to keep them warm and
moving in the bitter cold - won a Camera d'Or for best first film at the
Cannes International Film Festival in 2000.

"Marooned in Iraq" is set in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the Gulf
War, when Saddam unleashed his forces on the Iraqi Kurds, many of whom fled
to Iran and Turkey.

Surprisingly, the film starts with the tone and quick rhythms of a dark
comedy. "The Kurds often compensate their suffering with upbeat music and a
sharp sense of humor," Ghobadi said in Tehran two weeks ago, at a slightly
more leisurely pace.

The film opens as Mirza, a popular Kurdish singer living in Iran, receives
word that his former wife, Hanareh, also a singer, is in Iraq in a refugee
camp and needs his help. So Mirza and his two grown sons head for the
border. They encounter a local thug who forces them to perform at a wedding.
Mirza's son Audeh, who has seven wives and 13 daughters but no sons,
proposes marriage to various women he meets along the way. Yet as they reach
the border, the tone of the film turns somber, and the scenes at mass graves
and in refugee camps are poignant and heartbreaking.

"Ghobadi's films are infused with a kind of humanistic passion," said
Jamsheed Akrami, a professor of film at William Paterson University in New
Jersey, who has directed three documentaries on Iranian film. Also Kurdish,
he is a friend of Ghobadi, whose films, he said, depict a realistic
Kurdistan. "He's trying to document the history of suffering and pain,"
Akrami said. "Hanareh in Kurdish means pomegranate, which can be seen as a
metaphor for the Kurds' search for a homeland to hold them together, just
like a pomegranate's hull holds the seeds together. But the Kurds are
scattered, and the search is futile."

Ghobadi was born in Baneh, in Iranian Kurdistan, near the Iraqi border. "I
was in the third grade when the Iranian revolution broke out and internal
clashes started," he said. "Our house was hit, and we had to leave and go to
a nearby village, and then to another. But we were lucky. My father, a
policeman, found a way to smuggle us into Sanandaj."

"Marooned in Iraq" was filmed last year, during a snowy February and March.
The crew spent nights in Marivan, in Iran near Baneh, and at 4 a.m. each day
would head out with a caravan of mules and horses for villages around
Panjwin, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a town devastated during the Iran-Iraq war of
the 1980s.

"I could create stories in Kurdistan in postcard scenes that look absolutely
beautiful," Ghobadi said. "But when your aim is to show suffering, harsh
conditions help you tell your story better. I like the sense of contrast
that snow provides; within a background of pure white, you can show the dark
spots better, the dark spots of events or of the human psyche."

Ghobadi spoke passionately and at length about the buildup toward war and
about how, when the Iraqi Kurds set a tablecloth for food, it wasn't a big
one, in case the family had to leave quickly; about how people were not
planting wheat for later harvests; about his belief that American foreign
policy in the region had been shortsighted. "The American government has
acted the way Hollywood has," he said. "There is no one Saddam; they looked
at him one way when he was fighting Iran, another way during the Persian
Gulf conflict, and now he has another face. It's like 'Godfather' I, II and
III."

As the uncertainty of war swirls about him, Ghobadi still plans to continue
work on his next feature, which he hopes to shoot in Iraqi Kurdistan,
although he suspects that its script will change many times. It is the story
of a village that gets a satellite dish, and suddenly the residents can see
programming from all over the world. One of the characters is a teenage boy
who can see more than that. When he runs very fast, he is clairvoyant. "The
situation for the Kurds is always so unpredictable," Ghobadi said. "Here is
someone who can predict the future. I can tell you that boy will be an
important character in my new film."


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22144-2003Mar25.html

*  IRAN TURNS AWAY MILITANT GROUP
by Karl Vick
Washington Post, 25th March

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq, March 24 -- A local Kurdish official said today that
Iranian authorities turned back wounded Islamic militants seeking medical
care after a U.S. attack against their enclave in northern Iraq.

The decision to send back the injured Ansar al-Islam militants marked a
reversal of Iranian policy, which had been to facilitate the shipment of
military supplies to the extremist Kurdish organization. The shift coincided
with the arrival of U.S. Special Operations forces in northern Iraq to
engage the Ansar fighters and eliminate the group, which Washington portrays
as allied with the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. offensive here began Saturday, when about 50 Tomahawk cruise
missiles from U.S. warships in the Red Sea slammed into Ansar positions, and
it has continued with several subsequent missile attacks. After the first
volley, the Ansar militants gathered their wounded and limped across the
border into Iran, seeking medical attention, according to Kurdish officials
here.

"They went inside one kilometer, but then Iranians made them go back," said
Muhammad Haji Mahmud, leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party,
which controls territory just north of the area.

The turnabout impressed Kurdish officials, who have publicly complained of
Iran's evident support for Ansar. They said the sudden shift in sympathy
reflects Iranian anxiety about the possibility of becoming a U.S. target.
President Bush has said Iran is part of an "axis of evil," along with North
Korea and Iraq.

"They're scared," a Kurdish official said of the Iranians. "They did not
believe it until the cruise missiles arrived."

Kurdish officials said a combined U.S. and Kurdish ground force plans to
attack the Ansar enclave soon. That assault, they said, will be supported
from the air by helicopter gunships that began arriving early Sunday at a
closely guarded airstrip at Bakrajo, just outside Sulaymaniyah, a regional
capital in the northeastern part of the country, near the Iranian border.

Witnesses said the helicopters arrived on military cargo flights that also
ferried in at least 200 U.S. soldiers, and logistics and targeting
specialists. Scores of the U.S. forces were sighted in a convoy headed
toward the Kurds' staging area later on Sunday.

Area residents said the helicopters, after being lifted off the cargo planes
and quickly re assembled on the reconditioned airstrip, were flown to a
closely guarded compound of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the
party that controls this section of northern Iraq, where Kurds have enjoyed
freedom from the Baghdad government since 1991 under the protection of U.S.
and British fighter patrols.

Some 8,000 PUK fighters gathered in the Halabja Valley, about 35 miles south
of here, are expected to participate in the assault on Ansar, whose enclave
lies in the valley along the Iranian border. But attack helicopters could
more easily reach the caves in which the extremists have taken refuge since
the airstrikes began.


http://www.post-gazette.com/World/20030326kurds0326p6.asp

*  ISLAMIC GROUP HIT IN ERROR RELOCATES
by Borzou Daragahi
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, from The Associated Press, 26th March

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq -- An Islamic group in Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq said
yesterday it is relocating to avoid being hit again by U.S. airstrikes aimed
at a different Islamic organization, one allegedly linked to al-Qaida and
Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Kurdistan Islamic Group says it suffered 43 deaths, 30 injuries and lost
six buildings in last weekend's strikes aimed at Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic
group with alleged al-Qaida and Baghdad ties.

"We're moving so we don't give the Americans an excuse to attack us again,"
Anwar Mohammad, a high-level official of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, said
yesterday.

"Someone gave the wrong information to the Americans, giving them the wrong
impression that we are terrorists. We are not terrorists. We have agreements
with the government. And we have no problems with Americans."

Mohammad said a convoy of 10,000 Kurdistan Islamic Group members would come
down from the mountains and relocate temporarily to another base near the
Iranian border in the next three days.

Under the terms of an agreement signed by Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and
witnessed by Iranian officials, the Kurdistan Islamic Group may return to
its original base in three months.

The Bush administration has accused Ansar al-Islam of maintaining ties to
Saddam Hussein's regime. Early Saturday, U.S. forces launched 40 to 50
missiles at Ansar positions near the Iranian border in the northeastern
corner of Iraq.

Missiles also struck the Islamic Group, which controls territory next to
Ansar. Airstrikes continued into yesterday, when at least eight loud
explosions could be heard near Ansar positions.

The Kurdish autonomous region, established after the 1991 Gulf War, is
protected by U.S. British air patrols. It is governed by The Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan in the east, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in the west.

A high-level Kurdish official called the attacks on the Islamic Group a
mistake, and likened them to friendly fire.

"It happens sometimes that an American helicopter is hit by an American
missile," said Kosrat Rasool Ali, considered the No. 3 official in the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. "We are not at war with the Islamic Group. We
treat them as friends."

Even so, Barham Salih, prime minister of the southeastern half of the
Kurdish enclave, said the Islamic Group had been repeatedly warned to
separate itself "politically, militarily and geographically" from Ansar,
which he said maintained friendly ties to the Islamic Group.

"You cannot claim neutrality when terrorists use your cover to terrorize
people," he said. "You cannot have it both ways."

The area near Ansar's stronghold remains far from stable. Three alleged
Ansar militants and Kurdish government militiaman died in a ferocious
30-minute firefight Monday night in the village of Anab, near Halabja,
Kurdish officials said.

Six Kurdish militiamen, called Peshmergas, were also injured. Islamic Group
officials and a leader of another political group say no more than 12 Ansar
militants were killed in U.S. airstrikes.


http://www.jordantimes.com/Wed/news/news6.htm

*  IRAQI ARMY PROVING STUBBORN IN THE NORTH TOO
Jordan Times, 26th March
    
CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq (AFP)  Six weeks ago, a top Kurdish rebel commander
boasted that the roar of just one US warplane would be enough to make the
Iraqi army on the hill come stumbling down with their hands in the air.

But that hasn't happened, despite surprise air strikes on the frontline near
Chamchamal and a massive 24-hour blitz of the northern oil capital of
Kirkuk, just over the ridge and 40 kilometres away from this Kurdish-held
town.

"Nobody has surrendered yet," conceded Rostam Hamid Rahim, a top military
official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the rival rebel
groups that has been running northern Iraq since 1991.

Like the US commanders running the war from Qatar, Rostam is now qualifying
his optimism, given that Iraqi troops dug in on the exposed ridge
overlooking this almost deserted town are still appearing defiant.

"The problem is that if anyone tries to defect, they get shot. But we are
hoping that when the Americans capture a city like Basra, that will change
everything," he said.

Prior to the war, the Kurds were predicting the twin northern cities of
Kirkuk and Mosul  with their large ethnic Kurdish populations  would fall
within days.

Furthermore, reports that elite Republican Guard units were pulling back to
defend Baghdad raised hopes that the north was in effect being written off
by President Saddam Hussein. The PUK were also privately saying that secret
contacts with Iraqi officers would yield a mass surrender in the early
stages of war.

But one military source here admitted that, when the PUK tried to negotiate
a surrender on the first day of the war, they just got shot at as they drove
into the lush green no-man's land between Chamchamal and the Iraqi army-held
ridge 1,000 metres away.

And Kurdish residents still in government areas have little incentive to
mount an uprising, given that no immediate help is at hand and that the
central government appears to be very much in control.

With President Saddam Hussein's northern front showing no signs of cracking
under air strikes yet, attention is now shifting to how the US will approach
the option of a land assault  or whether the planners will just leave the
front as it is.

The problem here is that there are insufficient US troops in the Kurdish
zone to mount a conventional ground attack that could lay siege to Iraqi
positions inside cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul, where Iraqi troops are
believed to have dug into residential areas.

Turkey's refusal to allow the American army transit rights through its
territory also leaves any troops that can be flown in here without
sufficient heavy armour and only limited supplies.

US planes have been flying in teams of special forces to the PUK's
administrative capital of Sulaymaniya for the past three nights, and Kurdish
military sources say their numbers are now well over 1,000.

But up to now their role appears to have been limited to spotting for air
strikes and coordinating the battle against a local Islamist group, Ansar Al
Islam (Supporters of Islam), which Washington alleges is linked to Al Qaeda.

The US troops' role may, therefore, be limited to behind-the-lines
operations while waiting for the Iraqi regime to collapse from within due to
the military advance from the south.

Another option is for US and British warplanes to mount a major air assualt
and for the Kurds, accompanied by US special forces, to move in on the
ground.

However such an option is fraught with political problems given that Iraqi
Kurdish control over the oil-rich belt from Kirkuk to Mosul would send alarm
bells ringing in Turkey.

The PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)  the other main group
running northern Iraq  are giving away few details on how they see the
northern front evolving.

But for the time being, Rostam and other Kurdish commanders are perfectly
content watching air strikes through their binoculars and the war on the
television  a welcome change after their years of costly scrapes with
Baghdad.

"For 35 years, I've been fighting Saddam Hussein," he said. "These are early
days yet, and I am a patient man."




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