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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." _______________________________________________ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk