US blamed for causing Iraq crisis

EXCLUSIVE: Kurds reveal how they were thrust into Saddam's arms
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The Independent Online
Senior US officials were warned by Kurdish leaders that they would turn to Iraq for aid if the United States did not support them in the face of Iranian-backed attack, according to letters shown to The Independent.

The publication of the correspondence is likely to ignite controversy in Washington over why the US was caught by surprise by the intervention of the Iraqi army, which attacked Arbil on 31 August.

President Bill Clinton claimed, when he launched missile strikes on southern Iraq this week, to be doing so in support of the Kurds. But letters exchanged between the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main Kurdish factions, and the senior US policy-makers dealing with Iraq, show scant interest in their problems.

In a memo sent to American officials in the week before the KDP joined with President Saddam Hussein to capture Arbil, the Kurdish capital, its leaders warned: "Our options are limited and since the US is not responding even politically ... the only option left is the Iraqis." The memo concludes that if the Iraqi army re-entered Kurdistan "the KDP will not stop them".

As the situation deteriorated in northern Iraq over the past month, US officials remained relaxed. Massoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, wrote to Robert Pelletreau Jr, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, on 21 August. He said he had just received a letter from him suggesting a peace meeting with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the very day the PUK had launched fierce attacks on his positions.

The failure of the US to realise that Saddam was about to do a deal with Mr Barzani has parallels with its failure in 1990 to realise that the Iraqi leader was contemplating the occupation of Kuwait. April Glaspie, the US ambassador in Baghdad, was severely criticised for not taking seriously enough threats made in a pre-invasion interview by Saddam.

Hoshyar Zebari, a senior KDP leader, went to Washington in August to try get the administration to increase its efforts to stop resumption of the Kurdish civil war. He got scant attention. A senior US official told a reporter: "We have bigger fish to fry and the Kurds are not very big fish."

The letters between the KDP and Mr Pelletreau and Robert Deutsch, the director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs, were disclosed to The Independent by a Kurdish source. They show increasing desperation on the part of the KDP over attacks by the PUK backed by Iran.

The situation began to deteriorate at the end of July. The Kurds wrote to Steve Grummon, Director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, saying Iranian Revolutionary Guards had entered Kurdistan in pursuit of Iranian Kurdish rebels. It said Iran "approached the KDP leadership on the evening of July 26-27 requesting access for their troops to come through Haji Omran [a vital border position] but Mr Barzani rejected and refused to offer such access".

The KDP feared that Iran would retaliate by backing the PUK. It believed Iran had left behind heavy weapons and ammunition. On 19 August Mr Zebari wrote to Mr Deutsch saying the PUK had started to attack on 17 August He said this was "clearly a violation of the ceasefire arrangement you helped establish". He added that the KDP "expects you to follow through" on promises to maintain the US-brokered ceasefire.

In the week before the KDP finally decided that it had no choice but to look to Saddam it sent a memo to US officials saying: "We request the US to ... send a clear message to Iran to end its meddling in northern Iraq." On 30 August a mediation meeting was held in the US embassy in London which Mr Zebari dismisses as a "band-aid". The following morning KDP guerrillas, backed by Iraqi tanks and artillery, rolled into Arbil.

Policing Saddam, pages 10 and 11