12 die as Iraqi Kurd groups pick new fight

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The Independent Online
DIVISIONS between Kurdish factions in northern Iraq have been deepened by a bloody clash between the two feuding Kurdish guerrilla armies in the north-eastern city of Sulaymaniyah.

At least 12 people were killed and more than 40 injured when fighting erupted at a funeral procession for a dead commander from Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Sulaymaniyah is dominated by Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which said the dead were all on their side after fighting was started by Mr Barzani's guerrillas accompanying thousands of marchers. The KDP said exactly the opposite.

'When the procession arrived at the city centre, PUK fighters stationed on rooftops and at crossroads opened fire without any warning on the peaceful mourners . . . the victims included many women and youngsters,' the KDP said. It said 51 people had been killed, but United Nations sources were reported as saying that no more than 14 people were killed and that the city of a million people was quiet yesterday.

'It's a bad development,' said Safeen Dizayee, a KDP spokesman in Turkey. 'We do hope it will not trigger more incidents . . . who knows what will happen at their burials.'

The incident undermined the unstable atmosphere in northern Iraq. A month of inter-Kurdish fighting during which at least 400 guerrillas died has only just been calmed by a series of ceasefires and separations of forces mediated by the umbrella organisation for groups opposing Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi National Congress.

Neighbouring Turkey has also played a role. The Sulaymaniyah fighting occurred while Mr Barzani and Mr Talabani were meeting in the south-eastern Turkish town of Silopi to discuss ways to limit their struggle for power.

They discussed issues such as a Turkish decision to allow trucks delivering food to Baghdad to bring back 1.5 tons of diesel each, although such loads are in theoretical breach of the UN embargo against Saddam Hussein.

Allowing border trade to resume after a year of strict customs surveillance will revive the economic fortunes of more than 2,000 Turkish Kurd truckers in the south-east and also renew the transit taxes that have been the Iraqi Kurdish administration's only real source of revenue.

It is hard to hope that the spoils will be equally shared. Diplomats in Turkey and mediators in northern Iraq said they expected the continued conflict to solidify the effective division of northern Iraq.

Four areas have emerged: a zone along the Iranian border run by a resurgent Islamist faction, a zone around eastern Sulaymaniyah dominated by Mr Talabani, a zone around western Dihok run by Mr Barzani, and an uneasy compromise in the area around Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where both parties maintain a presence.

Turkey's parliament decided yesterday to allow a Western air force helping protect Iraqi Kurds in their de facto state to remain in the country for at least another six months, AP reports.