Isolated PUK turns to Iran for weapons

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The Independent Online
Sulaymaniya, Iraq (Reuter) - The Kurdish militia leader Jalal Talabani, claiming that he faced renewed attack by Iraq and a rival Kurd faction, said yesterday he was ready to seek Iranian help.

"We will call support from any country which is ready to help us - from Iran, Syria or Turkey," he said in his stronghold in northern Iraq.

Iraq and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have accused Iran of sending troops into northern Iraq to help Mr Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Mr Talabani said he had "unfortunately not"received arms and support from Iran".

"There is no possibility for peace now in this area," Mr Talabani said in Sulaymaniya, 70 miles from the Iranian border. He added that Iraqi armoured cars and tanks launched a new attack from the south aided by KDP troops. Chamchamal had been bombarded the last two days by tanks and artillery and Sulaymaniya would be next.

In Washington, officials said they saw no evidence of any Iraqi fighting or troop build-up to threaten Sulaymaniya.

Saddam Hussein's troops, backing the KDP, on Saturday chased Mr Talabani's guerrillas from the northern Iraqi regional capital of Arbil, prompting the US retaliation this week.

Mr Talabani said the PUK had informed the United States of Iraq's plans, and accused Washington of being too slow off the mark.

"They were afraid of the Republican Guards," Mr Talabani said. "The Republican Guards would make a bigger attack and too much blood will fall." Washington, while disliking Saddam, was afraid of an uprising in Iraq, and preferred to wait for a "slow and calm" change of administration.

Mr Talabani said his forces were better prepared in Sulaymaniya and in a stronger position because the town was protected by mountains. Arbil lies on flat, bare land.

"But without the help of the US and [allied] forces, it is not easy to stop them," he said.

The US has proposed that the KDP and the PUK resume peace talks aborted in London with the attack on Arbil.

The KDP leader, Massoud Barzani has welcomed a resumption of talks, but Mr Talabani has ruled it out.

"Barzani is an agent of Saddam," Mr Talabani said. "So why should we talk to him? We will talk to his master if anything ... And we are not ready to talk to Saddam, he is a butcher."