Raid on Iraq: Attack brings jubilation in the north: The Kurds

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The Independent Online
ISTANBUL - Iraqi Kurds greeted news of the Western air attack on southern Iraq with celebratory firing in the air, but Kurdish officials fear their turn to suffer may come from the sparring match between the West and President Saddam Hussein.

Tracer bullets lit the sky followed by the bang of a rocket-propelled grenade over the city of Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan 200 miles north of Baghdad. A source reached by satellite telephone said life in the city was more or less normal, hospitals had gone off alert and nearby Iraqi troop movements in recent days did not seem highly threatening.

Kurdish officials were delighted that the West was once again taking the threat of President Saddam seriously and alleged that there had been a build-up of up to 50,000 Iraqi troops along the frontlines with Kurdistan. Sporadic Iraqi shelling intensified near the front on Wednesday, they added, but there were no reports of casualties.

'People are terrified,' said Serchil Kazzaz, envoy in Turkey of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. 'I hope Saddam doesn't attack. If he attacks on even a small scale, people will flee.' He said he had sought and received reassurances from Turkey that it would help block any Iraqi actions that could lead to a dramatic exodus like that after the end of the Gulf war in 1991, when 2 million Kurds fled before the Iraqi army into the mountains of Iran and Turkey.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ferhat Ataman, said Ankara would honour public promises made by the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, not to allow any recurrence of the exodus.

'All the indications are that Saddam is up to something, but we don't know what. It is logical that if he is hurt, he will retaliate against us. A small push would create havoc,' said Hoshyar Zebari, spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Iraqi troops had built up south of Kirkuk, tanks and Frog surface-to-surface missiles had been seen south of Arbil and troops and tanks had been concentrated near Dihok, Mr Zebari added.

Kurdish officials voiced disappointment that the Western air strikes left out northern Iraq. Activation of Iraqi missiles there was one of the provocations listed by the allies for their air raids, along with attacks on aid workers' and bombs placed on Turkish UN trucks bringing aid to the 3.5 million Kurds living in the north.

Some Kurds have hinted that this omission might be because of reservations in Turkey, which has a strict basing agreement for the Provide Comfort II 'Hammer Force' of allied warplanes, including British Jaguars, that have patrolled a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel since 1991.

An allied diplomat said the south was chosen not only because of possible caution in Turkey - which was not asked if it wanted to allow the Turkish-based planes to join in - but because the targets were more identifiable and the provocations more precise.

The normality Ein northern Iraq was such that a large UN aid convoy arrived in THER write errorArbil yesterday. Convoys under a three-month-old dollars 85m (pounds 55m) UN winter aid programme had been temporarily suspended after the murder of an Australian aid worker last week.

UN sources said the programme was now going well and that schools, hospitals and 150,000 families had now received shares of the 20 million litres of heating oil that had so far reached the north. Some 8,000 tons of food had also arrived and 75 per cent of children under one year old had been immunised against disease, the sources added.

DIYARBAKIR - Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel camps in the south-eastern yesterday, killing at least 35 guerrillas, according to the semi-official Anatolia news agency, AP reports.

Turkish planes attacked camps in Serik, Cudi and Gabar.