US grants Barzani his spoils of war

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Swallowing its anger over Masoud Barzani's brief co-operation with Baghdad, the US has accepted him as the unchallenged leader of Kurdistan. At a meeting with Mr Barzani in Ankara this week a special envoy of President Bill Clinton made only a limited effort to mediate between him and Jalal Talabani, his defeated rival, said Kurdish sources.

The US said before the meeting between Robert Pelletreau, the assistant secretary of state for the Near East and the Kurdish leader that it would seek to broker a compromise between the Kurdish parties.

Effectively turning this down Mr Barzani said he would only meet Mr Talabani in Kurdistan and not abroad, and only if he dissolved his militia and gave up his arms. By not pressing the issue the US has evidently decided it has to accept Mr Barzani's victory in the civil war.

Mr Barzani said yesterday the Kurds "did not intend to be used as a card for a certain time to put pressure on Baghdad and then be abandoned." He said Turkey had dropped its plan to build a 25km-wide cordon sanitaire in northern Iraq to protect it against its own Kurdish rebels. At a meeting with Tansu Ciller, the Turkish Foreign Minister, he said the scheme was not mentioned and "we understand they have given up the project".

The victorious Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) believes Mr Talabani will continue to fight but will only be able to make pin-prick attacks. Samabd al-Rahman, a senior KDP leader, says Mr Talabani has only 2,000 men left and that Iran might provide some long-range artillery support but did not want to provoke a serious crisis. He said Iran's backing of Mr Talabani last month "was not supported by the whole government, but was the policy of the pasdaron [revolutionary guards] who are looking for a role. Iranian policy is shattered to pieces."

Mr Barzani is trying to reassure the US that his tactical agreement with the Iraqi leader to use Iraqi tanks to capture Arbil last month has no long-term implications for Kurdistan. Mr Barzani yesterday dismissed reports of Iraqi agents in Kurdish cities saying: "Let them tell us where these agents are so we can arrest them."

But the KDP does not want to offend Baghdad by returning too enthusiastically to the US embrace. Kurds in Arbil are watching to see if Saddam Hussein shows he thinks he is not getting a fair price for his support by resuming an economic blockade on Kurdistan. A sign of anxiety is that many houses are for sale in Arbil and the city of Sulaymaniyah.

The Kurdish leaders say they told Mr Pelletreau that "protection cannot be only against Iraq". In other words, Turkey and Iran, both of whom have sent their soldiers into Kurdistan over the last year, should also be restrained. Although the KDP is pleased relations with the US have been restored, apparently at a higher level than before, its leaders say that in the long-term their future remains in doubt. Allied air protection depends on the West's hostility to Saddam Hussein. Under any other government in Baghdad this military guarantee might be withdrawn and the Kurds left open to reconquest.

Washington - John Deutch, the director of the CIA, told Congress on Thursday that the Kurdish faction which has seized control of northern Iraq with President Saddam's help has now asked the Western coalition for protection from Saddam, writes John Carlin.

Mr Deutch, addressing the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the President's grip on power had tightened following Iraq's latest clash with the US. "Saddam Hussein's position has strengthened in the region," the CIA chief said.

But Mr Deutch said Mr Barzani, the KDP leader, is seeking to distance himself from Saddam. The basis for this appears to have been the meeting Mr Barzani held in Ankara on Wednesday with Mr Pelletreau, a senior US diplomat.