Salahuddin - The leader of the Kurdish group which has allied itself with President Saddam Hussein angrily criticised the United States' missile attack on southern Iraq yesterday and said that he had asked for Baghdad's support only because the US had abandoned the Kurds.
Masoud Barzani, whose Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces have been fighting alongside Saddam's forces in northern Iraq, said his organisation had no choice but to side with Baghdad. The KDP called on Saddam for help, he said, in response to a threat of an alliance between its rivals in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iran.
Mr Barzani said he had appealed not only to the US but to Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and regional states when the party felt that the PUK was getting Iranian rocket and artillery support in a series of attacks and incursions since late July.
The US launched missile attacks on southern Iraq yesterday to punish Baghdad for Saddam's armoured attacks in Kurdistan. But Mr Barzani said that the missile attack was "just part of President Bill Clinton's election campaign".
Looking tense and tired after a weekend in which his forces collaborated with Baghdad to capture the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil, Mr Barzani said his faction had become impatient with empty US promises to assist Kurdish autonomy. "We are angry with America. For two years the Americans have been playing with us," he told a news conference at his hilltop headquarters at Salahuddin, just outside Arbil.
The US launched missile attacks on military targets in southern Iraq in response to Baghdad's moves to evict the PUK from Arbil. Jalal Talabani, the PUK leader, told Reutersyesterday that Iraqi troops and tanks were still deployed in the region. Mr Talabani's party had held Arbil since 1994, when an uneasy Kurdish alliance collapsed in fighting.
KDP officials say that the only Western diplomat who visits them with any regularity is the much-liked Frank Baker from the British Embassy in Ankara in Turkey. High-powered US diplomats dropped by infrequently, made threats and left soon afterwards, making little lasting impact, they said.
Allied officers in a small monitoring base close to the Turkish border now rarely ventured more than a few kilometres, they said, and because of Turkish pressure had virtually no political contact with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership.
"We felt our existence was threatened. There was no response to our appeal. We also wrote to the regional leaders and to the President of the Iraqi republic. Then there certainly was a response to our appeal."
The response from Baghdad was Iraqi armour and artillery support for the joint attack on Arbil on Saturday. The new atmosphere is symbolised by what travellers from Arbil said were two flags flying side-by-side over the city's landmark castle: that of the KDP and that of Iraq.
The situation in Arbil was said to be tense yesterday, and the KDP still forbade foreign journalists to visit it because it said it was still hunting down PUK fighters. A few people could be found leaving the city, but KDP checkpoints were not allowing any mass exodus.
The fighting on Saturday was quickly over. The KDP says that it lost seven Peshmerga guerrillas, while Tareq, a 25-year-old KDP fighter, said he saw 60 PUK Peshmerga bodies in a hospital courtyard.
He said the first line of fighters were the KDP's main trained regiment and added that about half of the Iraqi units with them belonged to the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq. Few Iraqis went further than the parliament building on the ring road, he said.
The KDP officially says that all the Iraqis are now out of the city. It says it arrested some 2,000 PUK members, including the former prime minister, Fouad Masoun, and had already released 1,500 of them. The party said its men were still searching for Hero Talabani, the wife of the PUK leader, who was in Arbil at the time of the attack.
"I'm quite frightened." said Ronaq Rafiq Tawfiq, a 25- year-old schoolteacher who had left Arbil to stay with relatives in Salahuddin. "There is still the sound of shooting at night."
The PUK, having retreated rapidly from Arbil, immediately cut all electricity supplies to the city. This is having severe repercussions on the supply of water for its 1 million people.
At his hilltop headquarters, fitfully supplied with power from a sub- standard generator, Mr Barzani said no formal talks had opened on the future relations of the KDP with Saddam Hussein. But, he noted, Saddam was still the President of Iraq.
"We have not separated from the rest of Iraq. We love our Kurdish flag but also there is a the central flag," Mr Barzani said. "If Iraq is ready to recognise the rights of the Kurdish people, if the Iraqis can meet our demands, we can make an agreement."
The change of sentiment has struck a chord among many of the Kurds ruled by Mr Barzani's KDP, which now controls two of the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan. Worn down by five years of deprivation, blockade, internal fighting and fading Western interest, Iraqi Kurds are increasingly ready to discuss getting back together with the Iraqi central government. "The dream of an independent Kurdistan is gone," Mohsen, an Iraqi Kurdish teacher, said. "There were many who believed in it a few years ago, but now, after these wars, people are much more realistic."
Clinton's explanation and world reaction: Pages 8 and 9
The American attack on Iraq
n The United States fired 27 cruise missiles in response to Iraqi attacks on the Kurds. The missiles were fired from B-52 bombers and warships in the Gulf at military targets in southern Iraq.
n "Our objectives are limited but clear," said President Bill Clinton. "To make Saddam pay a price for the latest act of brutality, reducing his ability to threaten his neighbours and America's interests."
n US Defence Secretary William Perry said Iraq posed a "clear and present danger" to neighbouring countries.
n The US extended a no-fly zone in southern Iraq, and said that a United Nations plan to allow Iraq to sell oil to buy food could not proceed.
n Iraq said five people were killed and 19 wounded. President Saddam Hussein urged his air force to attack allied planes.
n Russia hit out at the US, saying the strikes were launched to help Mr Clinton win November's presidential elections.
n "The United States has our full support," John Major said, "and I hope and believe others will support them as well."
n Britain said that it had allowed US planes to refuel at American-operated facilities on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
n Oil prices surged, but then fell back with Brent crude hitting a post- Gulf war high of $23.50 (pounds 15.00) a barrel, slipping back to $22.04.
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