Kurdish leaders pessimistic about political victory despite recent successes


PARIS -- Kurdish opposition groups, though making progress in ground fighting against President Saddam Hussein's troops in northern Iraq, have little hope that their military successes will translate into a political victory, Kurdish sources in Paris said.

They said that talks being held over the weekend in Beirut, Lebanon, among Kurds, Iraqi nationalists and Iraqi Shiites opposed to Mr. Hussein were unlikely to produce enduring political solutions for the domestic turmoil that is threatening Mr. Hussein's regime.

Sexbizini Shewki, deputy director of the Kurdish Institute here, said that Kurdish representatives at the Beirut talks would seek first and foremost the overthrow of Mr. Hussein, which opposition groups are now taking as inevitable.

Beyond that, Kurdish representatives plan to seek a power-sharing agreement with the Iraqi nationalist and Shiite groups, pledges for Kurdish political autonomy in a federation with a national government and respect for the ethnic rights of Iraq's Kurdish minority, said Mr. Shewki, whose institute

represents Kurdish interests in Paris and promotes Kurdish language and culture.

Although reports yesterday indicated that Kurdish rebels had takencontrol of six towns in northern Iraq, Mr. Shewki said he could not predict how the Kurdish demands would be received by the Iraqi nationalist and Shiite groups in Baghdad.

Neither the Shiites nor the Iraqi nationalists, most of whom come from the ranks of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, have a tradition marked by democracy or respect for minority rights, he said.

"We have either dictators or religious fanatics to choose from," Mr. Shewki said. "What can we do? . . .

"The Kurds are the best-armed and the best-organized of the opposition groupings. But the Kurds all alone could not take power. We're only a minority and we have no designs on ruling all of Iraq."

For the Kurds, the dilemma is sadly familiar.

Despite their military strength, the Kurdish struggle for independence from the five countries in which Kurds are scattered -- Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the Soviet Union -- has been marked by poorly chosen alliances, backlashes and broken promises.

Most recently, in September 1988, Mr. Hussein used poison gas to kill several thousand Kurds in the Iraqi town of Halabja, at least in part as reprisal for Kurdish guerrilla support for Iran during its eight-year war with Iraq.

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