AMERICAN DIPLOMATS should be telling the leaders of Kurdish Iraq that if they fight each other, the United States cannot protect them from external enemies, Saddam Hussein included.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has been rolling back the conquest made by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in early September. It is not surprising that the pendulum would swing from the Iran-aided PUK to the Iraq-backed KDP and back again. It is ominous but not surprising that KDP chief Massoud Barzani would claim that Jalal Talabani's PUK advance is made with Iranian troops. This is a rationale for seeking Iraq's troops to enter Kurdistan to help the KDP.
When they did that in August, the U.S. accused Iraq's leader of crossing a forbidden line and sent a fusillade of cruise missiles against his air defense communications in southern Iraq. The U.S. should not give to Mr. Talabani or Mr. Barzani the power to decide whether and when it might do this again.
After the U.S. defeat of Iraq in 1991, it set up the Kurdish safe haven in the north to save Kurdish people from the dictator's fury. Under U.S. auspices the two armed Kurdish factions contested an election and agreed to share power. Then they fell apart. Neither Kurdish leader can be bought but both are rentable. For reasons of history, they do not trust any outside power and reciprocate the insincerity they perceive. Saddam Hussein is their enemy, but Mr. Talabani took aid from the ayatollahs of neighboring Iran, so Mr. Barzani went begging to Baghdad.
No need to preach to Mr. Barzani that his pact is with the devil. He knows no other kind. What this masks is the congruence of U.S. and Iraqi policy. Both believe the turf concerned is Iraq, and that Iran has no business there. Both urged the KDP and PUK to make peace. Both warned Iran to butt out. Yet Washington and Saddam Hussein cannot admit they agree.
No principle divides the KDP from its offshoot, the PUK. Their differences once meant something. Now they are rival robber barons, supporting their establishments by taxing the contraband that moves by truck in violation of the U.N. trade embargo through routes they control to Turkey. This is gang turf warfare.
The U.S. inserted its moral presence in northern Iraq from humanitarian motive. But it cannot protect the Kurds from each other. And it cannot protect them from outside enemies if they keep opening the gates to those enemies.
Pub Date: 10/15/96