I had violated a cardinal rule of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: staff should never be quoted in the press. But I was the only Westerner who had actually gotten out of Kurdistan by April 1. Hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk. I also felt an obligation to those who had gotten me out of Iraq alive, at considerable risk to their lives. Also, as it happened, the committee chairman, Claiborne Pell, was in Albania, a country possibly more cut off from the world than rebel-held Kurdistan. I knew it would be a while before I faced the music.
I responded to every media request. From Jerusalem a few days later, I was a guest on another Nightline, this time with conservative commentator George Will and Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato. I could no longer contain my outrage. I asked, rhetorically, how George Bush, who had compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler, could now allow a new holocaust while American troops were on Iraqi soil. George Will, in the uncomfortable position of defending the Administration, expressed amazement at my language but D'Amato cheered me on. Afterward, a producer asked incredulously if I still worked for the U.S. government. I later received letters from viewers all over the United States who had watched the broadcast and shared my anger.
Over the next week, 500,000 Kurds walked across the mountain range that divides Turkey from Iraq, setting up camp on the steep mountains on the Turkish side. Without shelter or food in chilling rain, they began to die by the hundreds. President Özal refused to let them further into Turkey, but he did make a decision that would reshape the Middle East. He allowed television cameras to film the suffering. The CNN effect was born.
Televised images of Kurdish men burying the small wrapped corpses of their children were contrasted with the president on vacation fishing in Florida. It became too much -- first for Özal, then for British Prime Minister John Major (America's most important coalition partner), and lastly for President Bush. After flailing for a solution, Bush ordered U.S. troops into northern Iraq to secure a safe area for the Kurds. The cowed Iraqi Army complied with a U.S. order to withdraw from a triangle formed by Zakho, Dahuk, and Amadiya. Not long after, the United States declared a "no-fly" zone at the 36th parallel and northward from which all Iraqi aircraft were prohibited. American and British aircraft patrolled the zone for twelve years, up until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Refugees streamed home in a matter of days, most of them bypassing a reception and feeding center set by the U.S. Army in a grassy field east of Zakho. The United States and its allies now protected the same area in Dahuk Governorate that Saddam had gassed in his final offensive in August 1988.
In Kurdistan's east, Iraqi forces took Kirkuk on March 28, Erbil on March 30, and Suleimania on April 3. But as an Iraqi tank column headed north from Erbil, a peshmerga force attacked it in a narrow pass near the village of Kore. The Kurds destroyed the three lead tanks and the column retreated. Just east of Suleimania, the peshmerga stopped the Iraqi Army on Aznar Mountain, which overlooks the city. This left a vast territory in the east in Kurdish hands. Connected to the American-protected safe area by treacherous mountain roads, the eastern valleys and the Dahuk Governorate became the nucleus of a self-governing Kurdistan. In September 1991, Saddam Hussein abruptly withdrew the Iraqi Army and civil administration from the main Kurdistan cities of Erbil and Suleimania, and imposed an internal blockade. Without funding from Baghdad, Saddam expected the Kurdistan administration would collapse, paving the way for the restoration of central government authority. But for the Kurds, there was no privation that was not preferable to resumed control from Baghdad.
Copyright © 2006 by Peter W. Galbraith
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