70,000 Kurds ready to fight Saddam alongside U.S. forces

Monday, March 17, 2003

About 70,000 Kurds have been recruited to fight the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Kurds have been organized in units that are coordinating with the United States, officials said. The zone of operations for the Kurds would be restricted to northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Kurdish deployment came in the wake of numerous consultations between Iraqi Kurdish leaders and the Bush administration. U.S. officials regard the Kurds as the most reliable allies within the Iraqi opposition.

Kurdish leader Barhim Salih predicted a brief U.S.-led war against Iraq. He said the Iraqi military, including many in the elite Republican Guard, would run away rather than fight allied troops.

Instead, Saddam is expected to destroy his own oil fields and seek to flee the country. He said Saddam's agents have already rigged explosives around the oil facility in Kirkuk.

"We have to expect the worst of him," Barhim Salih, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government, told the Council on Foreign Relations on Friday. "The war will be relatively short. The bulk of the Iraqi army and much of the guard will not fight."

Salih warned of Turkish military intervention in Iraq. He said the entry of Turkish troops would spark a response from Iran.

Kurdish sources said Ankara has already violated an agreement with the United States on the deployment of the Turkish troops in northern Iraq. The sources said Turkey has moved troops 30 kilometers within Iraq. Ankara and Washington had agreed that Turkish troops would be confined to within 20 kilometers of the border.

In northern Iraq, Saddam's Special Republican Guard launched an operation in Kirkuk. Kurdish sources said Iraqi forces arrested Kurds as many others fled the city for the Turkish border.

"Our information tells us that Ali Hassan Majid came from Baghdad with special guards for this campaign," Irbil Governor Barzan Omar said. "He is afraid of an uprising. He wants to round up the Kurds or evacuate them so they cannot fight."

Majid, a leading member of the Revolutionary Council, was said to have ordered the killing of hundreds of thousands of Kurds in chemical weapons attacks in the 1980s. The sources said Iraqi forces have threatened a massacre of Kurds in Kirkuk.

In southern Iraq, dozens of Iraqis have been killed in fighting between Saddam's special forces and Shi'ite insurgents in Karbala. Islamic opposition sources said the clashes were sparked by a Shi'ite demonstration to mark the Ashura festival that turned into an anti-Saddam march.

About 100 Shi'ites were arrested by the Fedayun Saddam unit. A similar clash was reported in the nearby area of Khan Al Raba, located between Karbala and Najf near the Saudi border.

The U.S. Defense Department has also trained Iraqi volunteers to participate in the war against Saddam. Officials said the first cadets have completed training and were sent to U.S. Central Command in the Gulf, where they will serve in civil affairs units.

The Iraqi opposition volunteers were trained in communications, military skills and civil military operations. The four-week training course took place in Hungary and officials said up to 3,000 Iraqis could be trained in 2003.

"In the event of a conflict in Iraq, they will be ready to do their job, helping to ensure that Iraqi citizens who need help get help," Gen. David Barno, commander of Task Force Warrior, which is leading the training effort, said.

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