The Blog


12:00 AM, Oct 7, 1996 • By MICHAEL LEDEEN
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This sort of nonsense comes only from people so cynical they believe they can always rewrite history according to the political needs of the hour. The Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq is our creation and our responsibility. Having decided not to drive the Gulf War to its logical conclusion -- the destruction of Saddam's tyranny -- George Bush and James Baker called upon the oppressed peoples of Iraq to do the deed for us. Kurds and Shiites attacked in the weeks after the U.S. declared an end to the war with Iraq, only to be slaughtered by Saddam's remaining forces as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf lamented that he'd been tricked. When they were on the verge of obliteration, the Kurds were saved when we imposed a safe haven with the irresistible force of Allied air power.

Saddam was told to stay out of the Kurdish area, under penalty of savage reprisals. The whole point of establishing a no-fly zone was the protection of the area from Baghdad. It was a conscience balm for an administration that had led Kurds and Iraqis to be massacred. Clinton continued the policy, from time to time announcing the firmness of our resolve to "contain Saddam."

Like all Rube Goldberg devices, the Kurdish area has worked poorly at best. Although created to provide sanctuary for Saddam's enemies, it has been subject to the same punishing economic sanctions as the rest of the country. And while Saddam has managed to get his hands on revenues from oil sales -- legal and not -- Kurdistan has no marketable commodities. The Kurdish clans and Shiite opposition have received some money from us, a bit from the British, and the rest by imposing customs duties on smugglers to and from Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. They have also been the dubious beneficiaries of advice, and the pretense of support, from the various low-level State and CIA types who have come down through Turkey.

The conventional wisdom at State and CIA is that the Kurds are tougher than the Iraqis, and if you want to get rid of Saddam, the Kurds are the best bet. The Kurds are certainly tenacious survivors in a mean neighborhood, but if you want to work with such types, you'd better know what you want and be prepared to fight alongside them. We have failed in both, and lacking any coherent guidance from Washington, the Kurds reverted to their age-old pastime of fighting among themselves.

This intensified in 1994 and 1995 when the "smuggling taxes" dwindled, as did the handouts from Washington and London. Indeed, the only group in Kurdistan that showed internal unity and a proper sense of mission -- the removal of the Baghdad regime -- was not Kurdish at all, but Shiite. I refer to the Iraqi National Congress, which repeatedly intervened to separate the warring Kurdish factions and last year delivered serious military blows to the Iraqi army In keeping with the folly of their enterprise, the Clinton people praised the Iraqi National Congress for pacifying the Kurds, but repeatedly warned against taking the struggle to Saddam.

One of the reasons for Washington's reluctance to support the Iraqi National Congress's anti-Saddam campaign was that our Saudi allies have an allergy to successful Shiite movements, since they fear assaults from radical Shiites against the Saudi monarchy (the Saudis follow Wahaabi Islam). They preferred to let the Iraqi National Congress cool its heels in the north, while political and economic support was given to a lackluster collection of Iraqi military defectors and various political types who formed the "National Accord" based in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The "Accord" was a joke; it was penetrated from the beginning by Iraqi agents, and its followers and sympathizers inside Iraq were rounded up some weeks before the invasion of the Kurdish area.

Meanwhile, Clinton and Christopher instructed our diplomats and intelligence officers to devote their energies to having the Iraqi National Congress broker and monitor peace among the Kurds, but as usual, spin triumphed over substance. The Iraqi National Congress -- whose talented leader, Ahmad Chalabi, holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago -- managed to separate the Kurdish fighters in the summer, and Clinton's envoys asked the Congress to provide a "peacekeeping" force to monitor the ceasefire line.