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Iraq condemns Turkish push along border
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraq on Sunday condemned what it called repeated aggression by Turkey along its border with Iraq, the official Iraqi news agency INA said.
"Turkish troops have launched a new military aggression on northern Iraq," Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said in a letter to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa carried by INA.
"Fifty (Turkish) tanks mounted on vehicles had entered the north over the period from June 17 to 19 and moved towards Arbil. And across the same point 40 tanks entered Iraq and headed towards Dahuk and Zakho, and a number of them were stationed at Bamarni," said Aziz, who is also acting Foreign Minister.
"Repeated aggression (in the north) represents a violation of the sovereignty of Iraq's land ... and runs contrary to good neighborly relations," Aziz said.
"It is regrettable that the Turkish government is still justifying its continued aggression on Iraq by flimsy pretexts, alleging that its troops are chasing groups threatening Turkey's security, which is incorrect," he added.
Aziz urged Moussa to intervene and ask the Turkish government to stop such provocative and irresponsible practices and respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The remote mountainous enclave of northern Iraq has been outside Baghdad's control since the end of the 1991 Gulf War and is controlled by two rival Iraqi Kurdish groups.
Turkey allows NATO military aircraft to use its soil as a base for patrols of northern Iraq's post-Gulf War no-fly zone. In return, its forces regularly cross the border to pursue Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas -- with little Western opposition.
Two Iraqi Kurdish groups -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) -- have controlled much of northern Iraq since wresting the region from Iraqi control after the Gulf War.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 08, 2001
IRAQ PLANS OFFENSIVE IN NORTH
NICOSIA [MENL] -- Iraq plans to recapture the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north of the country.
Kurdish as well as Iraqi government sources said President Saddam Hussein is preparing for an offensive to end Kurdish self-rule in the north. They said Saddam has amassed up to 10,000 troops along the no- fly zone and near the town of Shihan.
The Iraqi plans have prompted alarm in both London and Washington. Kurdish groups have met British and U.S. officials to discuss the Iraqi threat.
The Saddam regime has acknowledged Baghdad's planned offensive. On Saturday, the "Iraq" daily said the Saddam regime will restore the Kurdish region to his control after a decade of autonomy. The newspaper said the autonomy undermines Iraqi sovereignty and will not last.
About five million Kurds are said to live in three northern provinces of Dhok, Irbil and Sulaimanya. Kurdish sources said Saddam has launched a policy of Arabization and his agents have acted against Kurdish separatists.
The Ankara-based Al Zaman daily said the United States plans to divide Iraq into three areas. The northern area would be reserved for Kurds. The southern area for Shi'ites and the central portion for Sunnis.
The newspaper said northern Iraq would be controlled by Kurdish leader Massoud Barazani with help from his longtime rival Jalal Talabani. U.S. and British officials are hoping to complete the plan within the next month, the daily said.
On Saturday, the Iraqi military announced that British and U.S. warplanes attacked facilities in southern Iraq. The attack was not immediately confirmed by either the British or U.S. militaries.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), July 08, 2001.
West Fears Ecalation in Mideast By Donna Bryson Associated Press Writer
Sunday, July 8, 2001; 1:52 p.m. EDT
CAIRO, Egypt –– The words are warlike, to be sure – enough to draw quick visits from high-ranking U.S. and European diplomats eager to keep relations between Israel and Syria from deteriorating further.
After two Israeli airstrikes on Syrian military radar sites in Lebanon – launched because Israel blames Syria for Hezbollah guerrilla attacks – Damascus' response so far has not gone beyond angry rhetoric.
But the prospect of Syria and Israel falling into tit-for-tat violence, even if short of outright war, is real enough to worry the United States and Europe.
Syria "is capable of retaliating for any aggression, whatever its magnitude," Al-Baath, the newspaper of Syria's ruling Baath Party, declared in a front-page editorial Sunday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns stopped in Damascus on Saturday, following a trip to Lebanon, to urge the Syrians to exercise "maximum restraint." Also in the region over the weekend spreading similar messages were Russian envoy Andrei Vdovin and European Union mediator Miguel Moratinos.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has insisted that Israel, not Syria, is creating the tension in hopes of distracting the world from its troubles with the Palestinians.
"We would not shy away from a war if it is forced upon us," the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Saturday quoted Assad as saying in an interview.
Israel, for its part, accuses Syria of destabilizing the region by supporting Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.
Mark Heller of Israel's Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies called the situation a "diplomatic dialogue." He said Israel's strikes have been tightly targeted and that Syria's response has been restrained.
Israel's use of weapons is aimed at sending a message that it holds Syria responsible for Hezbollah's actions, he said.
"Speculation about this thing exploding is premature, if not totally off base," he said, though acknowledging it "always carries the risks of further escalating if things get out of control."
In April, after Hezbollah killed an Israeli soldier around the disputed Chebaa Farms area, Israeli warplanes destroyed a Syrian radar station in Lebanon, killing three Syrian soldiers.
Earlier this month, Israeli warplanes struck another Syrian military radar station in Lebanon, wounding two Syrian soldiers and one Lebanese soldier. Israeli said the missile strike was in retaliation for a Hezbollah guerrilla raid two days earlier that wounded two Israeli soldiers in the Chebaa Farms.
Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon last year after decades of clashes with Hezbollah. The guerrillas pledge to continue attacks on Israel until it vacates the Chebaa Farms as well. Chebaa is part of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. However, Syria and Lebanon say the land belongs to Lebanon.
Syria can keep Israel off balance by allowing Hezbollah the arms and maneuvering room it needs to continue harassing Israel. But to go further would invite international condemnation, especially after the U.N.-certified retreat from Lebanon gave Israel the diplomatic high ground.
In addition, a direct confrontation would be difficult for a Syrian army weakened by lack of cash and the end of its longtime support from the Soviet Union.
Looking for a cheap solution to its military's limitations, Syria has long been suspected of having turned to North Korea for help in developing Scuds, the missiles Iraq fired on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Syria's Scuds are believed to have a range of 300 miles – putting all of Israel within reach – and to be capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads.
An Israeli military spokesman said Syria test-fired a Scud toward the Israeli border in a possible warning hours after the July 1 Israeli strike on Syrian radar. Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass denied any Syrian missile was fired.
Just a year ago, long-strained Syria-Israel relations had seemed on the mend, with U.S.-brokered peace talks opening under then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. But the negotiations soon broke down. There has been no indication they will restart soon under hard-liner Ariel Sharon, who replaced Barak, and Bashar Assad, who has taken a tougher stance on Israel than his father and predecessor.
Tiny Lebanon is caught in the middle. Lebanon's unwillingness to send its troops to pacify the border, as the United Nations and Israel demand, is traced to Syria's influence.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has expressed misgivings about Hezbollah's challenging Israel at a time when he is telling foreign business that his country is a safe place for investment. Politically, however, he cannot afford to distance himself from the guerrillas.
Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, warned Israel last week to expect an answer to its missile strikes.
"You may hear of a new attack after a few days or after a month. It depends on the field conditions," Kassem said.
Lebanese living along the border appeared resigned to the possibility of a flare-up.
"We cannot make predictions whether something is going to happen because we do not plan military actions, the big powers do," said Ibrahim Sweid, an olive and grape grower in Kfar Chouba.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 09, 2001.