refugees appeal for Western intervention : LUSENET : Exposing Rightwing Corruption : One Thread

The valleys of death: refugees appeal for Western intervention Turkey says that 200,000 are in danger as Kurds flee north - the plight of a doomed people and their pleas for help. A monstrous crime is being perpetrated in Kurdistan. As the Kurdish people's brief springtime of freedom ends, they are, and will be, subject not only to the effects of a war waged in their own cities and towns without restraint or morality, but to the reimposition of Saddam Hussein's brutal rule and his revenge on those who have challenged him.

"Let nobody say the Kurdish people is dead," was spray-painted in English on the end of an oil tanker, its flanks crammed with people, ahead of us in Sunday's chaotic refugee queue out of Salahuddin, the Kurdish headquarters. But the fear must be that Iraqi Kurds are about to suffer blows which could indeed be mortal. Certainly it will be the worst reprisal in 100 years of struggle.

Yesterday Turkey's National Security Council said that more than 200,000 people fleeing Iraq, mostly women and children, were in danger of death near the Turkish border.

"Where is Bush?" was a question we must have heard a thousand times as we toiled on Monday up the slopes of the 8,000ft mountain passes that separate Iraq from Turkey. "Why did he start if he was not going to finish?" or "Why has he not finished Saddam?" Sometimes all the bitterness and despair are compressed into the single word Bush, pronounced with a terrible resignation. The name of a man who was a hero to the Kurds only a few days ago has become almost a curse.

Up the rock-strewn hills, through gorges bristling with dwarf oaks, and over rushing grey streams, a miserable procession of people claws and staggersits way out of Iraqi Kurdistan. There is no road, only a horse track that winds endlessly upward, normally used only by smugglers.

Babies cry; old people stand panting by the side of the pass, one pointing wordlessly at his two bottles of pills. The walk, a stiff five-hour hike for fitadults, can be literally killing for the elderly and the sick. Two people died onthe path the day before our crossing, the Turks on the other side told us.

But it is one of the few places where people can still escape from the tightening vice of the government forces. Some other crossing points are under artillery fire; Iran is letting in only women and children; sheer chaos onthe roads prevents access to other routes. And it will not be too long, the Turks reckon, before Iraqi helicopters poke their guns and rockets into these gorges and valleys.

Turkish villagers whip sure-footedly up and down the steep inclines with their wiry horses and donkeys. For a fee they will carry some of the goods which these pathetic people have brought with them.

This is the middle class of stricken towns like Kirkuk and Tuz Kurmatu, joined by families from Irbil as that city came under bombardment. They are the people who have the vehicles and can afford the black market prices for petrol. "I've left 100,000 dinars behind, three houses and two cars," is a typical cry.

They are ill-equipped for the trip. High-heeled shoes buckle, badly secured possessions are swept away in the first stream, one woman in a leopardskin dress walks along with a box containing shampoo, conditioner, and hair tint.

A businessman in a grey pinstriped suit and a fur hat, trouser legs caked with mud, says tearfully: "They killed all the Turkish people in Tuz Kurmatu? when they came they started to kill all the Kurdish and Turkish people. Just shoot, shoot, shoot by the government. The United States caused all this; why, why, why?"

He is a Turcoman like many on this crossing, confident that because of their Turkish origins the authorities on the other side will extend some kind of welcome. His family trudges along the path as he speaks, two small children in red and white rompers wailing. His wife gestures angrily with a briefcase: "Bush is Saddam's friend. Why did he stop?" These are just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people on the move in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many have made it over the borders into Turkey, Iran, and Syria. But many more, reeling from threatened town to threatened town, will not get out.

The Iraqis, at the speed they are advancing, will soon control all the crossings and no one has any doubt that if necessary they will bomb the refugee columns to stop the exodus. They already have bombed refugees on the road from Irbil to Salahuddin. As we left the town the dull thud of helicopter bombing on the other side sent shivers of panic through the refugee traffic snarled on the western side, the way out to Iran and Turkey.

A Kurdish officer, his hands covered in the blood of his children, hit earlier in the day, was frantically trying to open up the blocked road so that they could get to hospital in the next town. An hour afterwards, we were told by refugees who caught up with us later, the helicopters came over to theeastern side of the hill and bombed and rocketed the cars, and Salahuddin itself was shelled.

Although there were a few military vehicles in the traffic we saw one jeep piled with military maps and others with staff files the column could not conceivably be described as a military target.

The fate of those who escape the helicopters, with few possessions and facing months, perhaps longer, in refugee camps, is hard enough, but it is the fate of those who stay which is most tragic to contemplate.

There is no doubt that after he has re-established control, President Saddam will take a terrible revenge on those who rose against him and effaced his image from every corner of their land. This is the man who gassed a whole town and who took hostage thousands of Kurds who disappeared, almost certainly dead, in 1983. You have only to visit one of the torture palaces which exist in every city and town in Kurdistan to realise how brutal his rule has been. And not just brutal; the tactics of his intelligence services go beyond brutality to the most ingenious refinements of cruelty. There is the raping room, for instance, a sort of hut off the main interrogation room, with a bloodied mattress inside and a pile of discarded women's clothes outside. And there are persistent tales of naked men being thrown to dogs trained to bite their private parts. In other countries you might discount such tales: in Iraq, the chances are that they are true.

Only 10 days ago Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, was talking confidently of establishing a temporary government for all Iraq in free Kurdistan.

The Kurdish military leaders were over-confident, inexperienced in conventional war, and disorganised. They believed too readily that a collapse in Baghdad would come soon and that, if things did by some mischance go wrong, the United States would rescue the situation.

These were their faults. But what of ours? The US, which to the Kurds is shorthand for all of the West, failed to make the intervention that the Kurds are convinced might have tipped the balance their way. Its reconnaissance planes circled lazily over Kurdish towns as Iraqi helicopters bombed the civil population with terrible results.

If just one or two of those helicopters had been shot down, like the fixed-wing aircraft that were downed earlier by US planes, it just might have made the difference. It would have had a tremendous effect on Kurdish morale, and it might have convinced President Saddam that further military moves in the north would attract serious American intervention.

Why didn't the US and the allies do it? God knows, we bent international law and the UN Charter whenever we wanted to in the effort to free Kuwait. We spent millions and killed many thousands to punish President Saddam's aggression and, bluntly, to bring him down.

Why then this sudden excess of legalism, this prating about internal affairs, these oh-so-wise thoughts about the undesirability of a divided Iraq?

Saddam Hussein has no more right to Kurdistan than he had to Kuwait. He has forfeited any such right by a vicious record of oppression of the Kurds, worse even than his treatment of Iraq's Arab population. When he gets back full control he will kill, and kill, and kill.

It is not too late to intervene, taking up the conditions the Kurds have apparently demanded - a UN-brokered autonomy, demilitarisation, a UN presence on pain of visiting on President Saddam's forces a punishment from the air as swift and complete as that which we administered over Kuwait.

By Martin Woollacott Wednesday April 3, 1991

-- thruthteller (truth@notlies.fact), February 26, 2004

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