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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 12:38 GMT
Iraqi Kurds fear 'renewed genocide'
Kurdish soldiers
Kurdish forces expect to be involved in any fighting

As he drove through the golden wheat plains of his region north of the city of Mosul, Farhan Sharafani pointed to the front lines where Iraqi Army rocket launchers and tanks were pointed towards his area.

If there is a military action against Iraq, we the Kurds will be the first people to suffer

Shirin, Kurdish student

"They are about 10 minutes away from here. Our people are very nervous," said Farhan.

"But we can't do anything about it."

Farhan is the head of the Sharafani tribe that number about 20,000 and controls about 50 villages near the Turkish border.

In Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, Farhan represents his area in the first parliament the Kurds have ever had.

He is currently debating a proposal for federalism, whereby the Kurds would be in control of their own region in Iraq.

The Kurds of Iraq have been enjoying an unprecedented era of self-rule in their region outside Baghdad's control since 1991.

They are now hoping for a Saddam-free federal and democratic Iraq.

As the drums of war between Washington and Baghdad beat louder, the prospects of a post-Saddam Iraq seem closer than ever.

Key allies

Outside the city of Sulaymaniyah, some 100 new volunteers of the Kurdish army, aged between 18 and 25, were singing the Martyrs Song while marching in the training ground.

Women soldiers
Kurdish troops say their morale is high

These soldiers could be key allies for the US in any military scenario.

They can either be a fighting force alongside the allies, or provide a safe haven for fleeing refugees from the south.

"Undoubtedly we will have an important role," says Mustafa Sayyid Qadir, the deputy commander in chief of the Kurdish Army.

"But we are completely in the dark at the moment."

Qadir adds that there is also a large number of sympathetic Kurds and Arabs who live inside the Iraqi Government-controlled area.

"Our forces are ready. Our morale is high," he says.

In drawing a parallel with the northern alliance of Afghanistan, Qadir's deputy says, "Their forces are organised in a tribal way, our forces are centrally commanded.

"We also have better experience in capturing and keeping a place."

No protection

The Kurds seem to be supportive and ready for a military strike against Saddam. Their only concern is that Saddam Hussein might use chemical weapons against them.

Two things are difficult to find in the Kurdish region today - people who oppose military action, and people who have gas masks or any other protective gear from chemical weapons.

Kurdish assembly
The Kurdish leadership is desperate to see Saddam Hussein toppled

While the memories of chemical attacks remain vivid in their minds, the Kurds are extremely anxious about what could go wrong during and after a US-led attack.

Students in Salah al-Din University in Arbil, explained the Kurdish concerns.

"The majority of the people of Kurdistan welcome the military strike against Iraq," says Ali, a student at the English language department. "It is vital that the US keeps its promises of protection."

"We are in the range of Saddam's artillery," said Shirin. "If there is a military action against Iraq, we the Kurds will be the first people to suffer from it," she added.

'Unspeakable tyranny'

Kurdish leaders say they are mindful of the risks and they would not commit themselves to anything without calculating the risks.

I hope Mr Bush gets rid of Saddam. Even if he was to use chemical weapons, it would be his last time to use them

Kurdish man

"I can only hope that the international community would not leave the Kurds defenceless in the face of renewed genocide," said Barham Saleh, the Prime Minister of the PUK-led government in Sulaymaniyah.

"It would be unspeakable, unforgivable for the world to let tyranny revisit this defenceless population, especially after all that we have been through and after all our efforts in trying to put our lives back together," he added.

Before continuing the tour in Farhan's area, his cousin recalled "the good old days" when he could visit Mosul with his son, who was later killed by the Iraqi Government.

"I hope Mr Bush gets rid of him [Saddam]," he said. "Even if he was to use chemical weapons, it would be his last time to use them."

 VOTE RESULTS
Iraq: Is war inevitable?

Yes
 58.14% 

No
 41.86% 

74035 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

09 Dec 02 | Americas
09 Dec 02 | Middle East
08 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
08 Dec 02 | Middle East
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