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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 15:53 GMT
Saddam renews Kurdish threats
Saddam Hussein
The US and Iraq are both wooing the Kurds

By the BBC's Hiwa Osman

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has tried to reach out to the country's Kurdish population amid speculation that their areas could be used by the United States as it contemplates extending its war on terror against Iraq.


We can disagree, but this should not put our powers at the service of the foreigners

Saddam Hussein
In a speech on the 32nd anniversary of an historic agreement setting out the rights of the Iraqi Kurds, he said Kurds should not be deceived by "the foreigner", and should postpone their aspiration in the face of threats facing Baghdad.

But he added that he was not calling for dialogue with them - he did not want anyone "to have the illusion that this leadership is calling for dialogue because it is under futile threats".

A Kurdish politician described the speech as "unbelievable".

Kurdish regions in Iraq have been outside Baghdad's control since 1991.

Wooing

Trying to woo over the Kurds, Saddam referred back to the agreement of 11 March 1970, which had demonstrated the Iraqi people's "high level of maturity, ability and patriotism to solve their problems themselves".

He asked the Kurds to compare between the treatment they had received in Iraq and the fate of their brethren in neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria, adding that he did not have any problem using words like "our Kurdish people and Iraqi Kurdistan."

Iraqi Kurds
They have been in control of their area since 1991
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) share power
They enjoy Western protection since the establishment of the UN safe haven
But, while urging the Kurds to gain their rights through dialogue, the Iraqi leader said: "When we see that Iraq is going through difficult times, we should postpone many things".

Dr Mahmoud Osman, a politician who led the Kurdish delegation at the 11 March agreement, told BBC News Online that Saddam's statement reminded him of the negotiations in 1991.

"They told us that the Kurds have to ask for less than 1970 because they entered two wars and that there was a conspiracy against them," Mr Osman said. "We were asked to pay the price of what the Iraqi regime did."

Threats

The Iraqi president's speech was not without warnings and threats.

"I say to the Iraqi people, and to the Kurds in particular, that Iraqis are clever, prudent and brave. The foreigner should not deceive them."

"We can disagree," he added. "But this should not put our powers at the service of the foreigners."


I do not want anyone to have the illusion that this leadership is calling for dialogue because it is under futile threats

Saddam Hussein
If the US were to extend its campaign against terror to Baghdad, a possible scenario would be to launch the attacks from Kurdish areas.

Saddam Hussein said that he was staying out of the Kurdish-controlled areas "not because of the foreigners".

Federalism?

In the jousting between Washington and Baghdad to win over the Kurds, the Iraqi president said his government was "the only regime that will realise everything every Kurd aspires to".

Iraqi Kurds have been pushing for a relationship with Baghdad that would be based on federalism.

This was declared in 1992 by the joint Kurdish parliament elected after the withdrawal of Baghdad's administration from the Kurdish region.

Concluding his remarks, the Iraqi president said there was nothing wrong with "discussing the improvement of the autonomy law".

Dr Osman saw this as "a mere tactic."

"He [Saddam] is only saying this because he is under threat. Once the threat is removed he will use force again".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Dr Mahmoud Osman
See also:

08 Mar 02 | Middle East
Anti-Saddam radio faces problems
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds buoyed by US visit
31 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds face uncertain future
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Cheney and Blair give Iraq warning
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