Operation 'Northern Watch' has major objectives in N. Iraq


(According to former State Department official) (600)
By David Pitts
USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Operation Northern Watch, the successor to Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq, "remains a very important operation," according to Alan Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Makovsky spoke March 10 at a forum organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. He is a former State Department official whose assignments included Southern Europe division chief, political advisor to Operation Provide Comfort (the allied operation to provide assistance and security to Kurds in northern Iraq following Operation Desert Storm), and special advisor to the special Middle East Coordinator.

Operation Northern Watch fulfills three major objectives, Makovsky said. These are:

-- It maintains the no-fly-zone above the 36th parallel, a "key element," in containing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

-- It provides the coalition "with useful reconnaissance," about the movement of Iraqi troops in the north where many Kurds live.

-- It allows the coalition "to be aware of the human rights situation in the north," so that "intervention may be considered," if conditions deteriorate. It acts as a protective cover for the Kurds living there.

Makovsky also discussed relations between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), active in northern Iraq, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), mostly active in southern Iraq. Despite a cease-fire agreement between these feuding organizations, relations "are as irreconcilable as ever," he said.

For his part, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "actively wooing," the KDP, Makovsky noted. "The Iraqi embargo on the KDP has largely ended." In return, "it appears the KDP cooperates closely with Baghdad on political decisions, but it is not totally beholden to Baghdad," he stressed.

One beneficial consequence of this cooperation, however, is that "the worst fears of an Iraqi takeover of the KDP-controlled area in the northern part of the country have not come to pass," Makovsky said.

As far as the PUK is concerned, Makovsky said "there is far less criticism by its leaders of Saddam than there was a year ago, largely a result of the increase in intimidation," by the Iraqi government. Iran "continues to supply the PUK with equipment, but also maintains good ties with the KDP," he added. The area under PUK influence in the south borders Iran.

Since September of last year, after the agreement between the two organizations representing the Kurds in Iraq, the United States "has been more actively involved in trying to work with them to help them solve their problems," which only to work to the advantage of Saddam Hussein, Makovsky remarked. "But most of the agreement remains unimplemented," he said. Because of the ongoing rivalry, "the real focus on the tyranny of Saddam is lost," he added.

David McDowell, a UK-based historian and Middle East expert, provided a brief account of the history of the Kurdish presence in the region. Iraq is just one of the countries Kurds inhabit. Other larger Kurdish populations live in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and parts of the former Soviet Union. They number approximately 30 million. About 75 percent of the Kurds, however, live in the Zagros Mountains region, straddling the Iraq-Iran border and much of eastern Anatolia.

Iraqi Kurds are provided with protection against air attack under the provisions of Operation Northern Watch, but the experts said the continuing political divisions in the organizations representing them -- the KDP and the PUK -- only weakens their cause and plays into the hands of the Iraqi government.