November 23, 2002


Ready and Willing, but Are They Able?: Iraq's Kurds want to help oust Hussein. (Robin Wright, November 20 2002, LA Times)
Kurds, a non-Arab people estimated to number between 25 million and 30 million, are the world's largest ethnic group without a state. They span Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, and the dream of many Kurds is creation of a formal homeland - as they were promised after the Ottoman Empire collapsed eight decades ago. In the meantime, they hope to begin by liberating Kirkuk, the oil-rich center of Kurdish culture.

Turkey is sufficiently alarmed at the prospect of both a well-armed Kurdish army and the Kurds' capture of Kirkuk, home also to thousands of ethnic Turkomans, that it has hinted that it might intervene to block both developments. The danger of a military operation in Iraq becoming a regional war has led the Pentagon to make plans for U.S. troops to take and hold Kirkuk early in any campaign. Then the Kurds would simply defend the turf they now hold.

The Kurds still have much to offer any U.S. offensive - including more than 100 defectors from the Iraqi army now in their force. [...]

As pressure mounts on Hussein, several Kurdish commanders said they are hearing from an increasing number of Iraqi officers, all the way to the top, who want to defect. "They're still coming across," Hassan said. "The morale of the Iraqi army right now is very low."

But the peshmerga said they are urging many Iraqi officers to remain in place - for now. In the event of a U.S.-led attack, some may be of more use preventing their troops from fighting or leading mass defections. They think even Hussein's Republican Guard will be fairly easy to crack.

"Iraq isn't the almighty army that the U.S. believes it is," Dizayee said. "It's a highly institutionalized army, which makes it vulnerable. Once its command and control centers and the communications network have been hit, the officers won't know what to do next. They're not allowed to operate themselves.

"The troops will collapse and surrender," he said. "That's again when the United States will need us."

Two interesting things here: first, the Kurds are going to have a state sooner or later, even if only a semi-autonomous one within either Turkey or Iraq; second, the Kurds sure seem contemptuous of the Iraqi military. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 23, 2002 8:36 AM
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