Archive for Sunday, October 20, 2002

Kurds set sights on oil fields if U.S. attacks Iraq

October 20, 2002

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— The top Iraqi Kurdish military commander said Saturday that his forces would try to capture nearby oil-rich areas if the United States strikes at Saddam Hussein's regime.

The battlefield strategy outlined by Cmdr. Hamid Efendi gives added muscle to a draft constitution proposed earlier this month that envisioned the oil center of Kirkuk as the future capital of their homeland.

But the Kurdish goal of extending their authority to the prized oil fields around Kirkuk and Mosul now outside the Western-protected Kurdish enclave carries military and political risks that could trouble Pentagon planners.

Iraqi Kurdish fighters could face direct combat with the more powerful Iraqi forces and open a new front that may divert attention from the goal of toppling Saddam. It also would enrage Turkey, which controls crucial trade routes for the landlocked Iraqi Kurds.

Turkey sees the oil-producing areas as a traditional ethnic Turkish zone. It also fears an oil-enriched Kurdish region in Iraq could eventually seek independence and encourage autonomy seeking Turkish Kurds.

"Kirkuk is Kurdish. So are parts of Mosul," said Efendi, leader of the 50,000-strong Iraqi Kurdish armed forces comprising soldiers and irregular militia. "We would want to take these areas if the Americans attack."

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