Iraqi Opposition Describes Mass Execution Near Irbil
By Jonathan C. Randal
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 2 1996; Page A20
The Washington Post
ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 1 -- Iraqi opposition officials painted a grim picture of retribution in northern Iraq today, involving summary execution of their cadres and mass arrests of followers of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan caught in the Iraqi army's capture of Irbil on Saturday.
Officials of the Iraqi National Congress said Iraqi troops executed 96 Iraqi soldiers who had defected to the U.S.-financed umbrella opposition group when they overran one of its camps south of Irbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. The group's officials also said that men of the other major Kurdish faction, Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party, had captured Talabani's wife, Hero, as well as the Kurdish regional government's first prime minister, Fuad Mazloum, and other leading members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The renewed presence in Irbil of the Iraqi secret police risked becoming permanent even if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were to withdraw his troops eventually from north of the 36th parallel as he has promised, the opposition officials said from London in a telephone interview. Such a police presence, they said, meant that U.S. and other Western intelligence-gathering in the areas of Iraqi Kurdistan under Barzani's control effectively had ended. The opposition group's records, computers and other equipment used in the effort to topple Saddam were looted, its officials said.
In a throwback to the days before the Kurds gained control of northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraqi secret police armed with lists of names rounded up suspects in systematic, house-by-house searches, the opposition sources said. The secret police were reported to have set up headquarters in Irbil in the parliament building of the Kurdish autonomous region, underlining Saddam's steadfast refusal to recognize the closest thing to Kurdish self-rule in more than a generation.
Trucks loaded with loot stripped from Patriotic Union of Kurdistan houses and offices were headed north to Kurdish Democratic Party headquarters in the mountain town of Salahuddin, a 45-minute drive from Irbil, the opposition officials said. The soldiers executed Saturday were monitors of the ill-fated cease-fire between the two Kurdish groups organized by the umbrella group. Another group of 32 monitors escaped.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops were on high alert in the Persian Gulf today, as word came that Saddam Hussein's troops were withdrawing from the Kurdish city they captured in a surprise move over the weekend.
Iraqi troops backed by tanks stormed the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Saturday in Saddam's largest military foray in five years. The move prompted President Clinton to put the 20,000 American soldiers in the region on high alert.
U.N. guards in Irbil said Iraqi tanks had cleared out of the city by this morning, but could still be seen on its outskirts. The city is just 12 miles inside of the southern edge of the allied-protected Kurdish "safe haven.''
After a Cabinet meeting in Baghdad late Sunday, the Iraqi defense minister, Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed, said Saddam had ordered him to withdraw all his troops from Irbil.
Gisper Nielsen, of the U.N. Guard Contingency in Iraq stationed in Irbil, said Iraqi troops began withdrawing Sunday afternoon and continued today.
"The tanks stationed outside Irbil are moving out as we speak,'' he told The Associated Press by telephone from the embattled city.
Saddam's forces stormed Irbil to dislodge one Kurdish group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and allow their rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to move in.
Nielsen said Iraqi troops who captured the city had been backed by 50 tanks. After their withdrawal, guerrillas from the Kurdistan Democratic Party were seen patrolling the streets of Irbil.
Another U.N. guard, who refused to give his name, said it was not clear if the Iraqis planned to pull back entirely from the region or just leave the city itself.
"We do not know if they are going to go or if they are going to stay,'' the official said.
During the nearly 36-hour occupation of Irbil, Iraqi troops conducted house-to-house searches in apparent pursuit of anti-Iraq activists, which Baghdad claims are backed by Iran, Nielsen said.
He did not know if any arrests were made. He also could not confirm reports by Iraqi opposition groups that scores of people had been executed by the Iraqi army.
Nielsen said there were large numbers of casualties during the operation but exact numbers could not be confirmed.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Iraqi forces also captured Sulaymaniya, the area's second-largest city. The report, which quoted "sources close to Iraqi Kurds,'' could not be confirmed.
On Sunday, Iraq's state-run media had warned the United States and its Western allies not to intervene on behalf of the Kurds.
"The Iraqi people ... are ready to provide an example that will inevitably remind the Americans of the Vietnam complex,'' the newspaper al-Jumhouriya said.
In the wake of the fighting, the United Nations said it would delay sending personnel to implement a deal letting Iraq sell oil to raise $2 billion for needed food and medicine. Iraq has been under U.N. sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Speaking from the Kurdish region, Patriotic Union leader Jalal Talabani told ABC television Sunday that "hundreds of people were killed or injured'' during Saturday's 12-hour onslaught of artillery, missiles and tank fire.
Separately, his faction claimed Sunday that Iraqi forces "summarily executed'' 96 members of the opposition Iraqi National Congress at a base near Irbil.
Iraq said its offensive was intended as a "grave lesson'' to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and to Iran, whose troops it claims crossed into the Kurdish area last month. Iran denies its forces were involved.
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