War with Iraq

Posted on Sun, Mar. 30, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Kurdish leader urges TV cutoff in Iraq

Inquirer Staff Writer

A senior Kurdish military leader is urging that U.S. forces quickly eliminate the Iraqi government's ability to broadcast on television.

He said yesterday that the broadcasts were instilling doubts among Iraqi commanders about whether they should surrender.

"Psychology is 50 percent of the battle," said Lt. Col. Wagih Barzani, commander of the First Army Special Forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. "When the Iraqis see pictures of a downed American helicopter, the Iraqis believe Saddam is still in control."

Despite U.S. bombing of the Information Ministry building in Baghdad, the BBC reported yesterday that television programming is being broadcast in the capital.

Barzani, 33, the younger brother of KDP leader Massoud Barzani, said the Iraqi regime had always managed to find ways to broadcast.

"They have many local stations," he said.

Yesterday, Barzani visited the KDP installation that is housing large portions of the 173d Airborne Brigade, which parachuted into northern Iraq on Wednesday night.

"Anything the Americans need, we are ready to provide," he said, and promptly offered a meal of rice, bread and fish. His men have been providing U.S. soldiers, who are living on packaged military meals, with bread and soup each morning.

With its air base here deemed secure, the bulk of the 173d Airborne Brigade moved several miles away on Friday to a former Iraqi military facility now held by Kurdish forces.

There, U.S. paratroopers mingled with hundreds of smiling peshmergas - Kurdish fighters - and bedded down indoors after two cold, rainy nights outdoors.

The ground at Bashur air field, where 1,000 troops parachuted Wednesday night, was too muddy to set up a base of operations, said the brigade commander, Col. William Mayville.

"This allows us to dry off, get fed, and clean our weapons," he said before a convoy of trucks carrying troops moved out of the airfield toward the facility.

They left behind dozens of soldiers, however, camped in the valley surrounding the airfield and dealing with chilly nighttime temperatures, periodic rain, and all-consuming mud.

Barzani said KDP forces, which he numbered around 70,000, were ready to help the Americans fight the Iraqi army in the north, including in the oil-rich regions around Mosul and Kirkuk.

He said he thought Iraqi army commanders in those cities were ready to surrender as soon as they could be sure that Saddam Hussein's regime was over.

"If you encircle Baghdad, then you get Mosul and Kirkuk in one week," he said.

If that prediction proves faulty, it's not clear how U.S. forces would take those cities. Some tanks and armored vehicles can be flown into the 173d's airfield at Bashur, but probably not enough to take a large city, U.S. officers say.

The world's 20 million Kurds - who are spread over Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey - have long aspired to their own nation. That has led the governments of those countries, particularly Turkey and Iraq, to deal harshly with their Kurdish populations.

But the younger Barzani said yesterday what exiled Kurdish leaders have said for months: Iraq's Kurds would be satisfied with a parliamentary democracy under a federation that provided for Kurdish autonomy and self-governance.

Asked who would control the high-producing oil fields in Iraqi Kurdistan, he said, "the central government."

Barzani also warned that if Turkish forces moved into northern Iraq in significant numbers, "we will fight them."

Contact staff writer Ken Dilanian at 215-854-2405 or foreign@phillynews.com.