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Clinton reacts with good intentions to Iraqi assault on Kurdish safe haven

Sept. 10, 1996

tension in iraq

The issue:

President Clinton ordered a launch of cruise missiles following Iraq's movement into Kurdistan.

Our view:

Though the action may come up as a political issue, the president acted in good faith to protect the Kurds and the interests of the United States.

The sweltering Middle East heat became even more intense last week as Iraq marched into the mountainous northern nation of Kurdistan. The United States promptly launched a barrage of cruise missiles into the southern part of Iraq. The reasons are somewhat ambiguous, as is the history of the persecuted Kurds.

According to Dr. Bill Mitchell, professor of political science, the Kurds go back three to four thousand years as a distinct ethnic group with their own language, although they practice Islam like their neighbors. They do not comprise a country but rather a nation. The area encompasses parts of five Middle Eastern countries. Kurdistan means 'land of the Kurds,' yet while they have never been conquered entirely, they have never had their own homeland.

In fact, Mitchell said both Iraq and Iran have manipulated the Kurds for self-serving purposes for years. They have been used and abused alternately, depending on the whim of the countries.

This time, warring factions within the Kurds was the result. One faction, pro-Saddam Hussein, called on him to come in. He did, readily.

What was surprising was how readily the United States jumped in. After the initial invasion, President Clinton said he was dismayed and not sure what would next occur. The next evening, U.S. missiles were launched. The no-fly zone imposed after Desert Storm that had existed from the 32nd parallel in southern Iraq was extended northward to the 33rd, only miles below southern Baghdad suburbs. The whole northern area of Kurdistan is a no-fly zone as well.

Perhaps most significant was the postponement of lifting the oil embargo that has been in effect since 1990. In front of the United Nations for consideration, the proposed lifting would have allowed Iraq to export a U.N.-determined amount of oil, from which the proceeds would be specifically used for medical supplies and food for Iraqi women and children. The lifting would have also been a relief for Turkey, who is suffering from not having the royalties and cheap oil provided by the pipeline that extends from Iraq to the Turkish port city of Yumurtalik.

The editorial board does not believe Clinton's invasion has anything to do with political motives, although we realized this will turn into a viable political issue. After the Gulf War, former President Bush's approval rating was so enormously high that he could have easily won his bid for re-election had the election been held right then.

Bush brought the country into the war because of oil, although he cited as well that it was in an effort to protect another country. Clinton, however, has not given a definite reason.

Kurdistan is a struggling nation who needs protection. In one sense, the United States could be exercising its right to fulfill the role of international Big Brother, rising up to protect its little, weaker world siblings.

Yet the U.S. missiles were aimed for the south. Once again, oil comes into play. The extension of the no-fly zone and the attack on the south was partially perceived as an effort to protect the United States' oil interests in Iraq's neighbors of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Although oil has not been mentioned as a major factor, we think it played a central role in the decision. We also think our country wanted to protect a suppressed people.

Many of the world's nations, including China and Russia, did not condone the actions. In the big picture, however, we think Clinton acted with the best intentions -- for the Kurds and for the United States.

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