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Profile: Opposition Parties In Northern Iraq Welcome A War In That Country

All Things Considered: February 15, 2003

Kurds Cheer Notion of Attack to Oust Saddam

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some people inside northern Iraq are eagerly preparing for the possibility of regime change in Baghdad. NPR's Ivan Watson has been talking to opposition leaders and others, and he joins us now from northern Iraq.

Ivan, what are people saying there about the prospect of war?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Steve, we're in a part of Iraq that's not controlled by Baghdad, and yet, it is part of Iraq and the people here overwhelmingly say they want a war. They're fed up with a despised Saddam Hussein, and everybody I speak with here, be it a mother, be it children, government leaders, are in favor of some kind of regime change. They view a US invasion as a sign of hope that perhaps the man they call `a tyrant,' the man that they say committed genocide against the Kurdish people, that he can be overthrown, and the leaders here are talking about installing democracy after this possible overthrow.

INSKEEP: Now the UN Security Council, of course, is debating whether or not Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi Kurds are among those who've actually been the targets of chemical weapons in Iraq. What are they saying about Iraq's current capabilities?

WATSON: One Kurdish leader says the whole debate is frankly silly, in his words, because the Kurds have been the target of chemical weapons, what they call a genocide. You can meet Kurds on the street who have suffered injuries from attacks during the late 1980s, and they say that, `We know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We know that he's used them, and that he could potentially use them again.' In fact, people here have been sewing homemade gas masks, and putting plastic tarps over their windows in anticipation of just this kind of attack.

INSKEEP: Now, Ivan, I gather that the Iraqi opposition leaders are planning a conference next week to try to debate the future of the country, which interests me because I know that these are groups that have attacked each other in the past. I gather that even the planning of this conference has been delayed, and you have to wonder if they have trouble organizing a conference, if they can run a country.

WATSON: This is a big challenge, and the opposition leaders themselves admit that they have not been united in the past, and they really to make a show of their unity. In fact, just this past week, the two largest Kurdish factions--these people fought a civil war against each other for years--they opened reciprocal offices, party offices in each other's territories. They're trying to stand side by side and show their opposition to Saddam Hussein, and at the same time, to stand side by side and show to the United States that they are an important political body within Iraq and that they should be consulted, that they should be partners in this process of transition, if and when Saddam Hussein is overthrown.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ivan Watson is in northern Iraq. Ivan, thanks very much.

WATSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: In the next half-hour of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll hear more opinions from around the world about a possible war.

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