August 31, 1996 in Nation/World

Iraqi Threats Toward Kurds Have U.S. On Alert

New York Times

After detecting threatening movements by Iraqi troops against the Kurdish districts in the north, the United States has told U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region “to be prepared to deploy” if needed, Clinton administration officials said Friday.

The intention of the Iraqi troops and of President Saddam Hussein remained unclear, administration officials said.

The officials refused to discuss the size or strength of the Iraqi forces; but they said the movements toward the Kurdish zone, which is under U.N. protection, caused enough concern to warrant a heightened state of readiness.

“We would view any aggressive moves by Iraq with utmost seriousness,” a State Department spokesman, Glyn Davies, said Friday evening. “The Iraqis are in no doubt of our views on this.”

Mike McCurry, the press secretary to President Clinton, said: “We will consider any aggression by Iraq to be a matter of very grave concern. We will continue to monitor the situation very carefully.”

The United States was clearly trying to send a strong warning to Iraq not to cross into the so-called exclusion zone, hoping to keep “these tensions from escalating,” as one official put it.

The zone covers all of Iraq north of the 36th parallel. It was created by the United States and other Western countries after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to protect the Kurds, who at the time were in the midst of learning that even a weakened Iraqi army was strong enough to smash their insurrection against Baghdad’s rule.

Protected by U.S. forces under a U.N. mandate, the zone has been a repeated area of contention with Iraq. Iraqi aircraft are forbidden from the entire zone.

The United States already has considerable forces in the region, including 21 ships in the Persian Gulf and ground forces in various countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In all, one official said, the United States has 23,000 military personnel in the region.

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