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Interview with Henri Barkey

Aired October 14, 2002 - 12:52   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For years, the Kurds have been persecuted by Iraq, but the U.S. has also let them down twice, so the question arises, how much of a role might they play and if there is a war, what will they do? How well organized are the Kurds?
Joining me now, Henri Barkey, he is a preeminent scholar on the Middle East, Iraq, and Turkey. He is joining me now here in our Washington studio, a long time professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania -- professor, thanks for joining us.

One of the problems that the Kurds have had, they seem to be divided amongst themselves right now. A few weeks I interviewed Jalal Talibani (ph), who heads one faction, but Masood Barsani (ph), another Kurdish leader, they're often times at odds. Can the Kurds ever get their own act together?

HENRI BARKEY, PROFESSOR, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: They can. In fact, last week, they got together and they reopened the Kurdish parliament, which had been moribund for a long time. Under pressure, and given the circumstances, they will cooperate, but historically, you're right. They have always quarreled among themselves, there are many Kurdish factions, those are not the only ones -- those are the two most important ones.

BLITZER: There is a map, I want to put it up on the screen, show our viewers where the Kurds -- you can see it down here, where the Kurds basically -- right over here, you can see this area, in the middle, this yellow area, not only in northern Iraq, but in parts of Syria, Turkey, parts of Iran, that those are Kurdish areas. The Kurds have a lot of land, they are not in control necessarily, but they have no state and the Turkish government looks at all of this with great concern.

BARKEY: In fact, one of the big problems that the United States may face in case of an Iraq operation, is what will the Kurds in Iraq do, and what will the Turkish to this will be?

The Kurds in Iraq have been talking about the federation, but what the Turks are afraid of is that that federation might be the first step towards independence, and there are two things the Turkish government has said it would do, and that is it would intervene if the Kurds in northern Iraq were to declare independence, but I don't think they will. I mean, the Kurds in Iraq understand that -- the predicament, but most importantly also, is the city of Kirkuk, which is not under Kurdish control at the moment, it is still under Saddam's control, but this is a historically Kurdish town that Kurds would like to declare as their capital, but the Turks are afraid that because Kirkuk has so much oil underneath, that that would also make the Kurds richer, and therefore finance their independence.

BLITZER: Right now they're making money, Saddam is letting them make some money through oil exports, but the key question is this. Will the Kurds in the north, in the northern part of Iraq that they control, work with the U.S. militarily the way the Northern Alliance worked with the Afghan opposition in fighting the Taliban so successfully?

BARKEY: They will, except that there are major differences, one is the Kurdish Gill (ph) at the moment, or the Pishmaga (ph) as they call it, have 40,000 men under arms. They can increase that to probably to 70 or 100,000, but they're not well-armed, they have essentially small weapons, and they don't have large artillery.

Facing them is significant Iraqi troop concentrations with tanks, heavy weapons, artillery, et cetera, and that's a big difference between the Northern Alliance and the Kurds. The Kurds will want to help, except that the Northern Alliance was facing the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein is much more powerful than the Taliban.

BLITZER: And very briefly, when I interviewed Jalal Talibani (ph), one of the Kurdish leaders a few weeks ago, right here in Washington, he said they would welcome U.S. troops coming into Northern Iraq, even using air bases, facilities there as staging points. Was he speaking credibly?

BARKEY: Yes, because the Kurds today, if they live -- seem independent, it is only because the United States has protected them for so long. Without U.S. protection, they would be nowhere. So they do owe us in that sense, and therefore they will -- he has to say that he will welcome American troops and he will help us.

BLITZER: Henri Barkey, thanks for joining us, thanks for telling us something -- we could learn something about the Kurds. Appreciate it very much.


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