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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kurds Worry About Turkey's Position on Northern Iraq

Aired March 22, 2003 - 05:28   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN correspondents are all over this region in northern, Kevin Sites, Brent Sadler, Jane Arraf. We're going to check in with Brent Sadler who apparently has some new information this morning.
Brent, what is the latest?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, lots of loose ends flapping in a gale of diplomatic wrangling as we heard Fredricka just then. What I can tell you is some details I'm getting from usually reliable Kurdish military sources that suggest that there is now planning well under way to bypass Turkey as far as the U.S. military presence, which is still expected in northern Iraq is concerned.

I understand these details involve a staging post in Jordan now for U.S. special forces that may already have got under way. Maybe as many as 200 special forces flying into Jordan, using that as a staging post to fly across the western desert into the north of Iraq from Jordan. That to be the vanguard, if you'd like, for a build-up of airborne troops numbering several thousand. It could take up to a week to build up.

Now this as the result of total exasperation, I understand, from my contacts on the ground here, with Turkey's demands that it should be able to put its troops into northern Iraq at the same time as the U.S. would deploy from Turkish soil, or use Turkish airspace.

Now the Kurds, on the other hand, are also outraged by Ankara's continuing justification for putting troops into northern Iraq on those two grounds that Fredricka. One, the fear of a Kurdish refugee exodus, as we saw back in 1991, and to stabilize the area against possible independence-seeking Kurdish terrorists.

Now the Kurds say, look, turn the clock back to '97, more than five years ago. The Turks have had 800,000 soldiers already on the ground. They had a small airbase, Albamani (ph), in the north of the country. And the Kurds are actually disputing the figures that Ankara is putting out right now. They're denying that there are as many as a thousand Turkish troops in addition to those here that have come across.

So this is really a very serious difficulty. The U.S., I'm told by Kurdish contacts here, is in a real hurry to tie up these loose ends because if the Turks do come across, I'm told again that the Kurds would oppose it. I'm also told that the Kurds are in contact through their special forces with units of the opposition to Saddam Hussein on the other side of those hills behind me. In Mosul and in Kirkuk, those two major cities in the north which are still under the control of Saddam Hussein.

Now I understand also more details, the U.S. special forces that have been on the ground here for many, many months, some of those special forces were even involved in operations back in 1991, know the ground well, know the people well. They are through the Peshmurga (ph), the Kurdish fighters' special forces, making contacts with opposition groups over there, trying to test the temperature of the water.

Now this coupled with overnight airstrikes against Kirkuk and Mosul, not the kind of military pressure that's going to see those front lines behind me collapse at any time soon, but certainly this loose end is recognized by the Kurds and U.S. military planners, cannot go on indefinitely.

Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Brent Sadler live in northern Iraq, trying to tie up some of those loose ends. Brent Sadler, thanks very much.

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