New hurdles for a sovereign Iraq

In These final days before the scheduled June 30 handover of sovereignty in Iraq, a major occupation of the Bush administration may well be nail-biting.

Will violence swell in some kind of crescendo that will scare away the newly minted Iraqi police and civil servants?

Will oil-pipeline sabotage reach a point that revenues for the new government will dry up?

And, a key question - will the new era start with a secession crisis, some signs of which are already at hand?

While attention has remained focused on the majority Shiites in the South, the non-Arab Kurds in the north, distrustful of promises of autonomy, are threatening to kick over the traces and pull out of the new government.

Kurdish distrust of the United States is well grounded. Still remembered is 1988, when America stood by passively while Saddam Hussein's chemical attacks devastated whole villages. In 1973 President Nixon, and in 1991 the previous President Bush, fomented Kurdish uprisings against Iraq - only then to leave the Kurds to be slaughtered later. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated the year that Nixon fomented a Kurdish uprising -- and in so doing, wrongly implied that Saddam Hussein led Iraq at that time.]

So now, having built a respectable army of their own, the Kurds seem ready to make their move. The New York Times reports that Kurds are returning en masse to homes from which they were evicted by Hussein's forces. The Arabs who occupied them are being forced into ramshackle camps. American officials are trying to stem the migration, but show no signs of halting it.

Another development that may put its mark on the region is the relationship between the Kurds and Israel, reported by Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker magazine.

Mr. Hersh says the relationship is being expanded, with Israel establishing a significant presence on the ground in the Kurdish area. Israeli intelligence and military operatives are quietly providing training for Kurdish commando units.

There is a question whether the Kurds will try to seize the city of Kirkuk and oil reserves in the region. Turkey is expressing concern about Kurdish expansionist designs.

Altogether, it looks as though June 30 may mark the end of the formal occupation, but we are far from the end of the destabilization crisis.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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