Telling It Like It Is: Kissinger and the Kurds

Here was the elder statesman of foreign policy, Henry Kissinger, writing in the Los Angeles Times about the heroic Kurdish people and how American missiles in southern Iraq could not save the Kurds who had worked for America from the vengeance of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Kissinger, of all people! He knows better than anybody about American abandonment of the Kurds. For it was Kissinger, as Nixon's security adviser, who visited Tehran in May 1972, and agreed to do the Shah the favor of organizing a Kurdish insurrection against Saddam, with whom the Shah was having trouble.

The Kurdish leader, Mustafa Barzani, believed implicitly in Kissinger's guarantee, and he even gave his patron three rugs and a gold and pearl necklace as gifts when Kissinger got married.

The uprising was going great guns (literally) for three years, with the Kurds sustaining thousands of casualties. Then suddenly the Shah and Saddam patched up their differences and the Shah agreed to have the CIA call off the $16 million operation.

Arms and supplies to the Kurds were abruptly cut off and Mr. Barzani's forces were left to Saddam's tender mercies. Thousands tried to flee into Iran and were sent back. Barzani wrote to Kissinger, "Your Excellency, the United States has a moral and political responsibility to our people." There was no reply.

In 1975, Kissinger was asked before the House Intelligence Committee how he could justify this betrayal. He replied, "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."

In September, Kissinger was on hand to critique the latest betrayal. Saddam's army and intelligence agents swept into northern Iraq and went after Kurds who had worked for the American government trying to topple him. At least a hundred were executed. Twenty-one hundred were evacuated and flown to Guam, where they will be safely out of the way of media until after our election. But 3,000 to 4,000 who were not directly American employees were left behind in constant danger of arrest.

Suddenly - no thanks to the US - the situation changed. The Iraqi-aided Kurdistan Democratic Party was driven back in a counteroffensive by the Iran-aided Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

At stake now was not just the fate of some misguided supporters of America, but the possibility of a proxy war between Iran and Iraq. The Clinton administration finally sent Ambassador Robert Pelletreau to try to bring the warring factions together.

But in the Kurdish region, the memory still lingers of Henry Kissinger's dictum that covert action should not be confused with missionary work.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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