Awaiting the Worst

Kurds are expecting the quiet of recent days to be broken by the opening of the northern front.

Awaiting the Worst

Kurds are expecting the quiet of recent days to be broken by the opening of the northern front.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Today, for the first time, I heard the sound of bombardment. It was around 1 p.m. and I was in my office when I heard two big explosions accompanied by the sound of planes flying overhead. My guess is that the explosions were from the Mosul front, which, according to the news and the people in the region, has been bombarded over the last two days.

Here in Erbil it is a cold and rainy day again. The situation is still calm and in the last few days people have begun to return to their homes. But since yesterday public concern has been growing again.

Everything is indicating that war on the northern front might start soon. Apart from a missile attack on two military camps of two radical Islamic groups, on the border with Iran 250 kilometers south-east of here, nothing of significance has happened in Iraqi Kurdistan until now. (The governor of Erbil, Fransoa Hariri, a Christian, was assassinated by one of these groups two years ago. He was a key member of Kurdistan Democratic Party and a Kurdish fighter for 40 years.)

The Kurdish forces are now on their highest alert, and according to word on the street, the deadline for the start of war here is tonight or latest tomorrow. Some think it is still a few days off because so few preparations are obvious. The general expectation is that when the war starts Iraq will retaliate against the Kurds. But whatever the consequences the Kurds are committed to play a role in supporting the US-led coalition.

Meantime, Iraqi television is still broadcasting! I hope that there is wisdom in that. In 1991, it was shut down in the first few minutes of war. The Arabic satellite station Al-Jazeera is playing an ugly role in this war, broadcasting the bloodiest pictures and trying to fire up Arabs everywhere.

I am not saying they should not cover events, but I believe that there should some limitations on what is broadcast. The international politics if this are beyond belief: at the same time that Qatar is hosting the headquarters of the American troops, Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, is motivating and encouraging the Arabs to jihad - holy war!

Iran, Turkey and Jordan have been preparing camps to receive people displaced from different parts of Iraq and have asked for international assistance, saying that they won't be able to handle everyone by themselves. Turkey particularly is a hard negotiator in that field. Iran says it has arranged camps to receive 200,000 refugees. Jordan has mentioned similar figures.

A few weeks ago here, the Kurdish government examined the possibility of having a rush of displaced people from the rest of Iraq. With the limited resources available to us we took the necessary actions to receive them. There has been some internal displacement within Iraqi Kurdistan of people leaving towns on the frontline. But we were expecting Arabs, Kurds and others from the centre and south of Iraq to move to Iraqi Kurdistan - a safe haven - with the onset of war. Until now, fortunately, only small numbers of people from these places have arrived and all have relatives or friends on this side and have been accommodated in houses and not in camps. So far, so good.

Ali Sindi, a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, is a Kurdish surgeon and former deputy minister of health in the Kurdish government.

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