Friday, March 28, 2003

I have to finish up with yesterday's Humanitarian Relief Update.

Other mentions of the relief effort in the March 27 NY Times included three grafs in *the* lead story, on page A1, titled "1,000 U.S. Paratroopers Open Northern Front; A Nighttime Drop; Iraqi Forces Head South Toward Allied Units Near the Capital" (the hed online is different: "1,000 Troops Swoop Down on Kurdish Region").

In the jump, on page B3: "In southern Iraq today, the first aid convoy crossed the border from Kuwait to chaotic scenes of food distribution in the border town of Safwan.

"Mine-clearing operations were completed in the channel leading to the port of Umm Qasr, where an aid ship, the Sir Galahad, was due to be unloaded on Thursday.

"American and Kuwaiti engineers raced to construct a pipeline to Umm Qasr from Kuwait to relieve the desperate shortages of drinking water."

On page B6, a story by Charlie LeDuff with David Rohde, titled "Troops Won't Be Sent to Kurdish Areas, Turkish Military Chief Says," reports that General Hilmi Ozkok, chief of staff of Turkey's armed forces, "did not say when the border between Turkey and Iraq will be open to international aid agencies trying to reach Iraqi refugees."

The piece goes on: "Kurdish officials say there is no refugee crisis in northern Iraq and no need for Turkish intervention. Relief groups are split over the issue. Human Rights Watch warned on Friday that the Kurdish government and international aid groups did not have enough food, tents and other supplies to handle a refugee crisis. But some aid groups said the situation was not so dire.

" 'There are not many tents,' said Dr. Giorgio Francia, a manager for Relief International, a Los Angeles-based health aid organization. 'But there are also not that many refugees.'

"The exact number of displaced people in northern Iraq is unclear, but hundreds of thousands of Kurds fearing chemical attack by Saddam Hussein are believed to have fled major cities in Iraq. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of those people are living in the open in caves, tents, trucks and buses."

Note also the interesting if ominous comments of Gen. Ozkok -- described by LeDuff and Rohde as "the most powerful man in Turkey, the supreme commander of a semi-autonomous military and a man who is not used to having to explain himself" -- regarding the pressure put on him by U.S. diplomats "not to intervene militarily in northern Iraq." (I trust readers are aware of Turkey's longstanding "issues" with its own Kurdish population; if not read the article.)

Said Ozkok: "I have difficulty understanding those who claim there is a threat to them across the ocean. And when Turkey says the same threat exists on the other side of its border, this is found to be unbelievable. If things get out of control, I hope our friends will not ask us [to] take action that they oppose now."

In other words, Ozkok is saying, when the Kurds start shooting their guns and making noises about independence and U.S. forces are all tied up in the Battle of Baghdad, don't come running to *us* to straighten it out up north. Not to be too pessimistic, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up happening *exactly* as the general says.

(Here, as an aside, I'd like to put in a plug for David Rohde, the former Christian Science Monitor reporter who wrote Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), a stunning account of how the U.N., along with Clinton and Europe's leaders, dropped the ball, to put it mildly, in protecting Bosnian Muslims in the "safe" enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Rohde won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his reporting from Bosnia. He was 28 years old. After he left the Christian Science Monitor, he went to the New York Times and put in the obligatory time on the street, so to speak. (Here I'm going strictly by my recollection, so don't anyone go screaming "Fact checker!" on me.) His first foreign assignment for the Times that I know of was Afghanistan, around the time the U.S. started bombing it. His stories were always less burdened with ideology and grandiose language than the other Times writers, I thought. Less agitation. Then he was in Pakistan, and back and forth, and now it seems he's in Turkey. Give him a read.