Kurdish ally of Saddam Hussein defects

17 March 2003
Saddam Hussein's most important Kurdish ally has defected to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, London's Financial Times reported on 17 March. Jowhad Herki, leader of the Herki tribe, is a former member of the Iraqi Parliament and supported the Baghdad government during successive suppressions of Kurdish uprisings since the 1960s. Northern Iraqi Kurdish officials were taking the defection as a sign that, as Saddam Hussein's downfall appears on the horizon, his internal support is waning. The Herki is the largest of various tribes who have allied themselves with Saddam Hussein's regime for reasons of inter-tribe rivalry. Jowhad Herki controlled several thousand troops around Mosul before defecting, and whether they will seek to join their leader or remain loyal to the Iraqi president is now questionable. Kurdish leader Maoud Barzani reports having held meetings with several former foes over recent weeks to create a united front ahead of Saddam Hussein's potential fall.

Kurdish, Turkish and US representatives are to meet in Ankara on 17 March to discuss the thorny issue of Turkish intervention in northern Iraq in the event of war. Turkey is determined to send a force into Iraqi territory to prevent a flow of refugees into Turkey and to protect the Turkomen minority in Iraq.

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