WASHINGTON – A Kurdish leader predicted Friday the quick collapse of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government if war comes. He said 70,000 Kurds were prepared to fight alongside U.S. troops.
Barhim Salih, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government, said the Iraqi army and even some of Saddam's Republican Guard would quit in what he predicted would be a short war.
Salih told reporters at the Council on Foreign Relations, a private research group, that Saddam had booby-trapped Iraqi oil fields in Kirkuk and probably elsewhere and would have them blown up as he sought refuge outside the country.
"We have to expect the worst of him," Salih said.
"The war will be relatively short," the Kurdish leader said. "The bulk of the Iraqi army and much of the guard will not fight."
In Washington for talks with Bush administration officials, Salih said he hoped to discourage any U.S. invitation to Turkey to send troops into northern Iraq, which has a heavy Kurdish population.
If Turkey should intervene, so will Iran, Salih said, "opening a Pandora's Box" that would harm prospects for a transition to an independent, democratic government in Baghdad.
The Bush administration has asked Turkey to let U.S. troops to launch an invasion of northern Iraq from Turkish territory. The Turkish government approved the recommendation, but its parliament rejected the request.
In the meantime, U.S. and Turkish officials discussed this week the U.S. use of Turkish airspace for attacks on Iraq.
Asked about Salih's opposition to stationing Turkish troops in northern Iraq, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We understand their point of view. ... We've been in close touch with Turkish authorities about the situation."
Boucher said the Bush administration had made it "very, very clear we remain strongly opposed to any unilateral action by any party in northern Iraq, and that's a position the Turks understand clearly, as well."