Expulsions trigger Saddam 'buffer' fears

The sudden expulsion of about 50 families from a strip of northern Iraq has triggered speculation that Saddam Hussein is preparing a buffer zone to defend against a US invasion.

The sudden expulsion of about 50 families from a strip of northern Iraq has triggered speculation that Saddam Hussein is preparing a buffer zone to defend against a US invasion.

The area is a 20-mile strip separating the autonomous Kurdish zone from the rest of Iraq.

A Kurdish spokesman said Baghdad had also moved forces of the Mujahedeen Khalq - a militant Iranian opposition group under Saddam’s control – into the area over the last two weeks.

“It seems like they are clearing a buffer zone,” said Fawzi Hariri of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

“It may be a new method or strategy, and it could well be part of a military manoeuvre.”

The KDP governs the north-west part of the autonomous region, which was set up after the 1991 Gulf War.

They are protected by British and American war planes that patrol the northern no-fly zone.

Among those turned out of their homes was Goli Gerdi Amin, a 40-year-old mother of five.

“The Iraqi commander was very cruel with us,” said Zeerak Zaher, her 18-year-old son. “My mother began to cry. She has been crying ever since.”

Washington, which believes Saddam possesses banned weapons, is threatening to disarm him by force and wants neighbouring Turkey to agree to accept US troops on its soil.

Turkish reports have said that if the government does not agree to the request, the US will airlift troops into northern Iraq instead.

Recent activity at the newly reopened Harir air base in the autonomous region, 30 miles north of Ibril town, has led to speculation it is being prepared for American troops. Ibril is 200 miles north of Baghdad.

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