Looks as if the Kurds are about to get the short end again.

Lack of Western concern seemed almost logical when Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein started butchering his own people as self-therapy for the humiliation inflicted on him in Operation Desert Storm.After all, his first victims were Iraqi Shiite Muslims.

While Americans may be politically naive, they're not afflicted with amnesia. None of the memories associated with Shiites were of a sort that would foster sympathy for their plight.

Those were Iranian Shiites who stormed into the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 and went on to hold 52 Americans for 444 days.

Those are Lebanese Shiites who continue to hold 13 Western hostages, six of them American, under vile conditions in Beirut.

The Shia sect represents a tiny minority of the Islamic world. But by near-freakish coincidence, Shiites are the majority in the only two countries of current major interest: Iran, where they are obnoxiously dominant, and Iraq, where they are chronically victimized.

On purely humanitarian grounds, you could argue that it's immoral for the Western world to sit back and let the Shiites in Iraq suffer for the sins of Shiites in Iran and Lebanon.

To paraphrase Muhammad Ali's historic statement to his draft board about the Vietnamese, ain't no Iraqi Shiites ever called us Satans.

But moralizing is almost anachronistic, since Shiite uprisings have already been crushed in southern Iraq.

The people we should be concerned about now are the Kurds, who are being shot, poisoned and napalmed in northern Iraq by cowards who didn't have the stones to emerge from bunkers in anything but the posture of abject surrender when they encountered a modern army.

Two images of boats come presently to mind.

In one, dutifully shown on network TV, President Bush is setting out on his last day of casting for bonefish, in the company of Turkish President Turgut Ozal.

In the other image, seen by U.S. journalists on the Syrian side of the Tigris River, three young Kurdish guerrillas are wading out to a skiff for transport to the hostile side when an Iraqi shell disintegrates all of them, boatman included.

Meanwhile, Bush paused just long enough after his fishing to admit he was "troubled by the situation in Iraq - this human suffering. However, I'd rather not discuss it right now." Whereupon, the leader of the Western world motored off for one last round of "pitch-and-putt" golf.

Kurdish guerrillas do not affect sanctimonious tags like "Soldiers of Allah" or "Guardians of the Faith," so favored by regional Arab groupings. Kurds are known simply as pesh mergas, or "we who face death."

The Kurds are not like the Palestinians, who assembled an extravagant international propaganda apparatus on the donated petro-millions of the very oil states they turned on so precipitously when it seemed Saddam had hit the jackpot in Kuwait.

Major news desks aren't flooded with self-glorifying press releases from Kurds. The pesh merga wouldn't know how to compose a press release. But they sure know how to face death.

Now they face death in northern Iraq, because they don't have observer status with the United Nations and no one ever showed them how to draft a petition to the U.N. Security Council, which never once listed Kurdish rights in all the emergency resolutions passed against Iraq.

It can't be stated often enough - even if it's only stated here - that the Kurds were truly promised a homeland in the post-World War I Conference of Sevres.

Then the British and French, remembering their own self-interest, conspired to withhold land reserved for the Kurds and use it to create British and French client-states, respectively named Iraq and Syria.

But don't think the Kurds were simply forgotten.

The land that's rightfully theirs is also coveted by the Turks, who were actively persecuting Kurds before modern Middle East nations existed on any map.

Turkish President Ozal wasn't on Bush's boat to cut bait.

More likely, he was again cutting out the Kurds.

(Jack McKinney is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.)