Allies Tell Iraqi Police To Leave
ZAKHO, Iraq (AP) _ The allies have demanded that Iraqi security forces leave this northern town where a tent city is being built for Kurdish refugees, and the police appear to be heeding the call.
The Iraqi police presence in Zakho has frightened Kurds who fled to the mountains on the Turkish border and are now being urged to return to Iraq.
In Washington today, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the United States, Britain and France have warned Baghdad to withdraw its security forces from the Zakho area by this weekend.
The joint statement was delivered Wednesday to Iraqi officials at the United Nations, Fitzwater said. He said the statement ″did not set a specific deadline″ for the Iraqi forces to be out. But, he added, ″We would expect them to be out by early this weekend.″
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Iraq was told its forces should be out of the region by Saturday.
British officials said Wednesday they had issued a Friday deadline for the 200-300 police patrolling the city to clear out.
In a show of force meant to assure the refugees, about 300 British Royal Marines landed by helicopter on Wednesday and drove through the town. They pledged to protect inhabitants who were complaining of intimidation by the black-bereted Iraqi police.
Some police appeared to be driving away in unmarked cars Wednesday, and one Iraqi officer told The Associated Press: ″Tomorrow we leave.″
About two-thirds of Iraq’s Kurds fled to the Turkish and Iranian frontiers after their failed uprising and many have expressed a reluctance to return unless the Western allies assure them lasting protection.
But the long-term need for the camps, which U.S., British, French and Dutch troops have pledged to set up and defend, has been called into question by Wednesday’s agreement in Baghdad between Saddam and Kurdish rebel leaders.
Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani told reporters in the Iraqi capital that the government had tentatively agreed to honor the framework of a 1970 accord for Kurdish autonomy, an accord Baghdad had failed to honor.
Talabani said details of the agreement had not been worked out but that he was confident enough to urge all Kurds to return to their homes in the northern part of the country.
It remains to be seen whether the agreement will be finalized and honored by Saddam and accepted by the refugees. Even if accepted, it is not clear how long it would take for the Kurds to return home, allowing for the dismantling of the camps and the return home of the U.S. soldiers.
Iraq’s decision to send police into Zakho on Sunday had posed a test for the massive allied effort to save the estimated 700,000 Kurds who fled to the mountanious, inhospitable Turkish border.
The police, who arrived over the weekend in the town about 10 miles south of the border, had been ostentatiously patrolling its main streets, brandishing automatic rifles and hovering over private conversations.
But their numbers appeared to decline dramatically as the first 100-strong company of the Royal Marines’ 45th Commando landed by helicopter, drove down the main street and set up headquarters in an unfinished three-story building.
There was no resistance and some police waved at the arriving Britons.
Today, a British news agency reported a confrontation between some of the commandos and Iraqi police over the treatment of a refugee.
Press Association said commandos patrolling in Zakho had to intervene when eight Iraqi policemen tried to drag off a Kurd who was injured in a car crash.
″I had to make it plain to them that it was not the way to behave,″ Lt. Col. Jonathan Thomson was quoted as saying.
The marines accompanied the injured man to the hospital and told the hospital director to make sure he was properly treated, the report said.
The British Defense Ministry said the commandos ″were doing a routine job and there was no hostile confrontation.″
The allied refugee camp, in a meadow a short walk from Zakho is approaching an initial goal of 1,000 tents for 5,500 people. It is scheduled to receive its first returnees within days.
Kurds are to be brought down from the mountains on the border with Turkey with the help of French troops, said French spokesman Cmdr. Gerard Massot.
He said the French would construct a way station along the return route so Kurds coming down from the mountains could receive food, medical attention and gasoline for cars abandoned for lack of fuel.
″Teams will meet with the refugees and give them confidence to come back,″ said Massot.
In Turkey on Wednesday, government spokesman Kemal Akkaya said about 400,000 Kurdish refugees were inside Turkey and that all of them will be transferred to the Iraqi side within two months.
He did not say if they would be forced to return, but stressed that the camps in northern Iraq were only a temporary solution for the Kurds.
Turkey had vigorously urged the Bush administration and other Western governments to set up protected refugee camps in northern Iraq for the Kurds.
In Iran, meanwhile, the health minister said Iranian officials had controlled an outbreak of hepatitis among the Kurdish refugees crowded into the country’s western Bakhtaran province.
Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Reza Malekzadeh as saying health conditions were ″grave″ because of inadequate diet and shelter.
The minister said Iran had begun to innoculate refugee children against contagious diseases.
He said 300 Iranian medical teams with 1,500 doctors and paramedics had treated more than 500,000 refugees. He said 15,000 had been hospitalized and 3,000 had undergone surgical operations.