WASHINGTON — The United States, Britain and France have ordered Saddam Hussein's government to remove its security forces from the area near a new Kurdish refugee camp in northern Iraq, the White House said Thursday, and there were indications that Baghdad will comply swiftly.
"We would expect them to be out by early this weekend," White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said. About 200 to 300 Iraqis, described as soldiers, police officers and internal security officials, had taken up posts in the nearby town of Zakhu as U.S. troops began building the refugee camp.
Thomas R. Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the demand to his Iraqi counterpart, Abdul Amir Anbari, Wednesday evening. The Iraqi ambassador replied that the soldiers had been withdrawn and that only 50 police officers will remain, a U.S. official said. Other officials suggested that the risk of conflict was being defused.
President Bush said the reports of an Iraqi withdrawal were "encouraging."
"It's a very good development," he said.
The order was portrayed at the White House as a preventive measure but one that was necessary to coax reluctant refugees clinging to rudimentary camps in Turkey to return to Iraq. But although it reflected an effort to establish a measure of stability in the unsettled region, it also raised the risk that the 1,300 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq would find themselves in conflict with Iraqi units.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned that the U.S. troops will use force, if necessary, to ensure that Iraqi military and internal security forces remain at least "several kilometers" from Kurdish refugee camps established by U.S. troops. And he added that more troops may be deployed to Turkey and northern Iraq.
In other developments:
- The Iraqi government confirmed the disclosure of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani that the Kurds and Hussein's regime have reached agreement in principle to provide some sort of autonomy for the Kurdish provinces in the north.
- The White House announced that a second refugee enclave, protected by U.S. troops and other coalition forces, is being established west of Zakhu and nine miles east of Amadiyah and that a 24-hour military coordination center was being established in Zakhu.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iraq's denial that it has nuclear weapons is inadequate, and it gave Baghdad until today to disclose the location of any weapons-grade nuclear material.
- The United States said a U.S. airplane will deliver blankets to Iran on Saturday in the first such public contact between the United States and Iran in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of the approximately 1 million Kurdish and Iraqi Shiite Muslim refugees who fled into Iran are reported to be desperate, and Iran has sought international assistance.
- Bush sought congressional approval to spend $150 million on humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts. The money will be offset by interest earned on money set aside for the Persian Gulf War, Fitzwater said.
The establishment of the camps in northern Iraq--and the need to provide food, shelter and security for the refugees--has been a troubling issue for the Administration, and one that Bush initially tried to avoid. But the desperate plight of the Kurds, seeking refuge from Hussein's forces in the wake of the unsuccessful uprising after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, spurred Bush to authorize deployment of U.S. troops to provide protection.
U.S. officials now fear they may be on a path that will lead to the creation of seething camps of stateless people akin to those housing Palestinians in Lebanon.
"I'd like to say we have a full solution at the moment. But we don't. We are searching urgently for answers," said one senior White House official. "I can't tell you at the moment we won't end up with something like the Palestinian refugee camps. But we won't turn these people over to the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein."
Defense Secretary Cheney said at a news conference that the United States "may well be deploying additional forces" to Turkey and northern Iraq, where 7,000 U.S. military personnel have landed. Of that total, about 1,300 are said by the White House to be deployed in Iraq.
"We've made it very clear that we do not want Iraqi forces in a position where they interfere with our efforts to undertake the relief efforts," Cheney said. "We have given them a deadline, and our people have the authority to use the force necessary" to separate Iraqi forces from nervous Kurds.
Administration officials have been reluctant to set a time limit on the deployment.
"The sooner we can complete our mission, which is to build the camps and get the Kurds moved into the camps and get their assistance flowing, and then get out of there, the better I'm going to feel about it," said Cheney. "I am not eager to see U.S. military forces tied up in this kind of effort indefinitely."