WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council condemned Baghdad's repression of civilians last night as the United States prepared to airlift food, tents and other relief into northern Iraq to help refugees and other victims of its civil war.
In a rare if not unprecedented criticism of a U.N. member's internal affairs, the Security Council voted 10-3, with China and India abstaining, to demand that Iraq immediately end its repression and open a political dialogue with opposition forces.
The resolution contained no threat of action against Iraq if it failed to comply. It drew support from the Soviet Union, which had previously indicated its opposition.
Earlier yesterday, President Bush announced an airlift of food, blankets, clothing, tents and other relief into northern Iraq to combat the "human tragedy" unfolding from its civil war, and he warned Baghdad not to interfere.
The president's move put the United States belatedly in the forefront of relief efforts following Iraq's fierce suppression of uprisings by Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south.
France also announced yesterday that three airplanes had taken off with 80 tons of tents, blankets and medicines to be delivered through Turkey and Iran.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III will leave Washington today to assess the refugee situation on the Turkish-Iraqi border and to meet with Turkish President Turgut Ozal.
"The human tragedy unfolding in and around Iraq demands immediate action on a massive scale," Mr. Bush said in a statement released while he was in Newport Beach, Calif.
But an administration official acknowledged that Mr. Bush alsoneeded to recoup some of the moral high ground he had lost by refusing even rhetorically to support the rebels after calling for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's downfall.
"I want to emphasize that this effort is prompted only by humanitarian concerns. We expect the government of Iraq to permit this effort to be carried out without any interference," Mr. Bush said.
Besides the airlift, Mr. Bush promised $10 million to aid refugees in the region, over and above the $35 million the United States has donated since the gulf crisis began; $869,000 to the United Nations Children's Fund; and $131,000 and 1,000 tons of food to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
A military medical unit is being readied for the border area of Turkey, which is getting "considerable economic and food assistance" to help it cope with refugees, Mr. Bush said.
The State Department said a senior official, John Bolton, is in Geneva "to coordinate relief efforts for Iraqi and other refugees and displaced persons."
U.S. officials said privately that Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish rebellions, though brutally quelled for now, could be expected to break out again.
At the same time, some government officials and outside analysts expressed the belief that the United States must prepare for the possibility that Mr. Hussein had solidified, if not enhanced, his political position and thus posed an enduring threat.
Peter W. Rodman, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, said Mr. Hussein not only had intimidated his foes but also would be able to rally "all those who fear the fragmentation of the country."