Refugees reject return to Iraq under Hussein

April 19, 1991|By John Kifner | John Kifner,New York Times News Service

ISIKVEREN, Turkey -- Kurdish refugees piled in makeshift camps up and down the steep mountainsides here continued to insist yesterday that they would not go to the refugee centers the United States plans to build inside Iraq as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.

As word of the U.S. plan for relocating the Kurds spread over the peaks and into the caves where the frightened refugees have gathered, people echoed the fears expressed Wednesday by refugees in more accessible sites.

"Where will they build camps?" a refugee named Abbas Abdullah asked in scorn as the late afternoon sun, golden against the line of snow-capped peaks, picked out two U.S. Chinook helicopters on a supply run. "If they build camps and we go, Saddam will kill us."

It was fear of Mr. Hussein, his government and his army that drove the Kurds from their cities and villages as their brief rebellion faltered, fear of brutal reprisal that sent them trudging across the mountains, dying in the thousands from cold, hunger and disease. More than a half-million are here in the mountains of eastern Turkey, and more than a million others have crossed into Iran.

The Kurds know no easing of that fear.

"Even if he has promised a million times, 'I will forgive you, I will give you your own country,' we won't believe him," another refugee, Mohammed Arat, said of Mr. Hussein. "He has proved it to us before. How can we trust him?"

Hajj Azziz, who was pointed out as the clan leader among his villagers in northern Iraq, was answered with a low growl from the men gathered around him when he said no one would go back to Iraq while Mr. Hussein ruled.

"When we left Iraq, we walked for seven days," Mr. Azziz, a wiry, weathered man with deep squint lines around his eyes, said, tapping tobacco from a pouch into a rolled cigarette paper. "Some people couldn't walk anymore, and the Iraqi soldiers shot them.

"Why are we refugees in Turkey?" he continued. "So many Kurdish people have been killed by Saddam. At least we brought our children so they can continue our language and tradition."

All along the steep dirt roads running up and down the mountain, the response was the same.

"Nobody agrees with Saddam Hussein," Ali Mohammed said. "We are not going."

"No," Ahmed Abdul Karim said when asked whether he would move to a camp in Iraq. "But if they send away Saddam, we will go back. Or somebody has to kill him.

"If the Turkish country or the American country wants to help us, they can do us one goodness -- they can kill Saddam Hussein," he said.

Mustafa Shaheen commented: "If the American government protects us in Iraq, we would like to go back because it is our home."

But then someone pointed out that the transistor radios they all listen to had reported that U.S. protection would only be temporary.

"Of course," he said sadly.

The men standing about talked while the women carried bundles up and down hills.

Many of the refugees were middle-class city dwellers -- doctors, lawyers, teachers -- who had been caught up in enthusiasm for the revolution. Although relief workers say the beginning of some organization is appearing, many of the city people do not have the traditional leadership structure of the villages.

It is those traditional leaders who are being called on to create order, such as choosing the people to be sent to the new refugee camp set up by the Turkish government at Silopi.

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