U.S., Iraq fail to agree on military role in refugee aid

April 20, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

ZAKHO BORDER CROSSING,IRAQ — ZAKHO BORDER CROSSING, Iraq -- Top military officials from Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition providing humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees met at an abandoned customs post here yesterday but failed to reach agreement in advance of the allied military deployment in northern Iraq.

Speaking after a 45-minute meeting with Iraqi Staff Brig. Gens. Abdul-Hafiz Jezail and Nushwan Danoun, U.S. Lt. Gen. John L. Shalikashvili said the two sides had held "a very frank exchange of views, which gave me the chance to make the points I wanted to make."

"It is our intention to deploy the necessary security forces to protect the humanitarian effort," said Gener

al Shalikashvili, who heads the allied military aid effort. "That was our intention at the beginning. It is still our intention."

It appeared from his comment that the Iraqi military officials had

requested that foreign troops not be deployed on Iraqi territory, north of the 36th parallel, which the United States has declared a safe haven for Iraqi refugees.

The meeting was to have set the stage for the allied military presence in northern Iraq, which could reach 16,000 troops, and eliminate the risk of clashes with the Iraqi forces.

Speaking beforehand, General Shalikashvili said, "We will do everything we can to minimize [the risk of conflict], but I don't think anyone can guarantee that" clashes would not occur.

The Iraqi officers, driving in from Baghdad in a white Mercedes, appeared relaxed before and after the meeting, which was delayed for six hours. U.S. officials said earlier that the delay may have been caused by transportation problems on the road from Baghdad because of the ban on flying north of the 36th parallel.

The allied officers arrived in two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters, escorted by two ground-attack helicopters that hovered above the meeting site. Marines kept watch in the surrounding hillsides.

Shaking hands with General Shalikashvili after the meeting, the Iraqi generals declined to comment.

Although disagreements remained, allied officials said no second meeting with the Iraqi representatives was scheduled. British, French, Canadian and Italian military officers also took part.

"[There] are some issues that remain to be worked out," General Shalikashvili said. "We agree to pursue these problems by other channels."

It was less than clear after the meeting whether the humanitarian program would proceed on schedule. Building the infrastructure for relief camps in northern Iraq was to begin late today or tomorrow.

But in comments earlier, General Shalikashvili said that the schedule would depend to some extent upon the outcome of his meeting with the Iraqi military.

Coalition officials plan to build five or six relief centers to lure hundreds of thousands of predominantly Kurdish refugees down off the Turkish mountain border and back home. The camps would be protected by multinational troops during the first month, with control expected eventually to be handed over to the United Nations.

Relief officials estimate that up to 1,000 of the 2 million refugees along the Turkish and Iranian borders with Iraq may be dying each day. Yesterday, General Shalikashvili said that time was his greatest obstacle in saving the refugees.

Iraq has strenuously opposed the presence of foreign troops on its soil as interference in its internal affairs, without suggesting that it would attack them. Instead, it has signed a U.N. agreement to establish refugee relief centers in northern Iraq.

With Kurdish sources in Turkey reporting sporadic fighting between the Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas and government forces, some here also fear that the foreign troops could become embroiled in the conflict.

Yesterday, General Shalikashvili said that he would "be foolish to tell you I am not concerned" about the Kurdish Pesh Merga rebels continuing to fight during relief efforts.

But he said that his "task is to proceed with this humanitarian effort and not to complicate this thing . . . more than it already is." But he added that he remained "mindful that this is only one of a whole host of issues that could complicate the effort down the road."

General Shalikashvili acknowledged that the allied military presence, and the relief effort it was protecting, were not guarantees of Kurdish security in northern Iraq.

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