Iraqi policemen frighten few left in Kurdish city

April 24, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

ZAKHO, IRAQ. — ZAKHO, Iraq -- Armed Iraqi police continued to intimidate the scattered Iraqis here yesterday, undermining U.S. efforts to draw Kurdish refugees home from the Turkish mountain border with pledges of temporary shelter, food and protection.

The few residents of Zakho too old or too poor to have fled President Saddam Hussein's assault on this insurgent Kurdish city and the handful to have returned to their looted homes were frightened yesterday by the close watch of Iraqi police who appeared after Iraqi soldiers withdrew Sunday.

The police, who U.S. military officials suspect may be soldiers dressed in uniforms of the Baath Party police, are collecting the names of Iraqis here, watching them closely and hovering nearby when they speak to foreigners. There appear to be more police than residents.

"Intimidation levels are really growing," said U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Lee Tibbetts. "It's a very, very tricky situation. I'm telling you, it's getting wild over there."

Sergeant Tibbetts said the police, armed with pistols and AK-47 assault weapons, weren't really soldiers. Some appeared to be as young as 14.

In a meeting with two Iraqi generals Friday, U.S. Lt. Gen. John Shalikashvili, commander of the allied forces here, instructed the Iraqis to withdraw their military forces to 20 miles south and 35 miles east of Zakho. U.S. officials have not made clear how his order would be enforced.

Col. Richard Maab, the U.S. Marine liaison with the Iraqis, indicated yesterday that there were no negotiations to get the Iraqi police out of the region and that conversation with the Iraqi force was limited.

"We talked to them about things that concern them. We'd like to see less armaments in the area," Colonel Maab said. "We can tell them some very concrete steps we want them to take."

Yesterday, two U.S. warships were headed toward the Turkish coast in the Mediterranean Sea, the Associated Press reported. The agency quoted naval officials in Saudi Arabia as saying that the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser Richmond K. Turner had moved from the Red Sea to be closer to northern Iraq.

Fred Cuny, a disaster relief consultant organizing the aid effort for the State Department, said the Iraqis used intimidation in southern Iraq when the United States organized relief there.

"That didn't last very long. It's going to be very difficult for people to stay around and play those games," Mr. Cuny said. "Right now they're trying to see how far they can go."

He said he feared that the Iraqis aimed to create a "de facto blockade . . . along the 36th parallel" to make relief efforts as cumbersome as possible.

"I think they will make it logistically difficult for people and keep our cost up, to force us out," one U.S. official said.

If the Iraqi police -- or soldiers in policemen's uniforms -- wanted to threaten the people of Zakho, it didn't take much effort.

The people were routed from their cities and villages in 1988, then again a month ago when the conclusion of the Persian Gulf war set off a Kurdish rebellion against Baghdad.

Now, it takes little to remind the Kurds of the Baghdad regime's ruthlessness and long memory: The glance held too long, the name jotted down by a man in uniform is sufficient to bring back the fear.

"At first, when the [Iraqi] troops pulled out, people were very friendly, coming up to us, asking if they could work," said Mr. Cuny. "Now, they come up and whisper, 'We'd like to help, but these guys are taking names.' "

Members of one family, who returned two weeks ago after fleeing to Mosul, south of here, found the doors of their house kicked in, two televisions and a car radio stolen and a smoked-glass coffee table broken.

The soldiers even took pictures from a daughter's bedroom wall.

The city is without electricity, has water only one day in three and lacks gasoline to fuel its few cars. The buildings on its outskirts were damaged during the Kurdish-Iraqi fighting.

"You have benzine [fuel]?" the taxi driver asked a customer yesterday.

At the girls' school, windows have been blasted through, inside walls have collapsed and the facade is covered with bullet holes.

The children say school is "on holiday," but it has probably been "holiday" since the fighting began.

Missan Shimon David, 65, a Christian, recalled waking up one day and realizing that everyone but him had fled.

As Iraqi policemen leaned in to listen, Mr. David said that people dressed as Iraqi soldiers went into the homes of Kurds who had fled and stole whatever they wanted.

As the Iraqi residents look on apprehensively in Zakho, and the Kurdish refugees watch from afar, the U.S. Marines are trying to extend their security perimeter over Zakho and beyond, toward the east.

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