Kurdish refugees wary of returning

April 25, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

SILOPI, Turkey -- As a way was sought yesterday to get armed Iraqi police out of Zakho, Kurdish refugees jammed into camps here said they would need more than the temporary disappearance of government forces to draw them home.

They would need long-term guarantees of their security, they said.

Leaders of the largest Kurdish clan here said they would return to northern Iraq if the Iraqi police left and security were assured by foreign protective forces.

"As long as Iraqi soldiers or police remained in Zakho, it is not possible, but when they are replaced by American or coalition forces, then it would be OK" to return home, said Rashid Bashir Sindi, whose father's clan is estimated to number 50,000 among the refugees here and at the Isikveren camp, high on the Turkish mountain border with Iraq.

Three days ago, a U.S. officer and two civilians visited the 70-year-old clan leader, Bashir Salah Sindi.

"They told us . . . to encourage people to go back to the [foreign relief] camps," said Rashid Sindi. "They said, 'Just be prepared to go back.' "

But it is uncertain whether clan leaders will have much influence with refugees, who appear convinced that only the death of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would prevent himfrom rising again to destroy the Kurdish people as soon as foreign forces left.

"We don't come back, because Saddam Hussein is still in power there," said Ahmad Abdul Karim, 21, a student. "If Saddam Hussein is removed from power, everything is possible."

Sekvan Bati, a former captain in the Iraqi army who passed over to the rebel Pesh Merga side in the last few months, said, "If Saddam Hussein is in Iraq, I won't go to Iraq."

Ahmad Shikur, 40, an English teacher from Zakho and father of five, said he and other Kurds feared what might happen after the U.S. troops left.

"How long will the Americans stay?" he asked. "Any withdrawal of American troops will cause terrible misery to the Kurds and make them face another stage of extermination."

A few at the Turkish-run tent city in Silopi, less than a half-hour's drive from their damaged and looted homes on the other side of the Iraqi border, thought the surest guarantees might come out of negotiations on Kurdish autonomy in Baghdad between Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council and Kurdish rebel leaders.

Last night Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said he had reached an agreement with Baghdad for full autonomy for the Kurds in northern Iraq.

If backed by a U.N. Security Council guarantee of Kurdish autonomy and a continued presence of coalition forces, such an agreement with Baghdad would be a reliable guarantee of safety, Mr. Shikur said.

For most people here, the threat runs deeper than the presence of a few hundred mysterious police who appeared right after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from Zakho on Sunday.

The Iraqi police, who some U.S. officers say are really soldiers, serve only as an immediate reminder of the threat of reprisal that may await the Kurds when foreign protectors leave northern Iraq.

Yesterday, British officers said that the United States had given the Iraqis 48 hours from midnight Tuesday to clear the police out of Zakho.

"The Iraqis have 48 hours to get out," said Capt. Geoff Mason of the British Royal Marines.

Three British companies, 300 Marines in all, went through the city and took up positions around Zakho yesterday. The British will build relief centers just outside the city.

U.S. military spokesmen here denied that any ultimatum had been issued, and neither British nor U.S. spokesmen would say what the consequences of Iraqi defiance would be.

But one British Marine said the confrontation could end violently. "If they don't leave, they will go home in cardboard boxes," he said. "We are not fussy. Either way."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.