WASHINGTON -- Iraq, facing a threat of renewed force by the United States, said yesterday that it was withdrawing its military from the area surrounding an allied refugee camp in northern Iraq and leaving only 50 policemen behind.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "It is a good development. We're glad they are accepting this plan."
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Amir al-Anbari, told U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering of the withdrawal plan yesterday afternoon, U.S. officials said.
Earlier in the day, the United States had made clear that it was prepared to use force if Iraqi troops were not out of the area of Zakho, where the first of five or six refugee camps are being erected, by early this weekend.
"The answer is yes to both questions," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney replied when asked whether the United States had given the Iraqis a deadline and was prepared to use force if they didn't comply.
U.S. officials feared that the intimidating presence of Iraqi forces would prevent Kurds from leaving their mountain sanctuaries along the Turkish border and coming down to the camps being set up by U.S., British and French forces in northern Iraq.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Bush administration that the presence of 50 Iraqi police would be acceptable, although Mr. al-Anbari said that the plan had been worked out between Iraqi and allied military officers at the scene.
At his daily briefing yesterday morning, Mr. Fitzwater said that the U.S. warning applied to all Iraqi forces in the area, but he later said that the Iraqis "would obviously be expected to maintain a law enforcement capability."
One administration official said that if the presence of police had been agreed to, "I would hope thatthat was cleared with the Kurdish leaders, because the main task for us now is to convince the Kurds that it is safe to come into what's being set up around Zakho."
The apparent Iraqi withdrawal followed the announcement Wednesday by a Kurdish rebel leader, Jalal Talabani, of an agreement in principle with the Iraqi government for Kurdish autonomy.
U.S. analysts said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was hoping to divide the Kurds from other opposition forces and also to take away any apparent reason for allied coalition forces to remain in northern Iraq.
U.S. officials hope to phase out coalition forces as United Nations and other relief officials take over the refugee camps, which will be supplemented by way stations to ease the refugees' journey home. About 2 million Kurds and other refugees have fled into or toward Iran and Turkey.
Some senior officials are not totally sanguine about this prospect but lack an alternative. Establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping force would require a Security Council resolution, which would face stiff opposition because of perceived interference in a nation's affairs.
Meanwhile yesterday, the United States announced plans for a second refugee camp near Amadiya.
The State Department also said that U.S. Air Force aircraft would deliver a large shipment of blankets to an airport in Tehran tomorrow to aid refugees who have fled to Iran and that more flights could follow.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati appealed yesterday for more Western aid for Iraqi refugees in Iran and said that he would not object to U.S. planes ferrying in goods.
State Department officials also said that the United States had conditionally granted Iraq permission to spray pesticides from helicopters to combat a pest that has infested its wheat crop.
North of the 36th parallel, however, the Iraqis will have to contract with a third party for the helicopters, allow the crop-dusting to be monitored by outside authorities and use a safer pesticide, officials said.