ZAKHO, TURKEY — A dateline in yesterday's editions incorrectly located the town of Zakho in Turkey. It is in Iraq.
The Sun regrets the errors.
ZAKHO, Turkey -- U.S. military officials said yesterday that they expected thousands of northern Iraqi refugees to begin returning home tomorrow, after Kurdish guerrillas agreed to stop blocking their path from refugee camps near the Turkish border.
Following a meeting between allied military commanders and Iraqi Pesh Merga leaders near the Iraqi mountain border with Turkey yesterday, Pesh Mergas disappeared from checkpoints along the 10-mile road between the mountains and Zakho, where they earlier had been stopping refugees from going home.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
Yesterday's agreement appeared to remove the immediate obstacle to the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of predominantly Kurdish refugees from squalid refugee camps in Iran and Turkey, where doctors fear an outbreak of cholera or measles.
U.S. Maj. Gen. Jay Garner said yesterday that the mass repatriation "should start in earnest in two days. The trickle has already begun."
But many of the refugees have said they will not return home without either international guarantees of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq or the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Barring that, they would stay in Iraq as long as foreign forces remain
there but would flee the country again if the foreign troops left, they said.
Yesterday's discussions suggested that the people of northern Iraq -- most of them Kurds -- need foreign protection from Mr. Hussein and, to a lesser degree, from Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas.
General Garner said the allies met with a Pesh Merga leader, identified only as General Ali, to clear roadblocks at Pesh Merga checkpoints in northern Iraq.
The Associated Press quoted Col. James Jones, the highest ranking U.S. Marine in northern Iraq, as saying the Pesh Mergas had been demanding payments from refugees to let them go home.
"They're straight-out bandits," Colonel Jones said. "What we are trying to do is essentially to appeal to the Kurdish leadership and say, 'We're the best deal you had in a long time, and you could really screw it up.' "
U.S., British, French, Canadian and Dutch forces have been establishing a network of relief and security operations in Turkey and northern Iraq in hopes of quickly drawing hundreds of thousands of refugees home.
But talks with military and relief workers suggest that relief efforts are hindered by petty corruption and by competing claims of authority by the Turkish and Iraqi military and by Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas.
It appeared that yesterday's meeting between allied commanders and the Pesh Merga was meant to lessen the likelihood of relief efforts' -- and foreign military protection for those efforts -- getting entangled in the Iraqi Kurdish conflict.
"We established conditions that if they go into the [Zakho] area, they go without weapons. Inside Zakho, the rule is, no visible ones," he said.
Kurdish guerrillas are believed to have launched two grenade attacks in the last four days against a remaining contingent of Iraqi soldiers near the Zakho tent camp.
French Maj. Gerard Massot, a spokesman for the French military here, said the Pesh Merga had tried to keep refugees from returning home as both a show of authority and out of fear of losing the only political card they seem to hold -- masses of refugees.
They likely agreed to stop hindering their return because they could do little to stop it, once it gained momentum. Rather than oppose it ineffectively, the Pesh Merga appeared to have chosen to endorse the return.
In Baghdad, the United Nations said that Kurdish refugees were returning home at the rate of about 19,000 a day -- 11,000 to Irbil and 8,000 from the Iranian border to Sulaimaniya. But few were going to the safe havens, he said.
After the meeting, two Kurdish guerrillas appeared at the French relief center at Kasrok, midway down the mountain, where refugees have been backed up over the last few days, to announce the end of the impasse.
As men and women waited in two lines for distribution of donated clothing, two Pesh Merga spokesmen announced the already old news over a megaphone that top officials of the main Kurdish parties had reached an agreement with Mr. Hussein to grant the Kurds autonomy.
One of them, Abdullah Nouri, announced that Iraqi soldiers had left the city and that it was now safe to proceed home.
As soon as they heard his message, people at the French camp cheered, laughed and hugged each other. Women ululated and clapped.
Major Massot said yesterday that after the announcement, the French brought a truckload of 40 refugees from the mountains to the new U.S. tent camp in the valley near Zakho without difficulty.
He said the same trip, just two days ago, had been impossible.