WASHINGTON -- Gen. John R. Galvin, overall commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said yesterday that U.S. and allied forces would have to move farther south if a deal was not struck with Baghdad for the safety of Kurds moving home.
He said he was "optimistic" about resolving the problem and declared, "We do not have a confrontation with the Iraqis."
General Galvin told a group of reporters at a breakfast meeting here yesterday he did not relish the idea of expanding his present area of operations in Iraq, where he has thousands of troops strung across a 60-mile band in the North running roughly from Zakho to Amadiya.
The U.S. Army general is commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Europe and doubles as commander of U.S. forces in NATO. As such, he is the overall commander of the Kurdish relief operation being run from Turkey, a NATO member, and which involves 12,000 troops, 8,000 of them U.S.
"We have to extend our protection further or get an agreement with Iraq for the Kurds to keep on moving" southward, he told reporters.
"I don't want more terrain," he said, a remark that appeared to reflect his desire to avoid committing forces to Dohuk, a provincial capital immediately south of the zone controlled by the U.S.-led coalition.
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Army said yesterday that Iraq had pulled out some forces from Dohuk, thus apparently reducing
chances of a confrontation.
Allied intelligence officers have said that Iraq was toughening its position around Dohuk, placing some 1,000 soldiers on surrounding hills and bringing units from southern Iraq to highways leading into the city.
However, Army Lt. Col. Lee Ryals, a spokesman at Incerlik air base in Turkey, said that Iraqi troop withdrawals from the vicinity of Dohuk were "being consistently reported by intelligence people."
He said that by yesterday only about 100 soldiers remained in the vicinity, and that their number remained steady. He said the withdrawals began about a week ago, but he did not give a reason for the departures.
During a meeting Thursday in Zakho, 8 miles from the Turkish border, allied officers had said that Iraq had voiced concern about allied intentions for Dohuk. Many believe the allies must take the city before the refugees will return.
General Galvin elected not to regard Baghdad's turn-down Thursday of a United Nations police force as a rejection. He saw the impasse rather as "a question of working out details . . . a question of procedures," which he thought might be settled fairly soon.
The Bush administration repeatedly has described its mission in northern Iraq as one of limited duration. It began after a revolt by Kurds was savagely put down by Iraqi military forces, and Kurds then streamed into Turkey and Iran.
The limited-duration goal got a seemingly strong setback Thursday when U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar reported that Iraq had turned down the idea of a U.N. police force to take over from allied troops.
A more optimistic General Galvin, who called the Kurdish relief undertaking the largest humanitarian effort there had ever been, said he expected the allied military forces eventually "to hand off piece by piece" its operation to the United Nations.
The United Nations, which already has its flag on both sides of the line in Iraq, as the general put it, would take over "a bite at a time." He envisioned "nothing but cooperation" with the United Nations, not confrontation.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar wants a U.N. Security Council resolution before proceeding. The Bush administration believes that he can move now.
General Galvin described what he saw as an improving situation for the Kurds, for whom his task is to ensure survival and security. He said that his units had delivered 12,000 tons of food up to yesterday, and that many Kurds were using the allied camps as way stations on their way home.
And, he said solemnly, yesterday could be called his best day in the survival mission -- "only three children died this morning," he said. The Kurds had been perishing by the thousands earlier in their flight from attacking Iraqi forces.