NEWS ANALYSIS : Kurds Could Return Home Sooner Rather Than Later : Refugees: Experts see an emerging political resolution to their problem. ‘We are talking about weeks, not months,’ an American analyst says.
After nearly a month of agony, a broad political accord appears to be emerging that would speed the return to their homes of nearly 2 million refugees from Iraq now trapped in Iran and in mountain camps along the Turkish-Iraqi border.
“Everything now points to an earlier rather than a later solution,” one American analyst said here Friday. That view is increasingly shared by diplomats and representatives of relief agencies now clustered in this southeastern Turkish city, the administrative center for the American-led aid effort for the refugees along the border.
“We are talking about weeks, not months,” said the American.
The analyst cautioned, though, that the progress is fragile and that even under optimum conditions, a solution will take more time than some refugees have left.
That means there will be many small graves still to be dug by mourners among the 400,000 refugees trapped in the mountains and for more than a million others mired in even more appalling conditions--and with less aid--in Iran and neighboring areas of Iraq.
A number of positive elements have surfaced in recent days as a result of international maneuvering and face-to-face talks between onetime bitter enemies, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Kurdish leaders. The combination gives powerful impetus to a swift solution, the analyst said Friday.
The main points are these:
- Tentative agreement by Hussein to accept Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.
- Stronger control of a 600-square-mile haven in northern Iraq by allied troops following the withdrawal of Iraqi forces. All but about 50 of the Iraqi police who have been intimidating townsfolk in the allied-occupied city of Zakhu were withdrawn by Friday in response to an allied ultimatum.
- Quickening construction of fenceless refugee camps in the protected enclave. A third was begun Friday near a town east of the first two, and U.S. sources say up to 10 are planned to be scattered across the haven.
- An about-face in official Iraqi opposition to a foreign presence in the territory. That change allowed the United Nations, which will not go where it is not invited, to announce Friday that it will quickly assume control of the camps from the United States. The U.N. decision will enable supplies to flow to the camps from depots in Turkey in the north and from Baghdad in the south. It will also remove a major obstacle to private relief agencies that have been unwilling to work inside Iraq without Baghdad’s permission.
Negative factors also impel a prompt solution.
Principal among them, from the Kurdish perspective, is that children are still dying in the camps. In addition, among Kurdish leaders there is a recognition that there is no international support for an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
This makes the compromise of autonomy, announced Wednesday by Hussein and the Kurdish leaders, a much more acceptable solution in the wake of a failed rebellion that originally triggered the panic flight of the minority Kurds.
“The Kurds lost the war, but with the autonomy, can claim to have won the peace,” said one Western diplomat.
Quick resolution also suits President Hussein, analysts suggest. There is no chance that an international embargo against Iraq will be lifted while the Kurds who fled Hussein’s wrath continue to suffer.
That stance means no oil exports for Iraq, no foreign currency and no chance that Iraq can begin rebuilding its infrastructure, which was savaged first by a losing war against the United States and its allies, then damaged further in civil war waged successfully against rebellious Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south.
Hussein has invited the refugees to return, promising no retribution against those not guilty of crimes. No Kurd will stir for that promise alone. But now Kurdish leaders are also calling for their people to go back.
“We are facing a tragedy, and we don’t want to be faced with a . . . diaspora,” said Jalal Talabani. “Our problem is to ensure that our people are not lost outside their country. We want them to return to their homes as soon as possible.”
Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, conducted the first round of talks with Hussein in Baghdad this week. Now, the other paramount Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, will open a second round with the goal of winning an autonomy first promised in 1970 but never implemented.
The United States is hoping that the political accords, together with the promise of allied-imposed security in the enclave, will induce the refugees to come back. The camps will be deliberately built near towns in the zone in the hope that many of the refugees will bypass them entirely and go directly to their houses.
Skepticism among the refugees is high, however, as both the United States and international relief agencies recognize. To a person, they loathe Hussein, and they fear him. Without international protection, refugees say, there is no way they will go home.
American specialists, however, believe that at least 80% of the refugees can be induced back into Iraq. Some other solution will have to be found for the rest, they say, including non-Kurdish refugees who look for futures in Turkey or in the West; locally prominent rebels and deserters from the Iraqi armed forces.
There is widespread belief that even one outrage against returning refugees by the Iraqi forces will instantly drive the rest back into the mountains.
And, like the helpless Kurds themselves, everybody also understands that while returning to a haven is probably better than languishing in the mountains, it is only a temporary solution.
Any lasting resolution of the tragedy of Iraq’s Kurds, the analysts point out, must ultimately depend on their relations with Baghdad. And any chance of that becoming mutually constructive must await Hussein’s departure.