U.S. Urges Iraq to Cut Military Presence Near Kurds

From Associated Press

The U.S. commander of the coalition forces repatriating Iraq's Kurdish refugees asked Baghdad on Wednesday to reduce its military presence in northern Iraq so that more Kurds will go home.

Army Lt. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili also complained to the Iraqis about a shooting incident late Tuesday, in which Iraqi troops opened fire as a U.S. Army helicopter flew past them just outside the allied "security zone" in northern Iraq.

The OH-58 scout helicopter was not hit and may not have been fired upon directly, military officials said, but Shalikashvili said he warned the Iraqis.

"They absolutely have to get the word to local commanders that shooting incidents must stop, or we're going to have an incident both sides regret," he said.

The commander said he met in this allied-controlled city with Maj. Gen. Abu Firas Saber, Saddam Hussein's representative, and asked Iraq to reduce "that kind of visual military presence that seems to cause concern to the Kurds and does not result in great numbers of them going home."

Shalikashvili indicated that the plan goes beyond an earlier one under which Iraq withdrew many of its troops to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Dahuk. Iraqi and U.N. officials have been discussing the deployment of a U.N. police force to replace allied soldiers guarding the camps.

Although refugees have been returning from Turkey at a steady pace, Kurdish leaders declared the previous security plan insufficient. Almost all of Dahuk's 350,000 Kurds took refuge in border areas with Turkey after their rebellion against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein failed in March.

Meanwhile, allied officials said that about half of the 440,000 who fled to Turkey had returned.

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