The last combat veterans of Operation Desert Storm handed over the reins to fresh troops Thursday as the United States continued to scale down its military force in Kuwait.
"They just performed magnificently at every opportunity," said Col. William L. Nash, commander of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Armored Division, which fought Iraq's Republican Guard during the 100-hour ground war.
Also on Thursday, American troops were reported preparing to leave Dahuk, a Kurdish-controlled city in northern Iraq. News agencies said that local Kurds, still fearful of Saddam Hussein's soldiers and security police, are asking the Americans to stay, but U.N. workers said the last of the U.S. soldiers will be gone from Dahuk by Saturday.
In other Persian Gulf developments:
- Turkey rebuffed a request by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz to break world sanctions against Baghdad by reopening the Iraqi oil pipelines that cross Turkish territory en route to the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey shut down the pipelines not long after Iraq invaded Kuwait last Aug. 2.
- A Lebanese widow, Fatima Tafla, in her mid-30s, was sentenced to death by a Kuwaiti martial-law court that found her guilty of informing on her husband, a Kuwaiti resistance fighter who was tortured and killed by Iraqi captors during the seven-month occupation. It was the second death sentence pronounced by the courts, which are trying more than 200 people, most of them non-Kuwaitis, on charges of collaboration with the invaders.
The 1st Brigade's Col. Nash and his soldiers, who began deploying to Saudi Arabia in December and had one homecoming scuttled last month, were clearly delighted to be leaving.
"All our spouses are good-looking and our children are well-behaved, so we're anxious to get home," Nash said, later adding, "If we'd taken a vote, we wouldn't have been last (to leave). . . . But we just do what we are told."
The grizzled commander, who has won a fierce loyalty from his men, choked up when asked about his unit's casualties: six dead and about twice as many wounded.
"I will miss these six soldiers we are leaving behind forever," Nash said. "I'll miss the camaraderie of the warrior. These soldiers faced so much, and it's been an honor serving with them."
About 1,000 of the 4,500 troops have already left for Germany, and the rest are expected to leave by Wednesday, Nash said. About half of the more than 100 tanks have already been shipped out, he said.
The unit is being relieved by 3,700 troops in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which will be charged with guarding Kuwait until at least Sept. 1. Commanded by Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, the troops are based in a former industrial warehouse complex in Doha, about 10 miles due west of Kuwait city.
After fighting its way into Iraq, the 1st Brigade was assigned to care for the more than 20,000 refugees who streamed into the demilitarized zone in southern Iraq after the cease-fire. The troops airlifted about 8,200 refugees to camps in Rafha, Saudi Arabia; about 5,000 others remain in a camp in Abdaly, just inside the Kuwaiti border opposite Safwan, Iraq.
Turkey's rebuff to visiting Iraqi leader Aziz reflected the determination of President Turgut Ozal to continue Turkey's staunchly pro-Western policy in the Gulf, Turkish officials said.
Aziz, however, welcomed his visit to NATO member Turkey as a breach in the wall of diplomatic and economic isolation around his country since it invaded Kuwait.
"Our views may not always have been the same, but at least we can express them. Our governments have a long history of good relations," Aziz told a news conference Thursday at the end of his 24-hour visit.
Aziz said he tried to persuade Turkey to open up Iraq's oil pipelines to the Mediterranean in return for transit revenues that once earned Turkey $250 million a year and oil supplies that once helped make Iraq Turkey's second-biggest trading partner.
"We don't believe the embargo is valid anymore, now that Iraq has accepted all U.N. resolutions," Aziz said. "Our relationship is in Turkey's great interest."
The pipelines are tested and ready, but Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Kurtcebe Alptemocin said the valves would not be opened until the United Nations gives the order.
"We are not pressing for it to open, even if we feel it is important. There are some people in the country who feel the embargo is simply punishing ordinary Iraqis and Turks, not Saddam Hussein," said one senior official who asked not to be identified. "But we will stick to the Western line."
Turkey also declined to send diplomats back to its Baghdad embassy or to release Iraqi goods in Turkish ports since last August, which it said are being held against war reparations due to Turkish companies that had operated in Iraq, the official added.
Times staff writer Efron reported from Kuwait and free-lance journalist Pope from Ankara, Turkey.