The commander of allied forces in northern Iraq rejected demands by Kurdish elders to expand the allies' "security zone," a military spokesman said Saturday.
Also Saturday, about 200 Kurds held a peaceful demonstration in a U.N.-run camp near the town of Zakho in the security zone, pleading for allied troops to remain in the region at least while negotiations on Kurdish autonomy are negotiated with Saddam Hussein's regime.The allied commander, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, met Friday with about 30 Kurdish tribal leaders at Shiladisa, the headquarters of the French troops in the security zone, said Col. Don Kirchoffner, a spokesman for the allied forces stationed at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey.
"He told them that while there was still work left to be done, our mission was drawing to a close. Our intention had not been to move further south or east than absolutely necessary to get the people home from the mountains," Kirchoffner said.
Almost all the 450,000 Kurds who fled to Turkey after their rebellion against Saddam failed in March have returned home. On Friday, the United States and its allies handed over responsibility for the relief effort to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but allied troops will continue to provide security and other services in the zone probably through the summer.
Nearly 1 million of Iraq's 3.5 million Kurds remain in squalid refugee camps in Iran. Iranian officials say only about 300,000 have returned to Iraq.
Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish leader, is in Baghdad trying to negotiate autonomy for the Kurds. He said Friday that he expected an agreement to be signed by mid-June, but previous agreements with Saddam have fallen apart.
About 21,000 soldiers and civilians from 12 nations, half of them Americans, have been operating in the 3,600-square-mile security zone in northern Iraq since April.
Kirchoffner said the Kurdish elders wanted the allies to enlarge the security zone.
"They asked that we stay in Iraq during the sensitive period of negotiations between Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders" on autonomy, he said. "They stated that they needed security and continued international pressure on Baghdad."
Shalikashvili told the Kurds that the allies shared their concern for security "but they should not discount the U.N. and other international organizations who are in the area," Kirchoffner said.