Iraq claimed Thursday to have crushed the last pockets of rebel resistance in the north and south and said it was granting amnesty to army deserters in a northern region that Kurdish insurgents had held.
Fearing government retribution, Kurds have all but emptied the major cities of their traditional homeland in the north. As many as 3 million have fled to rugged terrain abutting the Turkish and Iranian borders, seeking to leave Iraq.Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency said Thursday that 1 million Kurds had crowded into Iran's western border town of Nowsoud in the past 48 hours, hoping to be allowed into the country.
It said thousands more were waiting at crossings farther north, with long lines of cars and other vehicles stretching into Iraq. The agency said many refugees were ill, suffering the effects of severe cold and lack of food.
IRNA quoted border officials in the town southeast of the Iraqi city of Suleimaniyah as saying all the refugees might be allowed in.
On Wednesday, after government troops recaptured the last major rebel-held city in the north, President Saddam Hussein's government urged Kurdish refugees to return to their homes.
A British reporter said that in recent days Iraqi helicopters bombed a massive caravan of Kurds trying to reach Turkey and that another massive traffic jam of 40,000 Kurds was headed for the border.
Those who could afford gasoline escaped with their cars, but most were on foot and many had no shoes, Julie Flint of the London weekly Observer told Israel army radio Thursday after reaching a Turkish border village.
The official Iraqi News Agency Thursday quoted Izzat Ibrahim, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Command Council, as saying the Kurdish rebellion had been crushed, as had the uprising by Shiite Muslims in the south.
"This day is the last moment in which the valiant crushed the last pit of deception," INA quoted Ibrahim as saying in the northern town of Suleimaniyah, which was captured Wednesday from the Kurdish rebels.
However, journalists in northern Iraq reported scattered fighting on Wednesday but noted that Kurdish guerrillas were outgunned by Iraqi forces.
Suleimaniyah was the last large city to be wrested from rebel control.
Kurdish leaders say many refugees are dying of starvation and exposure.
Most of the Kurds appeared headed for Iran, which Thursday asked for help from the United Nations and Red Cross to handle tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees. "Our borders are open to all refugees," Tehran Radio quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati as saying.
Iran has given refuge to tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims who fled the uprising in the south but appears not to have received Kurds with equal generosity. AP reporter Alex Efty said in a report from northern Iraq on Wednesday that Iran was denying entry to Kurdish refugees.
Turkey said on Wednesday that it had closed its border because it could not afford to feed any more refugees.