Iraq offered amnesty Friday to rebellious Kurds, but hundreds of thousands of fearful refugees ignored the offer and besieged the borders of neighboring states.
Humanitarian aid began arriving from the West. And President Bush, who has been criticized for refusing to aid the Kurds, ordered U.S. Air Force planes to airdrop food, blankets and clothing to Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who has closed his country's border, hinted that Turkey could take military action against Iraq in response to its attacks on the fleeing Kurds.
The pardon covers even deserters from the army or security forces, but not people guilty of premeditated killing, rape or theft, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
"With their return to the national fold, all their right would be protected," the council said.
Kurdish guerrilla leader Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said the offer "doesn't seem to be serious" and noted the government had violated similar amnesties after past revolts.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said of the offer: "Based on past performance, we are very skeptical."
Associated Press correspondent Alex Efty, who is with the rebels in northern Iraq, said some refugees were ready to respond to the amnesty.
"It is better to return than to watch our children and women die in the freezing cold," said a man driving back to Erbil with his family piled into a tractor-trailer.
A trickle of other refugees headed down out of the hills toward their homes, but more appeared to be heading for the snowy highlands, away from Saddam's control.
"We cannot live in peace while this evil man rules Iraq," said Kareem, an elderly Kurd.
Western nations began responding Friday with humanitarian aid for the Kurds. A cargo plane carrying 30 tons of tents and blankets left England for Turkey. France sent a jetliner full of supplies, and government officials indicated another would leave for Iran soon.
Bush, in California, announced he would sign an executive order freeing as much as $10 million for the Kurds from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund.