The cold, hungry and rain-soaked Kurdish refugees marooned in Iraq's hostile northern mountains are getting some relief - tons of supplies dropped from U.S., British and French planes.
U.S. cargo planes airdropped supplies Monday for a second day, accompanied by F-16, F-15 and A-10 warplanes to defend against any Iraqi attack.An official at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey said the U.S. planes returned safely after dropping their food on target. French planes also took off to parachute packages of flour, sugar, salt and other staples.
But the food, blankets and tents do little to solve the predicament of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds who fled a failed rebellion, fearing the vengeance they say Saddam Hussein's forces are exacting.
"What we need is the same treatment given to the people of Kuwait - protection from the savagery of Saddam," one Kurd, a university lecturer, told reporters in the Haj Omran Pass that leads to the Iranian border.
More than 250,000 refugees were jammed together in the pass on Sunday, when an overwhelmed Iran announced it was closing its border to refugees from Iraq after receiving thousands of them.
Meanwhile, rebels said Iraqi forces were advancing.
The fear of Iraqi helicopter gunship attacks and chemical weapons was pervasiveamong refugees. People do not believe government assurances that they would not be ill-treated if they returned to the now-deserted cities the government has retaken.
Few are going back, although many guerrillas say they will return to Iraq and fight once they get their families to shelter outside the country.
The scene in the mountains is one of despair.
Women refuse to let go of dead children. Doctors are rendered helpless by the lack of supplies. The young and the old shiver from the cold.
"Our children and old people are dying! We need help and protection from Saddam!" one woman shouted at reporters.
More than 1,500 Kurds have died en route to Turkey from hunger, exposure and wounds, Turkish officials said. Twenty people, mostly children, are dying of disease each day on the border, according to Turkish news accounts, and refugees have been chopping down trees to build fires to warm themselves.
Turkey first tried to stop fleeing Kurds from crossing into its territory but could not stem the tide and is now setting up border refugee camps.
Secretary of State James Baker flew to the Cukurca refugee camps Monday to dramatize U.S. concern for the Kurds' plight.
President Bush has been stung by charges that he betrayed the Kurds by encouraging them during the Persian Gulf war to rise up against Saddam, then refused their appeals to shoot down Iraqi helicopter gunships.
Bush has pledged $10 million in aid for the refugees.
The U.S. flights are expected to continue for 10 days.
On Sunday, President Turgut Ozal of Turkey said his country does not have the resources to handle up to 1 million refugees. He proposed creating a U.N.-controlled haven in northern Iraq for the Kurds.