The White House said Tuesday that U.S. forces are moving in and out of northern Iraq as part of the relief effort for the Kurds, but will not intervene in any civil uprising against Saddam Hussein's army.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who said last week that the United States regards the area north of the 36th Parallel as a safe haven for the Kurdish refugees, said that does not apply to Kurdish guerrillas.Fitzwater said the United States had deployed nearly 8,300 personnel, primarily military, to the Turkish border to aid in the relief effort.
The State Department said Monday that 400 to 1,000 Iraqi refugees are dying from disease each day along the Turkish border.
"There will be U.S. forces that are moving in and out of northern Iraq to help out wherever we can," Fitzwater said.
He said these troops "would move in and out (of Iraq) for short periods of time, hours, to help with camps or moving people around, food (and) water."
They "are there just to support the relief effort and the refugee situation. They're not involved as combatants in the civil war."
Kurdish rebels have saidthe Iraqi army is still engaged in offensive actions against them.
"The entire area is a safe haven for those refugees that are seeking shelter and life," said Fitzwater.
"There are still guerrillas fighting up there who are part of the civil war. As we have said all along, we are concerned about the refugee problem and taking care of those people who are in need. We are not involving ourselves in civil war fighting," he said.
He added, "We don't have any indication that that's happening."
Fitzwater said there was no difficulty distinguishing refugees from rebels. "We know where the refugee camps are and where the refugees are coming out of the mountains and so forth as opposed to where the cities and the guerrillas are."
Margaret Tutwiler, the State Department spokeswoman, said Monday nearly 400,000 Iraqis,mostly Kurds, have fled to Turkey and are camped in the mountains near the Iraqi border. Another 400,000 displaced civilians are reported to be across the border in Iraq, she said.
According to international organizations and Iranian officials, 1 million Iraqi refugees have entered Iran, and hundreds of thousands are at or moving toward the border, Tutwiler said. Her figures were somewhat higher than the totals given by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said several hundred tons of assistance is being sent to the refugees every day in an effort that takes thousands of people and dozens of aircraft.
U.S. military medical teams have been providing basic assistance to the refugees.
Tutwiler said that on Sunday 19 flights delivered 176 tons of prepackaged meals, water, milk, sugar, flour, salt, tea, baby food, other food, tents, blankets, clothing, sleeping bags and rolls of tarpaulin.
Of the 19 flights, 11 were American, four were British and four French.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Baker, who returned just days ago from a Middle East peace mission, arranged to leave Tuesday on another journey in hopes of finding solutions to long-held hostilities in the region.
Baker was scheduled to make his first stop in Luxembourg to meet with Common Market ministers before going on to Israel and several unidentified Arab nations. He is expected to return in about a week.
Baker arrived back in the United States Friday night and briefed Bush during the weekend on a trip last week that took the secretary to Turkey, Israel, Egypt and Syria.
Israel and the Soviet Union held a top-level meeting Tuesday in London on Israel's proposal for a post-war conference jointly sponsored by Washington and Moscow.
In London, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir gave Soviet Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov the details of an Israeli plan for proposed peace talks with its Arab neighbors under the auspices of Washington and Moscow.
But Shamir stipulated that "it is absolutely necessary" for Moscow to renew ties with Israel, which it severed after the 1967 Six-Day War, if it was to serve as co-chair of the conference with the United States.
In the Persian Gulf region Monday, the United States sped up its military withdrawal as a U.N. peacekeeping mission began to get into place along the Iraq-Kuwait border. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said U.S. forces should be out of southern Iraq in a few days.
Cheney said a few U.S. personnel will be included in the U.N. force that will patrol the Iraq-Kuwait border to act as a whistle-blower should Iraqi troops try to cross into Kuwait. He also said U.S. forces would protect a refugee camp on the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border until it is sure the camp is safe.
But the redeployment of the estimated 100,000 Americans in occupied Iraq was moving so swiftly that Cheney said "I think we'll have everybody out within a few days."
As heavy fighting was again reported between Iraqi and rebel troops, the European Community foreign ministers demanded that war crime accusations be brought against the Iraqi leader.
A Pentagon spokesman said that there are still 308,000 U.S. personnel in the Persian Gulf war area, down from 540,000 at the peak of the buildup.