A U.S. general had "a very frank exchange of views" with Iraqi officers Friday on plans to set up camps for Kurdish refugees, and a U.S. diplomat said the Western allies would proceed regardless of Iraqi objections.
"It's going to be like a Godfather deal. We're going to make them an offer they can't refuse," the diplomat said.Lt. Gen. John Shalikashvili, the allied commander in charge of refugee relief, flew to northern Iraq for the meeting. He emerged from the talks unsmiling and said the Western nations would go ahead with plans to send troops to defend the camps on Iraqi territory.
"We had, and still have, the intention to deploy security forces to protect the humanitarian effort," he told reporters in a brief statement after the session, which lasted 50 minutes. Reuters reported earlier it lasted 15 minutes.
"I want to tell you we had a very frank exchange of views, which gave me the opportunity to make the points I wanted to make," he said.
"As is always the case with these initial meetings some issues remain to be worked and will be worked in due time."
He said no further talks had been arranged.
"There's no meeting scheduled now. We preferred to pursue the points that need to be resolved through other channels," he said. He declined to elaborate.
Shalikashvili flew to the Iraqi side of the Habur border bridge by helicopter to meet two Iraqi brigadier-generals from staff headquarters in Baghdad, Nushwan Danoun and Abdul-Hafiz Jezail, who arrived in a white Mercedes.
The U.S. general, accompanied by British, French and Canadian officers there as observers, shook hands with the Iraqis before the open-air talks outside an Iraqi customs post guarded by relaxed-looking Iraqi soldiers.
British Brig. Gen. Michael Wilcocks said: "The talks were very frank. There was no obstruction."
Four U.S. Marines with M-16 rifles accompanied Shalikashvili, and two American A-10 ground attack aircraft patrolled high overhead. About 60 U.S. Marines in full combat gear guarded the Turkish side of the border.
The talks began after a six-hour delay that Shalikashvili attributed to Iraqi transport problems arising from a U.S. ban on Iraqi aircraft flying north of the 36th parallel.
Shalikashvili took command Wednesday of an allied task force that could swell to 16,000 troops with a mission to set up new camps inside Iraq for about half a million refugees.
"My aim is to stop any possibility of inadvertent clashes between coalition forces and Iraqi forces," he said before the border talks.
Iraq has denounced the plan to use Western troops to set up refugee havens on its territory as a violation of its sovereignty but has not threatened to block it by force.
Shalikashvili said U.S. teams had made good progress on scouting out sites for refugee camps in the past few days.
American, British, French and Dutch troops want to move the mainly Kurdish refugees to the Iraqi plains.
Saddam Hussein's repression of post-gulf war Kurdish and Shiite revolts prompted up to 2 million Iraqis to flee for their lives to Iran and Turkey.
Relief agencies say up to 1,000 people a day may be dying from exposure and disease in the mountains.
Shalikashvili said U.S. troops would not protect the new camps indefinitely but had no timetable to pull out.
"We will turn this operation over as rapidly, but also as prudently, as is possible to civilian organizations like the United Nations," he said.
Shalikashvili said the allies were racing against time to save lives of people in desperate conditions.
Baghdad argues that it is unnecessary for Western troops to move into northern Iraq, particularly as it has signed an agreement with the United Nations providing for U.N. humanitarian centers to be set up throughout the country.