Amid the misery, disease and death of the Kurdish exodus from Iraq, a glimmer of hope comes from this dusty city, where hundreds of families are adopting Kurdish orphans and elderly refugees.

Although the government-sponsored program may be part of a savvy political strategy devised by Tehran, the people of Saqqez - a Kurdish community - appear to be acting from the heart."I'm not a rich man, I'm a teacher," said 35-year-old Azad Zamani, an instructor at a vocational high school in the city of 100,000. His family has taken two Kurdish youngsters, Ishmail, 10, and his sister, Maliam, 2.

The children had been placed with elderly people in a special camp on the outskirts of the city, separate from another refugee camp that holds 25,000 people.

But Ishmail Massoudi, the governor of Saqqez, was appalled by the orphan camp's squalor and shut it down.

"I went to the people," he said. "They opened their homes."

Although the government has provided no financial incentive to adopt children and elderly people, it is encouraging families to do so.

Its support for the plan is one of several indications that Iran expects the refugees for an extended stay. Another indication: Iran is trucking tens of thousands of Kurds to camps as far as 1,000 miles from the border with Iraq.

On the darker side, Kurdish refugees have begun to complain that they are being stopped from returning to Iraq to seek protection in the temporary camps being set up by U.S. forces.

A convoy of more than 60 vehicles has been waiting in the border town of Piranshahr for several days, trying to get government approval to leave Iran.

The leader of a French medical team in Iran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believes Iran when it says it is helping the Kurds because they are "Muslim brothers."

"But it is also true that the longer the Kurds stay in Iran, the more political capital is gained," the Frenchman said.

Western diplomats say that in the long run, Tehran could gain influence among the Kurds and that could give Iran a stronger voice in Middle East politics.

Tehran also could be aiming to gain favor in the West. Its treatment of the Kurds has brought high marks from Western diplomats.