A growing number of lawmakers fear U.S. troops deployed to protect refugees in northern Iraq are unlikely to leave by the target date of late May or early June and may be there far longer.

"A lot depends on the ability of others to pick up the slack," said Rep. Matthew McHugh, D-N.Y., who led a five-member House delegation to the refugee area last week."Nobody can honestly say precisely when this military operation will conclude," McHugh said.

The comments reflected a growing uneasiness among lawmakers that President Bush's decision to provide a military protection for relief to Iraqi Kurds could prove difficult to end.

"The president says he does not want to get involved in a quagmire - that's exactly what we are creating," said Rep. Stephen Solarz, D-N.Y.

Solarz has called on Bush to seek United Nations agreement to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power by force if necessary.

McHugh said that in conversations with some of the estimated 850,000 Kurdish refugees, it was clear that they were terrified of remaining in Iraq. At least for now, only the presence of American troops would make them feel secure enough to come down from the mountains into camps where they can be fed and cared for, he said.