NICOSIA, CYPRUS — THE United States, Britain, and France ordered troops into northern Iraq to set up temporary safety zones for hundreds of thousands of Kurds stranded for weeks in primitive mountain refuges. Iraq denounced the unprecedented operation as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
United States President Bush said the agony of Kurdish refugees along the Turkish and Iranian borders had forced him to rescind his previous refusal to get more directly involved in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf war.
The West's failure to give further help to Iraqis who rose up against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been heavily criticized, and Mr. Bush was under pressure to back a plan to establish safe havens for the refugees.
Bush said late Tuesday that the plight of hundreds of thousands of Kurds who fled to the rugged mountains along the Iraqi-Turkish border, after Iraqi troops crushed their rebellion, forced him to expand humanitarian relief efforts.
The mountainous terrain has severely hampered relief efforts, forcing the US to establish safe havens in Iraq to speed rescue efforts - a position urged by British Prime Minister John Major, but not previously embraced by Washington.
Bush refused to say what would happen if Iraq attacked the camps, but bluntly warned: "They should not respond militarily. They've underestimated the United States once before ... and they shouldn't do it again. And I don't think they will."
"I have directed the US military to begin immediately to establish several encampments in northern Iraq where relief supplies will be made available in large quantities and distributed in an orderly way," he told a news conference.
He stressed that the US action was limited and that the US would not be drawn into Iraq's civil war.
"All along I have said that the United States is not going to intervene militarily in Iraq's internal affairs and risk being drawn into a Vietnam-style quagmire," said Bush.
"This remains the case. Nor will we become an occupying power with US troops patrolling the streets of Baghdad."
Bush said there was no intention of creating a Kurdish state, stressing that the US goal was not to fracture Iraq into separate states but to seek reconciliation among Iraq's warring parties.