THE United Nations is moving to take over camps built by Western soldiers in northern Iraq for displaced Kurds, responding to both Iraqi complaints about violation of sovereignty and allied desires not to become embroiled over the long term in Iraq's internal affairs. UN relief convoys converged Monday in the mountainous border town of Zakho, where a growing stream of Kurds has started to return after fleeing Iraqi Army attacks when a short-lived postwar rebellion failed.
UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar used his personal authority to expand the UN role in Iraq when it became apparent that the proposal would run into a tangle of legal and political concerns in the Security Council. A UN security role is under discussion.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar told the Council last Friday that he was acting because both the Western allies and the Iraqi government wanted a UN takeover.
Iraq protests camps
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ahmed Hussein Khudayer protested to the UN twice last week that the "American camps established by force inside Iraq" violated Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.
President Bush has said that he did not want United States soldiers to get bogged down in a struggle that has gone on for years between the Kurds and the Iraqi government.
US officials have indicated that they would like the UN to take charge of zones in northern Iraq within 60 days. More recently, US military officials in northern Iraq said they would not leave if there were any threat to the Kurds.
"We've told Iraq that we have an interest in leaving as soon as possible, but security concerns have to be addressed," a US diplomat at the UN said. The Kurds will not come down from the mountains - where thousands are dying from hunger, disease, exposure, and exhaustion - until they feel safe, he said.
This message was delivered in a private meeting at the UN on Monday between US Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Iraqi Ambassador Abdul Amir al-Anbari.
The US diplomat said, "We would hope the UN secretariat could work the idea out with the Iraqi authorities."
One proposal, advanced by Britain and supported by the European Community, is to dispatch a UN police force to protect the Kurds. A British diplomat said his delegation had not put forward a detailed plan, but rather had just floated the idea. "It's really something we would like the UN to take forward," he said.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China - discussed the proposal at the UN on Monday. The Soviet and Chinese delegations indicated they would have to think about it, diplomats report. The Soviets also generally supported an enlarged UN presence in Iraq, diplomats say.
A US diplomat said the secretary-general had previously told the Council that the number of UN personnel in Iraq would be reinforced from 17 to 300.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said April 12 that his government had serious doubts about the proposal to establish a safe haven for Kurds: "This would mean removing a part of Iraqi territory from its sovereignty without consent from the government, which would run counter to the UN charter and create a highly undesirable precedent."
Legality of zone
Mr. Churkin also said a safe haven would pose serious problems for the Security Council "in connection with the need to define borders, the international legal status of the zone, and the ethnic makeup of its population."
A week later, Churkin gave a guarded endorsement of the Western effort as "the most realistic opportunity to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees."
UN policemen are less heavily armed than UN military units - and would therefore be less of an affront to Iraq's sovereignty. But UN policemen have played a paramilitary role in several UN peacekeeping operations, including Cyprus and Namibia.
A UN military force would have to be authorized by the Security Council. But Western allies seemed to feel that UN policemen could be arranged by the secretary-general.
Negotiating new deal
In discussions with Perez de Cuellar, the Western allies suggested that Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the UN official heading the humanitarian operation, should try to negotiate a deal with Iraq. This could be done, they said, either as a codicil to the memorandum of understanding about the UN operation the prince signed in Baghdad on April 18, or as a separate agreement.
The UN chief sent Jean-Claude Aime, his Middle East expert, to Geneva to discuss this with Sadruddin last Friday. British officials then held weekend discussions with Sadruddin in London. His reaction was described as "generally positive."
Mr. Anbari warned Tuesday that a police force could not be sent without Baghdad's consent, but he did not rule it out. "It all depends on the ideas we will get," he noted.
An Iraqi diplomat earlier indicated that the only UN observers his government could accept would be humanitarian officials.
But both US and British officials said they would go to the Council, as a last resort, if Iraq makes trouble - or if the secretary-general felt he needed a further mandate. For the moment, with the situation so fluid, the allies don't seem eager to be locked in to another UN resolution.
"There may be other ideas," the US diplomat said. "It depends on how things evolve. In the 1970s, Iraq apparently agreed that the Kurds would be responsible for their own security."
This would depend on the success of Kurdish leaders currently in Baghdad to negotiate with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
British and US diplomats indicated that if an autonomy or federal agreement is reached with the Kurds, then the Security Council could be mobilized to provide international guarantees.
Earlier, Anbari said in an interview that a federated solution is against the Iraqi Constitution. But, he noted, the authorities have announced that a new constitution is being drafted.