The Western allies are near agreement on setting up a rapid deployment force based in Turkey to protect northern Iraq's Kurds from Saddam Hussein, a United States official said July 2.The strike force, dubbed "Poised Hammer," would ensure the security of the Kurds when allied forces withdraw from northern Iraq where hundreds of people were killed in a failed uprising against the Iraqi president in March. "We are moving, I think, toward a final approval," Paul Wolfovitz, undersecretary of defense for policy, told a news conference in Ankara at the end of a five-day visit. The US and its partners were still ironing out details of the proposed multinational deployment, he said. Nearly 2 million Kurds fled to Iran and Turkey to escape Saddam's troops late in March after the failure of their revolt. Mr. Wolfovitz declined to say exactly when the remaining 3,600 US and other Western troops would leave the safe haven they established in northern Iraq on April 20. But he made clear that no troops would be left in Iraq once new arrangements were in place. Turkey, whose new government faces a parliamentary vote of confidence on July 5, has not publicly consented to the use of its territory as a base for the rapid reaction force, but Wolfovitz seemed confident that it would. "My sense, not only from the Turkish government, but from all the participating coalition countries, is that this is moving rather well toward a conclusion," he said. The US official, who visited the allied-held area in Iraq June 30, gave no details on the size or composition of the planned force or on how long it might be maintained. Kurdish leaders are expected to return to Baghdad this week to demand better autonomy terms from Saddam.

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