283. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

2684. Beirut pass USINT Baghdad. Subj: Kurdish Refugees. Ref: (A) State 65458, (B) Beirut 3547, (C) Tehran 2653, (D) State 60263.2

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1. Embassy not able to judge whether genocide in fact underway in Iraq. In his March 19–20 interview with newsmen Barzani apparently did not say genocide is in progress, but that it might begin. NY Times’ Eric Pace and LA Times’ Bill Tuohy confirm other essentials of Hoagland’s story summarized in reftel B except Barzani’s request for asylum in US. Reuters correspondent Gwen Roberts and Time Magazine stringer Leroy Woodson participated in Hoagland interview with Barzani. Although Barzani admitted revolt was collapsing and Kurds would have to flee to Iran or surrender, he did not unequivocally ask for asylum in US. According to this version, he said that in case of genocide against Kurds he would ask US help and possibly ask for asylum.3

2. Pace (protect) told EmbOff March 23 he had filed original story about March 17 from Kurdish source alleging Kurdish contact with AmConsul Tabriz and Embassy Tehran requesting urgent aid (State 61211),4 only to find later that Kurdish emissary had failed to accomplish his mission. Hoagland’s report of Barzani’s appeal for USG assistance may therefore be based on incorrect Pace story.

3. Journalists returning from Iraqi Kurdistan confirm flood of refugees moving into Iran. Kurdish sources tell them some 2,000 to 5,000 are arriving in Haj Omran every day on way to border. A more northerly route to border near Ashman, some 20 kilometers north of Piranshahr (Khaneh) now also being used. Movement along this route is slow due to winter snows, which would argue need for extension of amnesty period past April 1 to facilitate travel. Extension of amnesty would have to be done by Iraqi Government which announced it. Many Kurdish refugees with professional backgrounds (e.g. engineers, doctors) are congregating in Rezaieh and have expressed to newsmen their hopes of seeking refuge in US.

4. Two Kurdish refugees visited Embassy March 23 asking to go to US. They confirmed that Barzani had counseled Kurds to surrender to Iraqis or flee to Iran. In their opinion almost all members of Pesh Merga (60,000) and militia (40,000) would flee to Iran, because Kurds had heard that some who had tried to surrender near Zozak Mountain had [Page 760] been fired upon. There were also reports that Iraqis are keeping Kurds who had surrendered in concentration camps. Thus most Kurds saw no alternative to fleeing to Iran, although they did not trust Iran very much either. In their view Iran had withdrawn munitions, supplies, and artillery support, leaving Kurds to their fate, and might some day force Kurds back across border when it no longer wanted to support them. Both men are educated and have worked for Kurdish Democratic Party, one as Information Officer at Darband where he briefed foreign correspondents. They conceded that many Kurds were farmers and shepherds who would not want to live in US or Western countries and would probably stay in Iran. But they said there would be many young people like themselves who would want to go to US to escape persecution and seek work.

5. On humanitarian assistance: Pace reported doctor and two nurses of Save Children Fund working in Iran with Kurds have been operating across border in Iraq. ICRC representative Agartz of Sweden has set up office in Rezaieh. Large truck with ICRC medical supplies has been held up in traffic at Turkish border with Iraq. Neither refugees nor newsmen have reports of any serious humanitarian needs, as Iranian Red Lion and Sun well organized to provide assistance.

6. Comment: Iran has stated its willingness to help Kurds and has said Kurds will not be forced to return to Iraq. Refugees are clearly skeptical, at least over longer run, but most have nowhere else to go. Large number Kurdish males of working age may cause serious problems wherever camps located. Kurdish member Iranian Parliament told EmbOff there was already some friction between refugees who are on dole and Iranian Kurds who “have to work for a living.” One report says GOI may move more Kurds to Khuzistan to avoid contact with Iranian Kurds. Kurds would not like this because climate and terrain are greatly different from what they are used to. Money to support refugees is not a current problem but may become one if most choose to remain permanently.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750101–0757. Confidential; Limdis. Repeated to Ankara, Beirut, Geneva, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 65458 to Tehran and Baghdad, March 22, the Department asked to what extent the Kurds were in danger of genocide, whether an extension of the truce would save lives, and whether humanitarian assistance was needed. It concluded by asking for comment on Barzani’s request for refuge in the United States. (Ibid., D750101–0586) In telegram 3457 from Beirut, March 22, the Embassy reported on Barzani’s appeal for U.S. protection of the Kurds against genocide and asylum for himself and his family, as conveyed by Washington Post reporter Jim Hoagland. (Ibid., D750101–0202) Telegram 2653 from Tehran, March 21, reported on the Iraqi-Iranian border negotiations and on the growing number of Kurdish refugees in Iran. (Ibid., D750099–0658) Telegram 60263 has not been found.
  3. In telegram 303 from Baghdad, March 24, the Interests Section argued against giving refuge to Barzani and his associates, since the Iraqi Government was finally convinced that no U.S. aid had gone to the Kurds, removing an obstacle to renewed relations. (Ibid., D750102–0307) In telegram 296 from Baghdad, March 22, Lowrie described Saddam Hussein’s interview with Cy Sulzberger of The New York Times as “good evidence of his continuing desire to prepare ground for eventual resumption.” Lowrie observed that Saddam had risked much in shifting policy toward Iran and making a concession on the Shatt al-Arab, displeasing the Kurds, the ICP, the Soviets, Ba’ath extremists, and his enemies. Therefore, Saddam’s vague responses during the interview reflected the difficulty of new positions on sensitive issues such as U.S.-Iraqi relations “until he has assured support for Iranian accord.” (Ibid., D750102–0450)
  4. Not found.