UNITED NATIONS, APRIL 6 -- Iraq today accepted the U.N. Security Council's tough resolution formally ending the Persian Gulf War in exchange for President Saddam Hussein's agreement to give up all weapons of mass destruction and pay damages for its seven-month occupation of Kuwait.
In a 23-page letter delivered today to Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Iraq complained bitterly that the terms of the resolution were unfair and illegal, but acknowledged that it "has found itself facing only one choice: to accept this resolution," U.N. sources said.
The measure, adopted 12 to 1 by the council Wednesday, effectively dictates the terms of surrender with which Iraq must comply to secure the withdrawal of U.S. forces occupying part of its territory and the lifting of economic sanctions. Its terms would transform Iraq from a country that had the world's fourth largest army when it invaded Kuwait last Aug. 2 into an essentially demilitarized state.
President Bush, in Houston today, said the letter "appears to be positive" but he cautioned that U.S. analysts are still reviewing a translation. Bush said portions of the letter objecting to the conditions amount to "some griping . . . but that is just too bad."
"I don't care how much griping they do. I just want to know whether they accept it or not," he said, adding that "Saddam Hussein, in my view, is in no position to barter something of this nature."
Iraq's acceptance came as Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Kurtecebe Alptemocin, reported in Ankara that about 1,500 Iraqi Kurdish refugees have died of starvation, illness and cold after fleeing an Iraqi military crackdown, the Associated Press reported.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians continued to flee toward Turkey and Iran to escape fierce military reprisals from Iraqi forces who survived the crushing defeat by allied forces in the gulf war and then went into action to put down a Shiite revolt in the south and a Kurdish insurrection in the north. "We are witnessing a great violence and tragedy," Alptemocin said.
U.N. sources said the Security Council will move to signal its concurrence with the Iraqi letter, possibly as early as Monday, once an official translation is in hand. Then, the world body can begin immediately to implement the provisions of the resolution, starting with the deployment of a U.N. observation team along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.
That step will pave the way for the return home of 373,000 American troops from the gulf region, some of whom said today that they were pleased by Iraq's acceptance of the resolution because it will speed their departure.
"We usually stay pessimistic until our plane is off the ground," Capt. Craig Hendrix, of Valdosta, Ga., told the AP, "but it boosts our spirits to know there's a cease-fire agreement."
Bush said today that once the peace-keeping force is in place, U.S. forces could be removed in a "matter of days." Despite his adamant position that U.S. forces not remain in the Persian Gulf region, Bush said he might consider allowing U.S. participation in the peace-keeping force.
"If that will enhance the peace, why, I'd be open-minded about it," he said, adding: "There will not be a lot of U.S. troops involved."
U.N. sources who have seen the Iraqi letter, written in Arabic said it addressed each of the conditions spelled out in the resolution and complained that the terms were harsh and unfair. A full, official translation of the letter will not be completed until Sunday.
But one source said: "The letter is full of complaints, but it does not express reservations about the terms of the resolution. There is no question that it is an acceptance of the Security Council resolution."
That was confirmed by a member of Iraq's U.N. delegation, who spoke on condition that he not be identified. "I cannot discuss details, but I can confirm that the letter accepts the resolution and all its provisions," he said.
According to the sources, the letter, from new Iraqi Foreign Minister Ahmad Hussein Khudday Sammaraei, noted that acceptance of the resolution had been approved earlier today in Baghdad by the Iraqi parliament, which reflects the thinking and policies of Saddam's government. Approval of the Revolutionary Command Council headed by Saddam was not required, they said.
The key provisions include destruction or removal of all Iraqi long-range ballistic missiles, including the Scuds that were fired against Israel and Saudi Arabia during the war, and all chemical, biological and radiological weaponry. It also imposes a near total ban on future sales of conventional arms to Iraq.
Other stiff conditions that Iraq must meet include mortgaging for years to come much of its earnings from its oil exports to pay for the damage caused by its seven-month occupation of Kuwait.
According to the U.N. sources, the letter repeated past Iraqi assertions that the compensation requirement would impose a heavy burden on future generations of Iraqis and that the disarmament provisions would leave Iraq defenseless before such regional enemies as Israel.
It cited Israel's 1981 bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor and contended that Iraq has a right to compensation from the Jewish state.
As Iraq's letter was received here, Saddam made a new appointment to his cabinet in an effort to tighten the political grip of his inner circle of kinsmen from his hometown, Tikrit.
Reuter reported that Saddam appointed as defense minister his son-in-law and former bodyguard, Hussein Kamel Hassan, who was promoted from colonel to general after playing a leading role in crushing the Shiite and Kurdish revolts. Hassan replaced Lt. Gen. Saadi Tuma Abbas, a hero of the 1980-88 war with Iran who served barely three months in the defense post.
Meanwhile, Reuter quoted Kurdish rebels as saying they had repulsed an army attack against mountain strongholds overlooking the northeastern city of Sulaymaniyah. Iraq announced Wednesday its forces had recaptured Sulaymaniyah, the last major town held by the Kurds, who said they continue to launch hit-and-run attacks on the army from mountain areas still under their control.
Iraqi refugees arriving in Iran reported continued fighting in the mainly Shiite southern region of Iraq, saying there was heavy loss of life, even though Iraq has said that the revolt there has been put down.
U.S. analysts have said that Iraq appears to have re-established control of the country after the revolts erupted following the end of the gulf war and the establishment of a temporary cease-fire in late February.
Before the U.N. can implement the cease-fire resolution, it will have to deploy a military team to monitor the disputed border between Iraq and Kuwait that was the pretext for Baghdad's invasion of its smaller neighbor.
Once the U.N. observer team is in place, the United States will be able to begin bringing home more rapidly the American troops still in the gulf, including about 100,000 occupying an area of southern Iraq.
With Bush's decision not to allow American troops to help Iraqi insurgents topple Saddam, soldiers today said their job in ousting Iraqi troops from Kuwait was complete. "Our objectives have been accomplished. It's time to go home," said Col. Richard Brackney of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, which has been helping restore essential services in Kuwait.
Perez de Cuellar informed the Security Council today that U.N. monitoring of the border will require 300 international observers backed up by about 1,000 infantry and engineer troops to provide security and perform the demilitarization chores necessary to wind down the last vestiges of the war.
The secretary general's recommendations were made in response to the Security Council's directive that he prepare a plan for rapid deployment of observers since the cease-fire resolution commits the council to guarantee the border agreed to by Iraq and Kuwait in 1963. The force will be known as the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM).
Perez de Cuellar estimated the cost of the operation at approximately $83 million for the first six months and $40 million for the following six months, provided a return to stability in the area allows withdrawal of the combat troops.
He recommended that the costs be paid by U.N. members as special assessments levied on a prorated basis. But he also noted that the United Nation's serious financial crisis is due, in considerable part, to the failure of members to pay their assessed share of peace-keeping and truce supervision operations.
The United States, which would be called on to pay the largest share under the U.N.'s system of apportioning costs, is among the countries most seriously in arrears. Because of continuing budgetary disputes with the White House, Congress consistently has refused to provide full funding to clear up Washington's U.N. debts. However, the United Nation's cooperation with the U.S.-led campaign to oust Iraq from Kuwait has produced a more friendly attitude toward the world body.
While Congress continues to call for substantial sharing of the war costs by other major industrial powers and Arab oil states, it also has indicated willingness to help out generously with the U.N.'s war-related expenses.
U.N. sources said tentative plans call for all five of the Security Council's permanent members -- the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China -- to provide observers. If Iraq accepts that idea, it would be the first time in the United Nation's 46-year history that the five have worked together in a truce supervision operation.
The task of the U.N. force would be to monitor the barren, desert border of Iraq and Kuwait, slightly more than 100 miles long, and a 25-mile waterway called the Khor Abdullah. The cease-fire resolution authorizes the force to operate 10 miles inside the Iraqi border and six miles inside Kuwait.
Perez de Cuellar said the observers' job would be "to ensure that no military personnel and equipment were within the demilitarized zone and that no military fortifications were maintained in it."
To accomplish that, he added, the observers would monitor withdrawal of any armed forces now in the area to be demilitarized, operate observation posts on main roads and other selected points, conduct land and air patrols throughout the demilitarized zone, monitor the Khor Abdullah from shore posts and by air and investigate charges of violations.
Because of the tensions between Iraq and Kuwait and the continued presence in the area of thousands of refugees, Perez de Cuellar said there initially might be a security threat "that requires an infantry element to ensure UNIKOM's security at that stage."
In addition, he said, the area still is littered with mines, booby traps and volatile explosives that must be cleared. He also said considerable work must be done to clear areas for UNIKOM posts and to repair damaged roads.
"Unless satisfactory arrangements can be made to complete this work before UNIKOM is deployed, the mission would have to include a field engineer unit," he said. "There also would be a continuing need for a logistic unit."
"The maximum initial strength of UNIKOM would be approximately 1,440 all ranks, of which the infantry temporarily attached to it would be approximately 680, and the field engineer unit, if it is deployed, approximatly 300," he said.
Perez de Cuellar stressed that his estimate of costs dropping from $83 million to about $40 million after six months is predicated on the assumption that the infantry and engineer units can be withdrawn by that time.
If it is necessary to keep them longer, the long-range costs will be substantially higher, he said.
Perez de Cuellar also warned that the United Nation's capacity to deploy UNIKOM "would depend in large measure on the availability of financial resources necessary to meet the start-up costs of the operation."
U.N. officials say the organization currently does not have the funds that would be required, and the secretary general appealed to member states both to pay their arrearages and "to make voluntary contributions in cash and in kind for setting up and maintaining the mission."
In a related development, staff writer David Hoffman reported:
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, embarking on a trip to Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Syria and Switzerland, is to meet with Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri on Friday in Geneva, according to State Department officials. The meeting will be the first high-level contact with officials of that Middle Eastern kingdom since the gulf war, when King Hussein tilted toward Iraq.
The meeting could mark the start of an effort to include Jordan in the Middle East peace process. Jordan could be critical in pulling together a group of Palestinians acceptable to the Israelis for a peace conference.
"It is a proper step," Bush said of that meeting. "Jordan will obviously have an important role to play in whatever the final answer proves to be."
Both Bush and Baker sought to temper expectations for the secretary of state's mission to the Middle East. "I'm not suggesting there are any new factors . . . that have occasioned this trip," Baker said.
But Bush said he did not want to miss any opportunity to try to bring peace to the troubled region. "The United States has a newfound credibility in that part of the world," he said. "I want to see us use that to be the catalyst for peace."
But Bush said he would not be proposing a comprehensive plan -- yet. "I'm not putting aside the idea of a bold plan, but we've got to work our way up to that," he said.
"It is very important that when we propose something, that it work, that it has a chance to be successful."