WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 2,000 Iraqi refugees are due to be on U.S. soil in the Pacific by Thursday even as the United States struggles to resettle thousands of other Iraqi dissidents stranded at refugee camps since the Persian Gulf War.
Under the new program, U.S.-sponsored charter flights are expected to evacuate 2,075 Iraqis to Guam from their temporary refuge in southeastern Turkey.
About half that number had worked on U.S. humanitarian programs in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and fear reprisals against them and their families now that forces allied to Saddam Hussein control much of that region.
Two flights carrying 792 Iraqis set out Monday on the long journey to Guam, where they will be housed for two to three months at military facilities. The State Department says the vast majority will resettle in the United States but those found to have criminal records will be excluded.
Meanwhile, about 60,000 other displaced Iraqis are clustered along the border with Iran and face a far more uncertain future than their countrymen who fled to Turkey. The State Department says about 40,000 have made their way inside Iran and 20,000 more are on the Iraq side of the border. Numerous humanitarian agencies are providing assistance.
These Iraqis are linked to the Kurdish faction, which was routed in recent weeks by a rival group that gained the upper hand after inviting Saddam's army to enter the fray on their behalf.
Saddam's decision to send forces into that area triggered U.S. missile attacks against Iraq's air defense system.
The current exodus of Iraqis seems small compared with 1991 when nearly 2 million fled to Saudi Arabia and Iran during and after the Gulf War. Most eventually returned to Iraq, accepting an amnesty decreed by Saddam, but 32,000 stayed in camps in Saudi Arabia. Of these, most were defectors from Iraq's Army or were taken prisoner by the U.S.-led coalition forces and refused to return to Iraq after the war.
About 10,000 of these Iraqis have been resettled in the United States. More than 10,000 others have been accepted in other countries, including Iran, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Canada. About 3,000 opted to go back to Iraq.
Those entering the United States receive assistance from U.S. voluntary agencies, which arrange for food, a place to live and help in finding jobs. They generally are sent to locations where they have job prospects.
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press