The three Western permanent Security Council members - America, Britain and France - wasted little time in bending Resolution 688 to serve their own policies. On April 16, 1991, they argued that it entitled them to send troops to northern Iraq and establish secure encampments to provide supplies to Kurdish refugees. Iraq denounced this as interference in its internal affairs.
Following an undeclared ceasefire between the Kurdish insurgents and the Iraqi army on April 17, talks between the central government and the delegates of the seven-member Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF), led by Masud Barzani of the KDP and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), began in Baghdad. The Kurdish leaders saw Saddam's current weakness as an opportune moment to strike a deal. A week later both sides announced an interim agreement which, based on the 1970 pact, reiterated Kurdish autonomy, and gave Kurds the additional right to return and revive the 3,800 villages and towns that had been razed during the past seventeen years.
Keen to receive international aid, Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the UN secretary-general's Executive Delegate, Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, on April 18. It permitted the UN to offer humanitarian aid - providing food, medical care, agricultural rehabilitation and shelter - to Iraqis, including those in the north, but only in cooperation with the central government. In its preamble the MOU mentioned Iraq's rejection of Resolution 688. Baghdad welcomed UN efforts to promote the voluntary return home of Iraqi refugees, chiefly Kurds. Yielding to Western pressures, Saddam Hussein deputed two Iraqi generals to meet the US commander in charge of Operation "Provide Comfort", launched to set up safe havens for the Kurdish refugees inside Iraq. To facilitate the process they agreed to withdraw Iraqi security forces from the border Zakho area. Little did they know that by so doing they had unwittingly started a process that would rob Baghdad of full control of the north for many years to come.
The UN began establishing its humanitarian presence in the 3,600 sq miles (9,320 sq km) of the safe haven area - later renamed "security zone"-that the Coalition had created in the Iraqi-Turkish border region with 16,000 troops. By late May more than half of the 500,000 Kurdish refugees in the region had left