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US Pullout Sparks Riots In Iraqi Refugee Camps

Refugees worry that lightly armed UN force will fail to protect them

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A SANDSTORM howls around the tent, as United States Maj. Tom Grubbs sits down wearily on a pile of food cartons, exhausted by all the questions to which he had no answers. His face is drawn and dusty from the swirling sand and the hot wind that seems to blow continuously in this border region of southern Iraq.

``I don't know when I'm leaving. No, I don't know when the UN is coming in here,'' he says, as he peers through the tent flaps at the morning queue for water.

Major Grubbs heads a unit of the 404th Civil Affairs Division, which runs a refugee camp known as Hotel Calcutta. It gained its name from the conditions and the former offices of an Indian trading company located inside the camp that is home to thousands of Iraqis who fled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Army.

This desolate, windswept camp is full of frightened and panicky people, for whom the US military's departure from southern Iraq, now just hours away, is a countdown to the slaughter they are convinced will follow Saddam's resumption of control.

Tens of thousands of US troops have already left southern Iraq heading for Saudi Arabia, and, finally, home. But for many their joy of departure is tinged with guilt at the uncertainty they leave behind.

That's what Grubbs feels, anyway. For him, the next few days will be a test in managerial skills on how to exit the camp without causing a riot. So far, there is no sight of the men in blue berets, the newly constituted United Nations observer force. More importantly, he says, there is no sight of men from the UN High Commission for Refugees who will have to care for the 15,000 refugees who rely on US troops for shelter, food, and water.

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