'Chaos' grips key Iraqi city, U.S. reports Crowds in Basra throng streets, criticize regime WAR IN THE GULF

March 03, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- With a formal cease-fire yet to be negotiated, signs of civil disorder spread through Iraq yesterday, with the southern city of Basra and the surrounding area reportedly in "chaos" as soldiers and civilians mingled in the streets and tried to flee toward Baghdad.

Reports by the U.S. military command suggested that the government of Saddam Hussein was losing its hold over Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and a key military headquarters.

Allied forces, which bombed the city during the fighting, now occupy the area between Kuwait and Basra, but they have not entered the city.

As many as 400 tanks and other armored vehicles that escaped clashes with coalition forces have jammed the remaining secondary roads connecting Basra to the north. Iraqis have told Western reporters that civilians and soldiers in the city are openly criticizing Mr. Hussein, adding to an atmosphere of discontent.

"There appears to be a real breakdown in civil control there," said a senior officer, describing aerial reconnaissance photos showing large crowds of people and vehicles blocking many of the streets. "It's chaos."

A loss of control by the ruling Baath Party would almost certainly be welcomed by allied coalition leaders, who want Mr. Hussein to resign or be forcibly removed from power.

Basra is a likely breeding ground for discontent because the city has suffered more than most: Almost totally destroyed during Iraq's war with Iran, it was rebuilt only to be damaged again in the fighting to eject Iraq from Kuwait.

What, if any, role the U.S.-led coalition has played in encouraging the unrest remains unclear. At a briefing for reporters here, Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, deputy chief of operations, answered a question about the allied involvement by saying, "I don't want to talk about that."

On the battlefield, conditions remained half-peace, half-war yesterday. In the worst violation of the three-day old truce, officials said, dozens of Iraqi tanks, perhaps lost, attacked U.S. troops.

Brig. Gen. Steven L. Arnold of the U.S. command in Dhahran announced that Apache helicopters and two task forces from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division counSee GULF, 4A, Col. 1GULF, from 1Aterattacked and that "a pretty good fight" ensued.

"It looks like we destroyed about 60 vehicles and captured another 80 tanks and armored personnel carriers," General Arnold said. He said that no U.S. casualties were reported in the encounter.

Elsewhere, a U.S. soldier and a Marine were killed in mine explosions.

Last night in New York, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution dictating allied demands that Iraq must meet before a formal cease-fire is declared. The terms included the release of all prisoners and the return of all plundered Kuwaiti property.

The vote was 11 to 1, with three abstentions. Cuba cast the only negative vote. Abstaining were India, China and Yemen.

The resolution combines conditions laid out by President Bush last Wednesday, when he announced the suspension of combat operations, with demands that Iraq immediately implement all 12 resolutions adopted since its invasion of Kuwait.

The resolution, which implicitly threatens a resumption of hostilities until Iraq complies with all its terms, notes that Iraq has accepted all 12 resolutions and says this means Baghdad must:

* Rescind immediately its annexation of Kuwait.

* Accept in principle liability for any losses, damage or plundering of Kuwait.

* Cease missile attacks and flights by combat aircraft.

* Arrange for the immediate release of all allied prisoners of war.

* Begin to return seized Kuwaiti property.

* Immediately release all detained Kuwaiti and foreign nationals.

* Return the remains of the dead.

Coalition and Iraqi commanders are to meet today to discuss conditions for a cease-fire.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, overall commander of coalition forces, and Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan, commander of Arab armies, are to travel to an undisclosed location in southern Iraq to meet their Iraqi counterparts, in a setting General Neal described as "austere."

Originally scheduled for yesterday, the meeting was delayed for 24 hours at Iraq's request. Iraq said commanders would discuss the cease-fire and "other points."

None of the conditions is negotiable, according to the military command. If they remain unmet, combat could resume.

"These aren't negotiations," General Neal said. "We're not going in there with hat in hand, by any stretch of the imagination. From a military point of view, we're ready to go back on an offense again."

Allied forces have captured more than 80,000 Iraqi soldiers. Ira is known to have captured coalition soldiers and pilots, including nine Americans, two Britons, one Italian and one Kuwaiti. Another 45 Americans are listed as missing in action.

On Friday, a captured Iraqi battalion commander helped the Army's 82nd Airborne Division persuade more than 1,000 of his troops to surrender. U.S. forces used loudspeakers to tell the Iraqis to give themselves up, after the Iraqi officer disclosed their positions.

One aim of the talks between coalition and Iraqi commanders is to prevent such clashes as well as minefield explosions of the kind that killed two U.S. soldiers yesterday. One Marine died and three others were injured when their armored vehicle struck a land mine. Another soldier died when he was hit by shrapnel from a mine struck by the vehicle in front of him, according to the military command.

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