Factional fight in Iraq grows, tests Hussein Revolt by Shiites, minorities, army hits more cities WAR IN THE GULF

March 06, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

RIYADH,SAUDI ARABIA — RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- With more cities reportedly in revolt, Iraq faced growing threats yesterday from ethnic minorities, Shiite Muslims and disgruntled elements of its defeated army, all of them battling forces remaining loyal to President Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, took steps to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions for a formal cease-fire. It released what it said were all its remaining allied prisoners, repealed its annexation of Kuwait and promised to return looted property.

Firsthand information about the revolt remained sparse, but reports from Iran and from Iraqi dissident groups suggested Iraq was in danger of disintegrating into its component ethnic parts. Shiites and Kurds were said to be fighting troops, while other army units fought each other, at times dueling with tanks.

Iran's official news agency said two Iraqi cities considered holy by Shiite Muslims, Karbala and An Najaf, fell into the hands of rebels fighting to overthrow Mr. Hussein. It also reported that members of the Republican Guard, the army's elite units, had defected to join rebels in the city of Amara, in southeastern Iraq.

While such battles could pose a major threat to Mr. Hussein, there was evidence suggesting that he retained firm control over Baghdad and that he was attempting to reassert authority elsewhere.

U.S. military sources said loyal elements of the army were reorganizing in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where the first disturbances were reported Saturday. Additional security forces were expected to arrive there to try to suppress clashes %J between rival army factions and between the army and civilians.

"I think there's a groundswell of civil unrest, but at the same time the government is getting its arms around it," said an officer in Riyadh. "It may lead to a collision; it may lead to the traditional Iraqi response of submitting to government control."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler said that loyalist forces "may have restored government control in a few of the affected areas."

Iraq meanwhile announced it had repealed its annexation of Kuwait, one of the remaining actions necessary to comply with requirements set by the U.N. Security Council.

According to Iraq's government news agency, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz conveyed the decision of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council in a letter to the Security Council and to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

At the United Nations, however, the Kuwaiti envoy said the move was not good enough, saying the annexation had to be rescinded by the same body that originally passed it, Iraq's National Asembly.

Mr. Aziz also said that Iraq had agreed to return Kuwaiti gold, currency and other property taken after the invasion, and he asked the United Nations to advise Iraq on how the property could be delivered in the shortest possible time.

The Security Council linked eventual withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraqi territory to Iraq's releasing prisoners of war, renouncing all claims to Kuwait and agreeing in principle to pay reparations for war damages. Iraq said Sunday that it accepted those terms.

Iraq took another step toward full compliance by organizing a second release of allied POWs in Baghdad. The release also demonstrated that Mr. Hussein's government maintained control of the capital.

Iraq turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross 35 prisoners, including 15 Americans, and said they were the last prisoners being held.

Until high winds and heavy rains forced a delay, the newly released soldiers were to have been flown to Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-led coalition, meanwhile, was to have flown 294 Iraqi soldiers from King Khalid Military City, in northern Saudi Arabia, to Baghdad.

They would have been the first Iraqis released from among the more than 60,000 Iraqi troops who surrendered or were captured during the war. U.S. officers said the exchange of the 294 had been rescheduled for today.

In addition to the 15 Americans,Iraq freed nine Britons, nine Saudis, one Kuwaiti and one Italian. Six other Americans were released Monday, arrived in Bahrain yesterday and taken to the Navy hospital ship Mercy, where they were expected to remain two or three days.

An Air Force physician who accompanied the six to Bahrain said he saw no evidence that they had been seriously mistreated as prisoners. "I'm pleased to report that they are all in good shape and in good spirits," Col. Wynn Mabry said.

Among those brought to the Mercy were Army Spc. Melissa Rathbun-Nealy, the only female POW, and Air Force Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun. Colonel Mabry said Lieutenant Zaun, who had appeared on Iraqi television with his face cut and swollen, had probably suffered those injuries when he ejected from his aircraft.

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