Forces loyal to Hussein gain control Basra revolt quelled

some areas in turmoil WAR IN THE GULF

March 07, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saddam Hussein demonstrated a seemingly firm grip over much of Iraq yesterday as troops loyal to him subdued a violent revolt in Basra and appeared to gain the upper hand against rebels in other cities.

Mr. Hussein's government showed every sign of being in control by carrying out an exchange of prisoners of war with the U.S.-led coalition and announcing the appointment of a new interior minister, a cousin of Mr. Hussein's associated with brutal suppression of dissent in Kuwait and within Iraq.

Inside Iraq, Mr. Hussein's forces were reported to be regaining control even though fighting continued in some areas.

"I'm not ready to say with complete confidence that they have control in certain cities," Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal said at a briefing in Riyadh yesterday. But in Basra, where the revolt began, "no active resistance" could be seen.

"We no longer have tanks pointed at each other," another officer said. "They're all pointed on the same side, and I would say that's the government side."

Conditions in many other cities remained unsettled. U.S. officers, citing aerial reconnaissance and other sources, said that fires were burning in Karbala and that violence continued in An Najaf, two cities considered holy by Shiite Muslims.

Units of the Republican Guard, Iraq's best-trained force, were said to be heading toward Karbala, to have reached the rebellious town of Amara and to have encircled rebels in Az Zubair, south of Basra.

Iraqi commandos reportedly were deployed in Baghdad and were maintaining checkpoints outside the city.

Reuters reported that witnesses saw seven trucks of troops enter the center of Baghdad Monday across the al-Ahrar bridge over the Tigris.

Leaders of the ruling Baath Party, whose headquarters was bombed to rubble in air raids on the last night of the Persian Gulf war, also have been placed on alert, informed sources told the news agency.

Although things were reportedly calm in Baghdad, sketchy accounts emerged of shooting between anti-Hussein protesters and security forces.

Reuters said that in Baghdad's neat Mansour district Saturday, a large canvas portrait of Mr. Hussein had an obvious hole in it just below the Iraqi leader's neck. The hole had been repaired by the next day.

Residents said the ubiquitous portraits also had been spattered with mud and eggs in two other areas.

One disfigured portrait, according to residents, was in the area of al-Nahda Square in southern Baghdad, packed daily with anxious Iraqis watching to see whether relatives were among the soldiers brought back from the war by bus.

Criticism of Mr. Hussein was unknown before the war in a city where fear of an all-embracing intelligence and security network was so great that people believed traffic lights hid listening devices.

Mr. Hussein's new interior minister is Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin who was governor of Kuwait during part of Iraq's occupation and the official held responsible for the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in northern Iraq when they rebelled in the closing stages of the Iran-Iraq war. As many as 5,000 were killed.

As interior minister, Mr. Majid will be in charge of internal security. He replaces Samir Mohammed Abdul-Wahhab. Baghdad radio said only that Mr. Abdul-Wahhab was "relieved of his government post."

Mr. Majid's selection shows Mr. Hussein faithful to his practice of restricting his circle of security advisers largely to relatives and people from his hometown, Tikrit.

Iran said yesterday that it had no role in unrest in southern Iraq and urged other countries to stay out of the turmoil. "Some foreign media try to attribute Iraq's internal turmoil to Iran. We categorically reject this," Tehran radio quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati as telling a Soviet envoy.

Meanwhile, a United Nations aid official said yesterday that epidemics of typhoid, cholera and meningitis could kill tens of thousands of people in Iraq once the weather warms in the next few weeks.

"We came out feeling the country is right on the edge of what could be a catastrophe," Richard Reid, regional director for the United Nations Children's Fund, said after arriving in Jordan from Iraq. "The number of deaths that could result from any one of these epidemics could greatly outnumber total battle deaths and civilian casualties -- we're talking about tens of thousands."

Mr. Reid said that he was receiving daily updates from UNICEF staff in Baghdad and that while conditions had improved, there was still serious risk of disease because of the wrecked water and sewage system.

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