WASHINGTON -- The United States has sent a warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatening to launch another attack if Iraq does not immediately stop rebuilding air defense installations destroyed by U.S. missiles last week, senior administration sources said yesterday.
The warning, transmitted over the weekend through Iraq's United Nations mission in New York and the Iraqi Interest Section in the Algerian Embassy in Washington, was issued after U.S. intelligence detected Iraqi experts scrambling to repair the radar installations and command-and-control bunkers at four air defense bases in the country's south.
Tension also mounted in northern Iraq yesterday as a Kurdish guerrilla faction allied with Iraq tightened the noose on its rival's last remaining stronghold with the capture of strategic crossroads and mountain passes.
Aid workers and the combatants confirmed the fighting near the stronghold of Sulaymaniyah, but there were confusing reports of possible involvement by Iraqi troops in the area.
U.N. sources in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, said that there was no evidence of any direct involvement by nearby Iraqi forces in the new attacks by fighters of the Iraqi-allied Democratic Party of Kurdistan. In the latest attacks, confident KDP forces captured the 50-house village of Degala and the historic town of Koysinjak, putting troops 40 miles from Sulaymaniyah.
But the beleaguered Patriotic Union of Kurdistan charged anew yesterday that Iraqi troops were fighting on the side of the KDP. Iraqi support was decisive Aug. 31 when the KDP captured the PUK-held Erbil, triggering the punitive U.S. cruise missile strikes against Hussein.
Through his KDP surrogates, Hussein has increased his control over most key areas in the U.S.-protected no-fly zone above the 36th parallel, according to U.S. and Iraqi sources.
A senior Pentagon official said of the reports of Iraqi involvement in yesterday's fighting: "This is a very disturbing turn of events. We're not going to get involved in the Kurdish civil war. But we're also not going to stand idly by if Hussein is involved in attacks on his own people."
The prospect of renewed hostilities between the United States and Iraq was raised yesterday as administration officials watched the latest developments in the region. The administration has already prepared a series of possible actions if Iraq does not heed the U.S. warning, officials said.
"He will have to accept very serious consequences if he does" try to rebuild the missile sites, said Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Repairing the air defense systems could upgrade Baghdad's ability to attack U.S. air patrols over a second no-fly zone, in southern Iraq, that recently was expanded northward from the 32nd to 33rd parallel.
Baghdad claims that it fired Russian-made SA-6 missiles at U.S. warplanes flying over the southern no-fly zone Friday, Saturday and yesterday. The missiles were not detected by U.S. radar or pilots, but U.S. officials said they believe Iraq did fire at least one.
"This says to us that Iraq really intends not to honor the no-fly zone. It means that Iraq is now going after us," a Pentagon official said.
Pub Date: 9/09/96