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Iraqi Shiites report army attacks in south

January 9, 1997

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Saddam Hussein has launched attacks on Shiite Muslim rebels in the southern marshlands to try to take control of dissident villages and eliminate armed resistance, an opposition group said Thursday.

Three army brigades have been participating in the new offensive, which was launched Tuesday against hideouts of Shiite rebels near Iraq’s southern port city of Basra, an Iranian-based Iraqi opposition group said.

Akram al-Hakim, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, claimed the Shiite rebels fought back and inflicted ``huge loses in men and equipment″ on the army.

There is no way to independently verify reports about southern Iraq. The government rarely makes its military actions public and reporters seldom are allowed in the region.

Al-Hakim said in a statement that about 3,000 Iraqi troops backed by artillery and tanks were involved in the assault on the rebels in the marshes of Al-Mugtaa and Al-Hayader near Basra.

``The Islamic resistance fighters killed scores of enemy soldiers and wounded others,″ he said.

Al-Hakim said the objective of the assault appeared to be to drive the rebels away from the main highway that links Basra with the capital in Baghdad.

Rebels from Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslim population sometimes have carried out attacks in the South, especially near the border with Iran.

A Shiite uprising after the 1991 Persian Gulf War was brutally put down by Saddam’s troops, prompting creation of a protective ``no fly″ zone over the South patrolled by jets from the United States, Britain and France.

While the allies prevent aerial action against the Shiites, they do not intervene in ground activity.

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