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Worst Cease-Fire Violation Yet; CBS Crew Freed

March 2, 1991

Undated (AP) _ U.S. Army troops today destroyed or captured about 140 Iraqi tanks and other vehicles in the worst clash since the Gulf War cease-fire, and Baghdad released its first captives - four American journalists.

U.S. military officials, meanwhile, said Iraq’s second-largest city was in chaos, overrun by troops and vehicles fleeing Kuwait.

The U.N. Security Council was to hold closed consultations today on a U.S.-sponsored resolution for a permanent peace in the war.

In the most serious encounter since the cessation of hostilities, an Iraqi armored column opened fire on U.S. Army troops who reacted by destroying or capturing about 140 tanks, a U.S. Army general said.

There were no reports of U.S. casualties in the engagement. Brig. Gen. Richard Neal said at the daily briefing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that a large number of Iraqis were taken prisoner.

Commanders of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) southwest of Basra believe the Iraqis got lost, said Brig. Gen. Steven L. Arnold.

When the Iraqis opened fire, he said, Apache helicopters and two task forces from the 24th Infantry went into action and there was ″a pretty good fight.″

″It looks like we destroyed about 60 vehicles and captured another 80 tanks and armored personnel carriers,″ Arnold told The Associated Press in an interview. Among the tanks captured were several T-72s, Iraq’s top-line armor bought from the Soviet Union.

Allied commanders say the release of all POWS will be their top demand when they meet with Iraq military leaders at a secret location in the Arabian desert on Sunday to discuss the 3-day-old cease-fire.

After nearly six weeks in captivity, CBS correspondent Bob Simon and his three-man crew were turned over to network officials in Baghdad today.

Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassayif Jassim said the four men ″had entered Iraqi territory illegally″ from Saudi Arabia.

CBS Vice President Don DeCesare, who headed to Jordan with the four freed journalists, said they were released with ″the help of a lot of people ... particularly the Soviet Union and the government of Iraq.″

Soviet spokesman Sergei Grigoriev said in Moscow that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev cabled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Thursday and appealed for the release of the four men.

The journalists were reported missing Jan. 21, four days after the war started. Their car was found abandoned at the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.

There was also some bad news concerning prisoners of war. A ranking military officer in Saudi Arabia said the allies believe Iraqis tortured and killed two airmen who had been held as prisoners of war. Both were believed to be Britons.

U.S. military sources in Riyadh said there had been a ″total breakdown of civil control″ in Basra. Throngs of people filled the streets of the southern Iraqi city and at least 400 military vehicles, remnants of Saddam’s army, were parked ″willy-nilly,″ the officers said on condition of anonymity.

The roads north to Baghdad were jammed with people trying to get out of southern Iraq, where U.S. troops occupy some areas, one officer said.

He said their information came from aerial surveillance and sources. He said there was no indication of any rebellion against Saddam’s regime.

An Iraqi opposition leader said ″more than 90 percent of the army and its commanders″ had rebelled against Saddam. Hassan al-Naqeeb, a retired army general, said from Riyadh that the opposition might set up a ″national salvation government″ in Basra.

Saddam has not addressed his people since Tuesday, two days before the cease-fire, when he announced in a radio message that all Iraqi troops would leave Kuwait by the end of the day.

The U.S. officers said they did not know where Saddam was. ″Saddam has shown up in more places than Elvis,″ said one official.

He said Algeria had denied a report that Saddam sought asylum there.

Baghdad radio continued to proclaim that Iraq won the war - at least in the moral sense. ″Iraq has emerged from this major historic confrontation proud and united behind its inspired historic leadership, the leadership of Saddam Hussein,″ it said today.

The United States and other leading U.N. Security Council members reached agreement on a surrender resolution Friday, a day after the allies completed a 100-hour ground campaign that retook Kuwait and seized part of southern Iraq.

Under the draft resolution, a permanent cease-fire would not be declared unless the Iraqis met demands for reparations for ravaged Kuwait and returned POWS. It also says the economic and arms embargoes imposed on Baghdad by the Security Council should remain in effect.

But non-aligned members balked and demanded a stronger role for the Security Council. They also said there should be a U.N.-declared cease-fire at once and that sanctions should be lifted.

The talks between allied and Iraqi military commanders were to be held Sunday at a secret location near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. The battlefield rendezvous had been set for today but was postponed for at least 24 hours at the Iraqis’ request, allied officials said.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S.-led coalition, and Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan, a Saudi prince who is commander of the joint Arab forces, will lead the allied side.

The talks generally are to discuss the mechanics of the cease-fire declared Thursday. But Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly said at the Pentagon on Friday that there was a primary demand - the return of all prisoners of war and thousands of Kuwaitis forced to go to Iraq.

″Unless the Iraqi forces are willing to deal on that issue first then we’re not going to get very much further,″ he said.

There are 13 known POWs, including nine Americans, two Britons, one Italian one Kuwaiti. There are an additional 66 MIAs, including 45 Americans, 10 Britons, 10 Saudis and one Italian.

American officials say the Iraqis also hold as many as 40,000 Kuwaitis, 15,000 of them abducted in the final days of the seven-month Iraqi occupation of the emirate.

The allies say they hold at least 80,000 Iraqi prisoners.

Baghdad radio said today that a delegation had been appointed to meet Sunday with the allies to work out cease-fire arrangements ″and other points on the agenda.″ It did not elaborate.

U.S. officers said the desert talks would not be cordial.

″There will be nothing other than a coldly correct attitude″ on the part of the allied commanders, one senior officer in Washington said Friday on condition of anonymity. ″The Iraqis earned nothing more than that.″

Top U.S. military officers say most Iraqi commanders abandoned their soldiers on the battlefield and deserve contempt.

Another U.S. military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the allies also might demand that Baghdad turn over Iraqis who committed atrocities during Iraq’s seven-month occupation.

The Iraqis looted and wrecked the city after seizing Kuwait Aug. 2, and there are countless reports that they tried to smash resistance with kidnapping, rape, torture and murder. Doctors in Kuwait City said more than 1,000 Kuwaitis - and possibly many thousands - were killed.

The senior allied officer in Saudi Arabia said military intelligence sources were sure that two British airmen were tortured and killed after they were captured shortly after the war began Jan. 17. The officer spoke on condition he not be identified further.

It wasn’t clear whether the airmen were among known POWs or were other British troops listed as missing in action.

Lt. Adrian Nichols and Lt. John Gyart Peters and several American crew members were shown on Iraqi television Jan. 20. Some of the POWS had bruises on their faces and appeared dazed. They have not been heard from since.

According to the Pentagon, 88 Americans have been killed and 324 wounded since the war began.

A U.S. mother received shocking but joyful news Friday when her son, listed as killed in the Persian Gulf War, telephoned home.

″I was afraid somebody was playing with my mind,″ said Ruth Dillow of Chanute, Kan.

Pfc. Clayton Carpenter, 20, of Humboldt, Kan., was reported killed Wednesday. The Army apologized for the error early today.

Update hourly