Saddam’s Forces Execute Over 400; Opposition Protests Continue With AM-Gulf-Iraq, Bjt
SAFWAN, Iraq (AP) _ Forces loyal to Saddam Hussein executed scores of opponents in a single day, but the Iraqi leader has not succeeded in crushing the opposition movement, Iraqis from the south of the country claimed Thursday.
In this mine-strewn and war-ravaged corner of Iraq now occupied by allied forces, several local residents urged President Bush to keep American troops here at least long enough to topple Saddam.
″Bush is good,″ said an Iraqi woman who identified herself as Zahara.
There was confusion over the extent of Republican Guard control of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city just 22 miles from here. One man who left Basra Thursday morning said Saddam’s top fighters were now in charge but another said they controlled only certain districts.
The U.S. government said Wednesday that it appeared Iraqi forces were back in control of Basra after Republican Guard units suppressed anti-Saddam riots.
Residents reported demonstrations Wednesday in Basra and just south of the city in Zubair. One reported fighting in Karbala and Najaf, both Shiite Moslem holy sites northwest of Basra up the valley of the Euphrates.
″Every day the opposition becomes bigger,″ said a local farmer who left Basra early Thursday to walk home with his family. He identified himself only as Hassan.
Hassan said there was also opposition in the southern towns of Samaneah, Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, Muthena, Amarah and Shemoniya.
None of these reports could be independently confirmed.
Hussein Ali Kazem, 22, a student and farmer who left Basra on Wednesday, said an anti-Saddam protest by about 1,000 people earlier Wednesday was followed by the public execution of about 400 opposition members.
″Their hands were tied, then they tied them to tanks and shot them,″ he said. ″The bodies are still there, bound by the wrists at Sahat Saad,″ a traffic circle in Basra.
Kazem, who said he went to Basra to sell tomatoes and had them stolen by the Iraqi forces, said the protesters want the allied forces to stay in Iraq.
″If they pull out, the government will come back here and punish us,″ he said. ″Maybe they will use chemical weapons with Basra people - they will destroy it like Kurdistan.″
Saddam is said to have used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds in 1988.
Hadi Rabsa Hamud, 25, said he also saw the protests and executions. ″There were bombs and tanks and I was scared,″ he said.
A 35-year-old laborer who identified himself only as Mohammad said hundreds of people demonstrated against Saddam in Zubair on Wednesday. ″They want the Baath Party to fall,″ he said.
Afterwards, he said, he saw about 30 blindfolded people tied on tanks and shot.
Karim, a young man who said he escaped from the military 18 months ago, said about 7,000 Iraqi regular Army soldiers who had left Kuwait had joined with civilians in the opposition. ″Now, they are fighting just with the Republican Guard,″ he said.
Some refugees said there were prominent pro-Iranian elements in the rebellion, but it seemed to be driven more by opposition to Saddam than any clear-cut ideology.
Camped along the Iraqi side of the border are Kuwaiti and foreign refugees, some just freed from Iraqi prisons. Kuwait has closed its border and the refugees are stuck in the sand, without food or water.
″Now we are in freedom,″ Karim said, ″but if the U.S. forces pull out, then Saddam and his forces will come back.″