Shiite Rebels Claim 2,000 Iraqi Guardsmen Surrender; Saddam to Speak
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Shiite Muslim rebels claimed Friday that about 2,000 troops of Iraq’s Republican Guard surrendered to them near the city of Basra in southern Iraq.
In northern Iraq, where Kurdish rebels claim to have captured large expanses of territory, fierce fighting persisted near the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, according to Kurdish spokesmen and the government radio in Iran.
Iraqi radio, meanwhile, said President Saddam Hussein would give ″an important, historic address″ over national television Saturday. The announcement did not elaborate on what Saddam would say in the speech, scheduled at 6 p.m. (10 a.m. EST).
It would be Saddam’s first televised address since Feb. 26, when he announced he would pull his troops out of Kuwait to achieve a cease-fire with the U.S.-led military force in the Persian Gulf.
Rebel spokesmen maintained their forces north and south were making headway against the Iraqi army. It was not possible to verify any of the claims because Western reporters have been unable to reach the scenes of the fighting.
Rebel reports said Shiite and Kurdish forces captured 19 tanks from Baghdad government troops in the battlefields along the Iranian and Turkish borders and that fleeing Iraqi troops set ablaze four oil wells around Kirkuk.
On Friday, Iraqi television broadcast an interview with a young, mustachioed man who said he fought as a rebel in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and said he had murdered and raped Iraqis.
The man, identified only as a 22-year-old, said he joined the revolt after promises of money, cars and a beautiful house. ″We have sold ourselves to traitors from outside this country,″ he said.
The TV said the rebel confessed to cooperating with Iranians. Predominantly Shiite Iran has denied it was helping Iraqi Shiites in their effort to topple Saddam’s government, whose leaders are primarily Sunni Moslems.
The broadcast said the Iraqi army was in full control in Karbala and in Najaf, another Shiite holy city where rebel forces were reported fighting.
U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, moved back into positions deeper inside southern Iraq that they held at the end of the Gulf War and then briefly abandoned, U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal said Friday.
Neal confirmed in Saudi Arabia the action by soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne and 1st Air Cavalry divisions, but denied a report in The Los Angeles Times that strengthening the northern position was meant to pressure Saddam into signing a permanent cease-fire. He said it ″had nothing to do with that.″
The Times reported the troops took up their former positions in the Euphrates Valley and said the move may also be intended to warn Saddam not to use chemical weapons to quell the revolts flaring in his country.
Bayan Jabr, a spokesman in the Syrian capital of Damascus for the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said 2,000 Iraq troops from the Republican Guard gave up to Shiite rebels Thursday in Nashwa.
The town lies about midway between Basra and Qurna, where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers join. Shiite rebels have been fighting Iraqi troops in the area since just after U.S.-led forces routed the Iraqi army from Kuwait last month.
Jabr’s communique also said that Republican Guard forces who ″sold themselves to the devil″ were shelling residential areas in Najaf and Karbala.
Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency earlier quoted Iraqi rebels as saying that Republican Guard artillery damaged the burial shrines of Hussein and Abbas - figures revered by the Shiites - in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Hussein was grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Abbas was Hussein’s half-brother.
Tehran radio said Shiite rebels captured 15 tanks north of Basra.
Kurdish rebels also captured the town of Dehok, near Turkey, and Tuz Khurmatu, about 55 miles southeast of Kirkuk, said Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a Damascus-based umbrella group for Kurdish rebels.
He said government forces killed scores of women and children when they bombarded Tuz Khurmatu after it was captured by rebel forces.