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Dissidents Say Iraqi Army Shaken Up

May 16, 1999

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Saddam Hussein has reshuffled the army command in the wake of anti-government disturbances in recent months in southern Iraq, dissidents and travelers said Sunday.

Changes included replacing deputies to the chief of staff along with commanders of the border guard and air defense units, according to the dissidents and travelers, who spoke on condition they not be further identified.

Lt. Gen. Saeed Mohammed Fathi al-Mashhadani, the guard commander, was fired, arrested, and replaced by Lt. Gen. Kanaan Mansour Khalil as a result of March 17-18 disturbances in Basra, they said. Other major changes included the appointment of Lt. Gen Sabah Nouri Alwan and Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Ismael Mohammed as deputies to the chief of staff, the sources told The Associated Press.

In a rare admission, Iraqi authorities acknowledged Friday that there were disturbances in the impoverished southern city of Basra in mid-March. They blamed infiltrators from neighboring Iran.

Iraqi opposition groups claimed that more than 200 people, including scores of ruling Baath party militiamen, were killed in mid-March rioting in Basra.

Abdulbagi al-Saadoun, a senior member of the Baath party and deputy to the commander of the southern region, sharply denied such reports Friday, accusing ``infiltrators″ from Iran of stirring up trouble.

Al-Saadoun allowed reporters on a government-organized tour of Basra to speak with residents without official guides. Residents remained reluctant to talk, but spoke of public disturbances; they evaded questions about deaths.

The travelers, who said they had witnessed the events, provided the first detailed descriptions. They said nearly 200 members of the Iran-based Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, coming from Iran, attacked Baath party offices and killed their guards. They said the members wore uniforms of Saddam Fedayeen, the commando units headed by Saddam’s eldest son Odai.

Soldiers, backed by tanks and artillery, quickly moved in, attacking residential areas in Basra and sparking riots and skirmishes with the security forces, they said.

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