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Iraqi Opposition Says Saddam’s Forces Used Acid, Napalm Bombs

March 21, 1991

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Iraq’s opposition said today that helicopter gunships were dropping acid on Kurdish rebels in the north and that attacks with napalm bombs and chemical weapons in the south have killed 15,000 people.

Japanese television, meanwhile, showed a videotape of Kurds celebrating in Kirkuk, the northern Iraqi oil center the rebels claim to have captured.

Also today, opposition forces said the world’s highest Shiite authority has been arrested in the city of Najaf and taken to Baghdad. The Shiites are battling government forces in southern Iraq. Iran condemned the move.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party announced Wednesday that rebels had wiped out the last pockets of government resistance in Kirkuk, 140 miles north of Baghdad after ″intense street fighting.″

They said they controlled the National Oil Co. and all oil fields and installations in Kirkuk.

Today a Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, said the Kurds had taken more than 12,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in Kirkuk, and had captured government anti- aircraft batteries and artillery.

″All the city is now in the hands of the Kurdish resistance movement,″ he said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview from Damascus, Syria.

Talabani said the Kurdish rebels would next try to take the city of Mosul, and would cooperate with Shiite rebels in the south to try to win control of the rest of the country.

″We are discussing within the joint committee the idea of a salvation committee for the Iraqi people,″ he told the BBC.

The Japanese videotape showed Kurdish soldiers riding on the backs of trucks, holding their rifles up in a victory salute.

Others chanted ″Kurdish control over Kurdish territory″ and stepped together arm-in-arm to perform what was described as a ″war dance.″

The announcer said the Japanese reporters were the first foreign journalists to enter Kirkuk since the rebel takeover.

The report also showed what the newscaster said was a government helicopter attacking the city.

″The Iraqi army is attacking the city indiscriminately from the air using helicopter gunships and light aircraft,″ the Kurdistan Democratic Party said.′

″Hundreds of civilian casualties have been inflicted on the city’s population,″ it added.

Another opposition group, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, said that after the Kurds’ victory, ″government helicopters dropped acid on people demonstrating against the Baghdad regime, killing large numbers of them.″

The Assembly, based in Iran, serves as an umbrella for opposition groups seeking to topple the war-weakened Saddam Hussein after the allied victory in the Persian Gulf War.

Rebel claims that Saddam had used unconventional weapons to crush dissent have been impossible to verify. The United States has said it had no evidence that such weapons have been deployed.

In a statement carried by the official Iranian media, the assembly said Saddam’s loyalist forces ″used ground-to-ground missiles, napalm bombs and chemical weapons against the people in Najaf, killing more thaan 15,000 people.″

The opposition also said Grand Ayatollah Abul-Hassan al-Khoei, the world’s highest Shiite authority, has been arrested in the strife-plagued city of Najaf and taken to Baghdad.

Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the most sacred site for Shiites. It houses the tomb of the founder of the sect, Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son- in-law.

The official Iraqi News Agency had reported Wednesday that Khoei had traveled to Baghdad, met with Saddam and expressed his support for the government’s drive to crush dissent.

INA, monitored in Nicosia, quoted Khoei as saying God ″enabled President Saddam Hussein stamp out the sedition.″ The television showed film of the meeting.

It was the first time ever that a Shiite cleric had met with Saddam. The Shiites, who make up 55 percent of Iraq’s 17 million population, are violently opposed to the ruling clique. Saddam and his top aides are members of the minority Sunni Muslim sect.

The Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said Khoei, who is in his 80s, his son, Mohammed Taqi, and a number of other associates had been arrested in Najaf.

Iran, which regards itself as the defender of the world’s 100 million Shiites, strongly protested the development.

″The mercenary regime of Iraq has forcibly taken the Grand Ayatollah Abul- Kassem Khoei ... and insulted him,″ said a statement issued by the office of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In his statement, carried by Tehran Radio, Khamenei ordered an investigation into the incident and said: ″May God return the wickedness of the enemies of Islam... and grant victory to the Muslim nation of Iraq.″

Iran fought Iraq in a 1980-88 war. But they finally made peace last summer when Saddam accepted Iranian terms for ending the border dispute.

However, in recent days, they appeared on the course of collision again.

On Wednesday, Iraq’s parliament accused Iran on inciting the anti-Saddam rebellion.

″It became clear that Iran had prepared large groups of people for this kind of act,″ the assembly said in a statement.

It said rebels infiltrating from Iran included some of the tens of thousands of Shiites Saddam expelled from Iraq in the late 1970s as well as former Iraqi prisoners of war who turned against Saddam after being captured by Iran in the war with that nation.

Update hourly