1,400 Iraqis Seized on Isle Off Kuwait Coast : Mop-up: Faylakah is last piece of enemy-held territory. Anti-Hussein protests reported in four cities.
U.S.-led forces on Sunday rounded up more than 1,400 Iraqi soldiers--including a brigadier general--from the Persian Gulf island of Faylakah, the last piece of enemy-occupied Kuwaiti territory, officials said.
Allied troops also seized 17 planes and eight helicopters at an air base in Iraq as mop-up operations continued after the lightning rout of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s forces, military officials said.
Faylakah, at the approaches to Kuwait Harbor, had been thought to be a key objective if U.S. Marines had staged a major amphibious assault to free the capital. But the beach landing never occurred and several thousand Iraqi soldiers who had manned the island for months had been stranded.
“We encountered no Iraqi resistance,” said U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, chief spokesman for the allied command. He said a Kuwaiti flag was raised over the island after the Iraqis were taken away but added that it was possible more soldiers remained hidden.
“We can’t claim ownership of Faylakah Island yet,” he said.
In other developments in the Gulf:
* Refugees crossing into Iran and Syria reported demonstrations against Hussein in four cities, and a rebel group of Islamic fundamentalists claimed Sunday to be in control of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city.
* Two Iraqi mechanized brigades were moved to the Baghdad area from the Turkish and Iranian borders to protect the regime in Baghdad, military sources said.
* Maj. Marie Rossi, one of the first American woman soldiers to be sent into Iraq, has been killed in a helicopter crash, military officials said Sunday.
* Iran and other Persian Gulf states must be actively involved in any plan for long-term stability in the region if there is to be lasting peace, Iran’s state-run news agency reported Sunday.
In the predawn darkness, helicopter-borne allied forces made passes over tiny Faylakah Island and, over loudspeakers, urged Iraqi soldiers to surrender at set locations.
The operation was mounted after American planes flying over the island in the last three or four days repeatedly saw men waving white flags.
The captured brigadier general and 89 other officers were among 1,405 Iraqi soldiers taken prisoner, Neal said. They were ferried in other helicopters to the U.S. warship Ogden for processing before being transferred to Saudi Arabia, Neal said.
More than 63,000 Iraqis have now been taken prisoner, Neal said. U.S. military officials previously had put the figure at 80,000. The number, they say, changes constantly as isolated pockets of Iraqi troops are discovered.
About 800 Iraqi prisoners are receiving medical care, with about 80% of those requiring treatment for war wounds; two prisoners have died of malnutrition after capture, Neal said.
The prisoners, many of whom appear bedraggled, under-fed and dispirited, will eventually be held in Saudi Arabia, a country that has yet to decide exactly what will be done with the Iraqis who do not want to go home.
Not all Iraqi soldiers who stumble upon allied forces are being taken prisoner these days, officials noted. Many are being disarmed and allowed to continue on their way northward to their homes. Some are even allowed to go home, guns in hand. U.S. officials have said the Iraqi army is so devastated that allowing individual soldiers to pass poses no danger.
Speaking at what he said will be the last daily briefing by the Operation Desert Storm’s Central Command, Neal said Iraqi military leaders who met with allied commanders Sunday agreed to exchange prisoners.
In the meeting to establish terms for a permanent cease-fire, the Iraqis provided Americans with maps showing the location of “a lot” of mines in Kuwait and in the seas off Kuwait’s coast, Neal said, adding that there is now “going to be a substantial minesweeping effort.”
The two sides, he said, agreed to a general line to separate forces and prevent clashes. It runs roughly along the Euphrates River.
Soldiers from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, clearing Iraq’s Talif airfield, south of the city of Basra, found five French-made F-1 Mirage jet fighters, six MIG-21 combat jets, one SU-22 bomber and eight Soviet-made helicopters, including gunships, officials said.
The aircraft were discovered in bunkers, Neal said. He did not know if any of the planes were airworthy.
In a separate operation, the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment destroyed or seized three antiaircraft guns, six artillery pieces, three multiple rocket-launchers and several tanks, while taking a brigade commander and 52 Iraqi soldiers prisoner.
Neal said allied forces, in combat or in search-and-destroy missions, have now captured or blown up 3,300 of Iraq’s 4,280 tanks, 2,100 of its 2,870 armored vehicles and 2,200 of its 3,110 artillery pieces.
U.S. officials say they plan to turn over the equipment that they do not destroy and do not want to the Arab armies that served in the coalition and that will most likely be charged with the postwar duty of patrolling Iraq’s borders with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Refugees fleeing war-torn Iraq, crossing into Iran and Syria on Sunday, reported protests and growing unrest about Hussein. One fundamentalist Islamic group claimed to be in control of Basra.
“Severe clashes between the people and government forces” have taken place in Basra, Amarah, Nasiriyah and Kut, refugees arriving in Iran said Sunday.
And representatives of rebel Shiite Muslims told reporters on the Kuwait-Iraq border on Sunday that they had risen against Hussein and released prison inmates from their cells in Basra. The rebels also appealed for help from nearby allied forces.
The rebels say they are followers of Mohammed Baker al-Hakim, a long-time Hussein opponent. They told the Associated Press that pro-Hussein forces were counterattacking but the city was under fundamentalist Shiite control.
U.S. military and diplomatic sources, however, said they have seen no evidence of large-scale disturbances that could threaten Hussein’s regime in Baghdad.
The most specific reports of Iraqi protests came from Iran, Iraq’s eastern neighbor and one-time enemy in war. Quoting refugees who fled the eastern border towns of Amarah and Ali al-Garbi, Iran’s state-run news agency said anti-Hussein slogans were scribbled on walls in the towns where dissidents had staged public protests against the regime in recent days, despite the presence of Iraq’s watchful internal security men.
Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency said eyewitnesses arriving in Iran said “in the past few days a group of Iraqis in the two cities held rallies in the main streets, shouting anti-Saddam slogans and protesting against his wrong policies during the Persian Gulf War.”
Although neutral in the latest conflict, Iran fought a bloody, eight-year war with Iraq that polarized Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects, and Shiite-dominated Iran won many followers in Iraq’s largely Shiite border towns during the war.
In Syria--Iraq’s northern neighbor and a participant in the U.S.-led military coalition--state-run Damascus Radio also broadcast reports of unrest in Iraq.
Refugees, it reported, “said that the catastrophic war created by the Iraqi regime and its results have the Iraqi streets in turmoil because of the resultant tragedy.”
Far more dramatic, but less reliable, reports came from Sri Lankan refugees who fled from Basra, which U.S. military briefers on Saturday said had plunged into “chaos” after hostilities ended in nearby Kuwait.
Abdul Aziz, a native of the fundamentalist Islamic belt on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The revolution has started in Basra. They are saying that their country must be Islamic and that Saddam is not a Muslim or he wouldn’t have done all this.”
Aziz and other Sri Lankan Muslims echoed the claim that mobs of Iraqis had attacked a prison near Basra, freed 5,000 inmates, and began battling troops loyal to Hussein.
The port city of Basra, traditionally Iraq’s only access to the Persian Gulf, is near the Iranian border and has been a hotbed of Shiite opposition to Baghdad’s Sunni-dominated ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party.
A U.S. military spokesman said during a briefing on Saturday that aerial reconnaissance flights had not picked up specific evidence of widespread demonstrations or political unrest. Rather, he likened it to a massive traffic jam. “What we’re seeing is lots of people milling around all over the place,” he said.
Basra is the first major Iraqi staging area on the road north from Kuwait toward Baghdad, and hundreds of tanks, trucks and artillery pieces appear to have jammed the city’s narrow streets and lanes, along with thousands of retreating soldiers.
“Basra is in chaos right now,” one senior military official said on Saturday. But he added, “The city is practically in gridlock.”
Asked about declarations from Iraq’s tattered opposition-in-exile that it hoped to put a provisional government in Basra, a Western diplomat said, “I am inclined to take a fair bit of this with a grain of salt.”
There was one report from U.S. military sources Sunday of concrete, postwar Iraqi troop movements that could be read in a number of ways.
With the military confrontation in Kuwait all but ended, Hussein has withdrawn two mechanized armored brigades from his northernmost borders with Turkey and Iran, where an additional 11 infantry divisions remain.
Although a senior U.S. officer said the brigades clearly were headed south toward Baghdad, he added that the Iraqi capital did not appear to be their final destination. “I don’t think he’ll bring them into Baghdad,” the officer said of Hussein. “If any coup is contemplated at all, the last thing he needs is for some commander to take charge of a brigade of tanks.”
Rather, the officer added, “He will use them in some kind of support. He’ll bring them down somewhere in the general vicinity of Baghdad to protect the regime and to counter any resumption of coalition offensive operations.”
Woman Pilot Killed
Rossi, an Army pilot from New Jersey, led a flight of five cargo-carrying Chinook helicopters into Iraqi territory in the opening hours of the ground war last Sunday, the Reuters news service reported.
She was killed Friday when her helicopter crashed in northern Saudi Arabia near the base camp of the 18th Aviation Brigade, a military spokesman said. Investigators have not determined whether there were other casualties in the crash.
“I think if you talk to the women who are professionals in the military, we see ourselves as soldiers,” she told reporters a week ago. “We don’t really see it as man vs. woman.”
Throughout the ground war, Rossi led Chinooks into Iraq on dozens of missions.
Times staff writer Mark Fineman in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.