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Hussein Consolidating Control in South : Iraq: But grip on power is tenuous, U.S. officials say. In the north, Kurdish rebels appear to have the upper hand.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Forces loyal to Saddam Hussein appear to have wrested control of most of southern Iraq from Shiite Muslim rebels, although fighting is continuing there and in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

“Unrest has dropped off somewhat in the southern part of Iraq, relative to levels of unrest observed there a week ago,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said. “But the government’s hold in many areas is still . . . tenuous.”

Tutwiler said that the situation in the south remains unsettled, partly because Hussein has shifted some forces, including elements of the Republican Guard, from the south to the north as the situation in the Kurdish north has deteriorated.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said that Iraqi units are moving into smaller villages after having subdued the Shiite-led rebellion in several larger cities and towns of southern Iraq.

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He said that rebels battled government troops in intense fighting on Sunday in Suq ash Shuyukh, a city west of Basra on the Euphrates River. There were bloody battles on Monday in As Sumawah, a city farther north on the Euphrates, he said. U.S. reconnaissance also detected severe damage in downtown Karbala near two Shiite shrines.

“In the south, the government continues to consolidate its control,” Williams said.

“In the north, the Kurdish rebels continue to have the upper hand,” he said. “The Iraqi military appears to have withdrawn from (Kirkuk) for now, although there are indications that Iraqi military forces are now regrouping outside the city of Kirkuk.”

He said that U.S. intelligence is not yet certain whether the Iraqi troops withdrew voluntarily from Kirkuk or were forced out by the Kurdish rebels, nor is it known who holds the military air base outside the city.

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The Iraqi military cannot devote its full energies to either insurrection, Williams said, because “as they turn their attention elsewhere, frequently insurgent activities will flare up from the place they just left. And of course they have security concerns about Baghdad as well.”

Tutwiler said that the U.S. government “cannot confirm recent reports of massacres by government forces, but there is no doubt that heavy civilian casualties have resulted from the fighting between government and dissident forces, particularly in the densely populated urban areas of southern Iraq.”

Also Tuesday, the United States and the four other U.N. Security Council members with veto power reached broad agreement on a complex resolution to end the Gulf War, Western diplomats said.

The resolution demands the destruction of Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear arms under U.N. supervision and would maintain the U.N. trade embargo on conventional arms purchases by Iraq.

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The five permanent council members--United States, Britain, China, France and the Soviet Union--are expected to meet again today to put the finishing touches on the draft resolution.

It could be presented to the other 10 Security Council members today or Thursday for discussion. A vote is likely next week.

In other Gulf developments:

* A secret Iraqi oil refinery may have survived allied bombing during the Gulf War and may now be providing vital supplies to the government’s armed forces as they fight rebel forces, a British oil industry magazine said.

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* An Iraqi diplomat was wounded in a car bomb blast Tuesday in Ankara, Turkey. A caller claimed the attack was in retaliation for Baghdad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebels.


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