A spokesman for Kurdish rebels said Friday that 88 civilians were killed and 500 people injured when Iraqi warplanes dropped poison gas bombs on five Kurdish villages in northern Iraq a day before.

Western diplomats in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad confirmed that Iraq has launched a major assault on the Kurdish guerrillas now that it has been freed from fighting Iran by a week-old cease-fire.

Iraq's 3.5 million Kurds have been fighting for an independent homeland for more than 50 years. The guerrillas formed an alliance with Iran two years ago, opening a second war front.