Secretary of State James Baker took his postwar peace mission Wednesday to Syria, once a hotbed of anti-American feeling, in an effort to forge a new Middle East agreement among allies who had combined to fight Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

President Bush planned his own level of diplomacy, heading to Ottawa for a meeting with the heads of state of Canada, France and Great Britain. (Story on A2.)Violence continued over wide areas of Iraq.

Iran's spiritual leader condemned Saddam for his methods used in fighting the uprisings - a possible sign of Iranian movement away from its self-proclaimed neutrality.

The United States honored its first five former prisoners of war for their heroism during the six-week Persian Gulf war.

The port in Kuwait City reopened Tuesday, but the city is still struggling to resume a normal life. More than two weeks after being liberated from Iraqi control, residents still don't have electricity or running water and garbage is piling up in some neighborhoods.

Baker flew to Syria to gauge the uncertain intentions of President Hafez Assad, erstwhile enemy and unlikely U.S. ally in the war. Baker's talks with Assad loomed as an important test of whether Arab attitudes have changed with the defeat of Saddam.

That defeat leaves Assad as the dominant threat to Israel and the biggest wildcard in the region. In various interviews, Assad has signaled peaceful intent even to the point of making overtures to Israel.

Syria is still considered by the State Department as a country that supports terrorism and the human rights groupAmnesty International lists it as one of the most repressive states in the world.

Past the midpoint of his 10-day mission, Baker has drawn cautious encouragement from Israelis and Arabs leaders as well as Palestinians that there might be some flexibility among the longtime enemies.

"I think we are seeing on the part of everybody a determination maybe to go back and think again about where is the room for maneuvering, where can one think a little more creatively and alike," said a senior administration official traveling with Baker.

"Whether it is sufficient to get together a process that will permit us to exploit the opportunity that's there, I don't know yet," the official said.

Reports reaching the West indicated fighting and unrest continued throughout parts of Iraq with Sad-dam's troops battling insurgents.

Quoting refugees who fled to Iran, Tehran's state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency said Saddam's Presidential Guard used heavy weaponry in clashes with insurgents in Zubair and Abul Khasib, near the southern port city of Basra.

The news agency said for the second day the guard used napalm against the rebels in a bid to regain control of Basra. Pentagon officials have said they have no evidence of napalm use.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish guerrillas completed an encirclemnent of government troops holding the oil city of Kirkuk, and were steadily advancing on them, IRNA quoted refugees as saying. There was no word on the Kirkuk oil fields themselves, outside the city, but earlier reports said Saddam's troops were holding them.

The Kurdish rebels have reportedly pushed government troops out of Sulaimaniya province, which borders on Iran, and were moving into Dohuk province, bordering on Turkey. Earlier reports said the rebels were in partial control of Arbil province.

As throughout the post-war unrest, there was no independent verification of the charges.

Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned Saddam's government for the methods used in putting down the uprisings, Tehran radio said.

In a broadcast monitored in Athens, the radio said Khamenei deplored the methods and said "the Iraqi nation's salvation lay . . . in moving toward the sovereignty of the true faith."

Khamenei indirectly called on the Iraqi rebels to continue their resistance to Saddam's rule. Hitherto, Tehran claimed it did not wish to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs, but the bulk of the reports on the uprising have come from the official Iranian media.

A one-time key player in the Middle East, King Hussein of Jordan, sent a letter to Bush after the war seeking to improve relations damaged when Hussein sided with neighboring Saddam, a White House spokesman said.

At Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, five former U.S. prisoners of war - including the two women - were awarded three medals: the Purple Heart, POW and National Defense Service medals. Four appeared at the ceremony and the fifth received his from his hospital bed.

The Pentagon also announced Bush signed an order establishing a Southwest Asia Service Medal for award to members of the armed forces who served in the Persian Gulf region.