Kurdish rebels said Friday that Saddam Hussein's loyalists used warplanes and helicopter gunships to attack civilians in an effort to crush a spreading rebellion.

Meanwhile, Shiite Muslim leaders accused the Iraqi president's Republican Guard of damaging some of Islam's holiest shrines during clashes in southern Iraq on Thursday.Since the allied offensive two weeks ago that crushed Saddam's army in Kuwait and seized a large portion of southern Iraq, Baghdad has been struggling to maintain control over numerous insurrections.

Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said Iraqi troops rounded up residents from government-held parts of the city of Kirkuk, then strafed them with helicopters. He claimed hundreds were killed or wounded.

The rebel claims have been impossible to confirm, because no Western reporters have been able to reach the fighting.

Talabani, who spoke in Damascus, Syria, also claimed the government used warplanes to attack protesters in other parts of Kurdistan in nothern Iraq.

He said Iraqi forces set four oil wells ablaze before being forced out of eastern Kirkuk, a major oil center.

He said Dohuk Province bordering Turkey "has been liberated" by the rebel forces fighting for autonomy from the central government.

Iranian radio reported that rebels killed an official of Iraq's ruling Baath Party and 18 other government officials during fighting in the northeastern Kurdish province of Suleimaniyah.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Iraqi rebels told it that Republican Guard artillery had damaged the golden domes over the shrines of Shiite imams Hussein and Abbas in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad.

IRNA also reported heavy fighting in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and the flashpoint for the anti-Saddam rioting that has erupted.

Official Iranian television reported continued fighting in Najaf, site of another major Shiite shrine south of Karbala. Iranian TV said Baath Party offices there had been attacked and many people killed or captured.

"In Basra, Tanumeh, Al-Hariseh, Al-Amarah, Al-Ghurna and Al-Uzayr, many tanks have been taken by the people, and numerous soldiers have defected to the rebels," the TV reported.

Ayatollah Taqi al-Mudaressi, leader of the opposition Shiite Islamic Labor Organization, claimed rebels in the south shot down one helicopter gunship and seized an underground arms depot that included surface-to-surface missiles.

Mudaressi also claimed the rebels had found chemical weapons at a farm owned by Saddam's eldest son Udai. Opposition figures earlier reported Udai's death, but he has since been quoted in the Iraqi media.