Kurdish rebels sneaked back into the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk under cover of darkness and again battled loyalist government troops for the strategic city Tuesday, Kurdish officials said, amid reports Shiite Muslims have resurrected their rebellion in the south.
Kirkuk, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, had exchanged hands at least twice during the Easter weekend between loyalist troops and Kurdish guerrillas, and on Monday the rebels said they had withdrawn from the city.But a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two main rebel groups fighting government forces, said the Peshmerga guerrillas only made a tactical retreat and infiltrated back overnight, with heavy clashes erupting in and around the city.
"Our Peshmergas fight better as guerrillas, which they are. They prefer partisan warfare to frontal battles," the spokesman said.
There was no word from Baghdad on the fighting in Kurdish territories in northern Iraq.
In Stockholm, Sweden, some Kurdish refugees demonstrating outside the U.S. Embassy announced a hunger strike to press pleas the United States help Kurds repulse the Iraqi offensive. The demonstrators have protested peacefully outside the U.S. Embassy since Sunday.
Announcing the hunger strike, a statement from the Iraqi Kurdistan Front in Stockholm appealed to the U.S. Congress and to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to "save the Kurdish people from annihilation".
American officials have said they have agreed to meet with Kurdish opposition representatives this week.
Kurdish officials said Monday that thousands of Kurdish civilians are fleeing the cities of Arbil and Dohuk to the safety of nearby mountains.
U.S. officials said Monday government troops had taken those two cities, and Iraqi state radio said in Baghdad that government troops stormed and captured the northern city of Zakho.
In southern Iraq, meanwhile, Shiite rebels said fighting continued in the key industrial city of Basra, despite Baghdad's assertion the rebellion there had been crushed.
A spokesman for the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq said the Shiites attacked a paper factory in Basra where loyalist Republican Guard troops had a command center. There was no immediate word on casualties.
During the weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi said government forces had crushed the rebellion in southern Iraq, but SAIRI spokesman Abul Anis said by telephone from Tehran, Iran, "The struggle is not over. We are going to continue fighting until Saddam Hussein is overthrown."
He said the insurgents moved out of the cities so Iraqi troops would not have an "excuse to bombard innocent civilians."
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander-in-chief of the allied forces in the Persian Gulf, meanwhile arrived in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday to congratulate the nation's forces for their role in the allied liberation of Kuwait. He also decorated three UAE generals with medals of merit on behalf of President Bush.
In other developments Monday:
- France said on Tuesday it is demanding that the U.N. Security Council act quickly to end the massacre of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim rebels and civilians bombarded by Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Bernard said that France, a permanent member of the council, would take up the issue Tuesday with fellow council members and U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
- The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday 35 foreign journalists have escaped into Turkey from northern Iraq. A Turkish news agency said one journalist was killed and two were injured in clashes between Iraqi troops and Kurdish rebels. Some of the journalists swam across a river that forms part of the border between Iraq and Turkey, and others walked through mountain areas in the Silopi township region, Anatolia said. It said two bridges across the river were destroyed last month.
- The U.N. Security Council prepared Tuesday to have all 15 of its members begin consultations on a formal cease-fire for the Persian Gulf war. The draft resolution, drawn up by the five permanent members of the council, was criticized by Iraq. Baghdad's ambassador, Abdul Amir Al-Anbari, says his nation considers it humiliating. The United Nations would step in and patrol the Iraq-Kuwait border.