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Baghdad claims big success in marshland war

BAGHDAD (Reuter, AFP) - Iraq, its warplanes barred by Western air power from flying over Shia rebel refuges in the southern marshes, yesterday said army deserters and 'infiltrators' there were surrendering en masse.

And, referring to the policing of the skies over the marshes by Western aircraft, it said tens of thousands of people in southern Iraq had volunteered to 'confront the American, British and French . . . plan'. Iraq said it had nothing to fear from the Western allies' imposition of the no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel.

President Saddam Hussein vowed yesterday to defeat a conspiracy to tear apart Iraq, which he said was hatched by Gulf war allies barring his aircraft from the south. In a message read on his behalf on television and radio, he said Iraqis would defeat the partitioning of the country by 'further indignation, derision and rejection' of the conspiracy.

'I realise that the young among you cannot stand this aggressive and infidel act and are burning with wrath, wanting to respond,' President Saddam said. 'I don't want to hide that we (leaders) like you have the same feelings, but we in the leadership resort to patience, which God wants.'

Al-Thawra, the ruling Baath Party's newspaper, said the Shia dissidents gave themselves up to party offices in Basra, where long queues of volunteers waited to receive arms to defend Iraq's unity. 'Large numbers of army deserters and infiltrators have surrendered to party offices, benefiting from an amnesty issued by the leadership earlier.'

Iraqi planes have not ventured south of the 32nd parallel since the exclusion zone was declared. Baghdad has said it will go to war if attempts are made to weaken its control of the ground.

In Gushtepe, in the north of the country, Iraqi forces took away Shia families and drove off their livestock. The information came from drivers ferrying goods and people between Kirkuk, a major oil city, and the Kurdish-dominated area north of it. One driver said he saw about 50 Shia families removed by truck from Kirkuk.

In Arbil, an official of a Western humanitarian organisation said that he had heard from a reliable driver that the round-up occurred after some Shias fired on officials of the Baath Party, killing one of them.

A United Nations official confirmed that a bomb was discovered under a UN car just as it crossed the Gushtepe checkpoint into the Kurdish area on Thursday. The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the car had earlier been stopped at an Iraqi checkpoint and delayed for a long time.

Personnel of the UN and international relief organisations have been the target of a score of terrorist attacks over the past two months. Kurdish officials blame the Iraqi secret police. Iraq denies involvement.

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army, in a sign that it may be preparing for renewed Iraqi missile attacks, announced new civil defence procedures yesterday. General Ishay Dotan recommended that Israelis go to a shelter, not just an airtight room, as was the case during the Gulf war.

The army is to hand out new gasmask filters in October and new gasmasks to those who did not receive them during the Gulf war.