An attempted coup against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was crushed Thursday after government tanks and helicopters battled the rebels at an army camp near Baghdad, diplomatic sources said.
The coup was led by an army brigade that tried to take over a broadcast station at Abu Ghraib, 12 miles east of the capital, to announce an anti-Saddam government in hopes of gaining wide support, according to diplomats based in the Persian Gulf.
Iraqi opposition figures in England, Iran and Syria also reported the coup attempt in the town, which contains an army base and prison. They claimed the fighting started Wednesday and was still raging Thursday.
But the diplomatic sources said the coup was crushed by two other brigades from the Abu Ghraib base and its leader, an army brigadier, committed suicide. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iraq denied there had been any fighting, saying the reports were spread by its enemies in oil-rich Persian Gulf states.
Abu Ghraib also has a prison, where Americans William Barloon, 39, of New Hampton, Iowa, and David Daliberti, 41, of Jacksonville, Fla., are being held. They were sentenced to eight years each on March 25 for illegally entering Iraq.
There was no independent confirmation of the opposition reports, and travelers from Baghdad and residents reached by telephone in the city said they saw no evidence of large-scale military clashes.
However, it appeared that at the least, members of the Dulaimi tribe, who reportedly took part in bloody riots in May, were involved in new clashes with the government.
The Dulaimis are Iraq’s biggest Sunni Muslim tribe. Many held important government posts before turning against Saddam as U.N. trade sanctions imposed after the August 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait caused worsening hardship among Iraq’s 20 million people.
Reports Wednesday said the Dulaimi tribesmen started the attack. But the diplomatic sources and opposition figures said the coup was spearheaded by an armored brigade led by a member of the tribe, Brig. Turki Ismael al-Dulaimi.
Shiite Muslim opponents of Saddam in Tehran and Damascus said the coup was led by Dulaimi’s July 14 brigade, named for the date in 1958 when Iraq’s monarchy was ousted. The diplomatic sources said Dulaimi killed himself when the coup failed.
Hamid al-Bayati of the Iraqi National Congress, umbrella for most of the anti-Saddam factions, said the rebels shot down two helicopters and destroyed about 20 tanks and armored vehicles.