The United States has sent a warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatening to launch another attack if Iraq does not immediately stop rebuilding air defense installations destroyed by U.S. missiles last week, senior administration sources said Sunday.
The warning, transmitted over the weekend through Iraq’s U.N. mission in New York and the Iraqi Interest Section in the Algerian Embassy here, was issued after U.S. intelligence detected Iraqi experts scrambling to repair the radar installations and command-and-control bunkers at four air defense bases in the country’s south.
Tension also mounted in northern Iraq on Sunday as a Kurdish guerrilla faction allied with Iraq tightened the noose on its rival’s last remaining stronghold with the capture of strategic crossroads and mountain passes.
Aid workers and the combatants confirmed the fighting near the stronghold of Sulaymaniya, but there were confusing reports of possible involvement by Iraqi troops in the area.
U.N. sources in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, told the Los Angeles Times by satellite telephone that there was no evidence of any direct involvement by nearby Iraqi forces in the new attacks on the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan by fighters of the Iraqi-allied Democratic Party of Kurdistan. In the latest attacks, confident KDP forces captured the dusty 50-house village of Degala and the historic town of Kuysanjaq, putting troops 40 miles from Sulaymaniya.
Reports from Sulaymaniya indicated an impending sense of doom as foreign agencies abandoned the city of 750,000 people near the border with Iran. “I think we may soon be facing a humanitarian disaster,” said Rob Jones, an aid worker for the Italy-based medical relief team Emergency. He noted that other fighting to the north and east had effectively cut road access to the city.
The captured town of Kuysanjaq, 30 miles east of Irbil, is a center of Kurdish political activity. It is also the birthplace of PUK leader Jalal Talabani. “We’re very fearful for the lives of political activists,” said Barham Saleh, the PUK representative in Washington.
“We fear they’ll be turned over to Hussein’s agents,” which reportedly happened to dozens of PUK officials and sympathizers in Irbil.