Iraqi Paper Blasts US Steps To Protect Shiite Muslims

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A LEADING Iraqi newspaper has lashed out at efforts by the US-led Gulf war coalition to protect Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq from the Iraqi Army as "a conspiracy and act of sabotage and aggression."

The pro-government Al-Iraq newspaper on Aug. 18 called a UN report on human rights violations in Iraq an attempt to "prolong the UN economic sanctions and to continue the aggression against Iraq."

The allies are now considering establishing a Shiite "safe haven," similar to the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq. Such a move would bar Iraqi flights south of the 32nd parallel, where a Shiite insurgency in the southern marshes has continued since a major rebellion was crushed by the Iraqi Army in March 1991.

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The population in Iraq is the second largest Shiite population in the region. At the end of the Gulf war in 1991, Shiite rebels rose up against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Without substantial support from the allied coalition, the Shiites were crushed by government forces. About 200,000 rebels fled to the marshes of extreme southern Iraq, inaccessible to tanks and ground forces.

Saddam has massed forces outside the marshes, and there are reports of bombing of Shiite villages and refugee areas, in violation of UN cease-fire bans on military air traffic.

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