Rumours of high-level Iraqi defections do the round
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Rumours of high-level Iraqi defections do the round

There was a strong rumour that Iraqi Dy PM had been shot and injured while trying to escape Iraq.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2003 13:08 IST

Rumours of high-level Iraqi defections and reports of skirmishes swirled, much as wind-blown sand twirled around the columns of American and British troops moving toward Kuwait's border with Iraq.

Wednesday began with a rumour that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had fled to the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq. Another rumour said Aziz had been shot and wounded while trying to escape Iraq.

After a few hours, Aziz deflated both by appearing at a news conference in Iraq's capital to deny he had abandoned Saddam Hussein's regime.

The secrecy that descends on front lines when war approaches often breeds sketchy reports that cannot be verified.

A London tabloid carried a story that American and British commandos clashed with Iraqi troops Wednesday at Basra, the southern Iraqi port that is expected to be an early objective of the allies if war starts. Britain's Ministry of Defense denied the report.

Meanwhile, the Iranian news agency IRNA said Iraqi opposition sources had reported a revolt by Iraqi troops and civilians in southern Iraq. It's an area that rose up against Saddam after the first Gulf War, but there was no independent confirmation.

A possible source for the reports of fighting in the south could be the explosions from bombs dropped by US and British warplanes enforcing the 'no fly' zone in southern Iraq.

US military officials said Navy planes struck at least two Iraqi military targets in the region. Iraq's news agency said aircraft attacked Basra International Airport and three other spots in the south.

The Aziz rumour wasn't the only report of defections from Saddam's regime.

A brief newspaper item out of London said one of Saddam's half-brothers, Sab'awi Ibrahim Hasan Al-Tikriti, had sought refuge in Damascus, Syria.

Syrian officials were not available to comment. An Iraqi opposition figure, Bayan Jabr of the Surpreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said he wasn't aware of that defection but he said he had heard that one of Saddam's nephews, Ahmed Watban Ibrahim Hassan, had defected to Jordan.

First Published: Mar 20, 2003 10:38 IST