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Thirty-five allied prisoners of war, including 15 Americans, arrived Wednesday in Saudi Arabia from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's security forces struggled to put down rebellions flaring in the north and south.

The allies also freed the first IraqiPOWs Wednesday, about 300 out of more than 63,000 held by coalition forces. They left northern Saudi Arabia for Baghdad aboard two planes, the U.S. military said.

The turmoil in Iraq was underscored Wednesday by word from Baghdad radio that Saddam had fired his interior minister and appointed a cousin to the post.

The new minister, Ali Hassan al-Majid, crushed a rebellion by Kurdish separatists in the north two years ago in which government forces used chemical weapons. He also served as governor of Iraq's former "19th province" - Kuwait.

Saddam also sought to make sure his most loyal troops stay loyal. Baghdad radio said soldiers of the Republican Guard would be given a $300-a-month pay raise. It said that was in recognition of their "heroic stands in the mother of all battles."

In the confrontation with allied forces, the Republican Guard was routed.

The allied POWs arrived at an air base in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, aboard a chartered Red Cross plane, and weregreeted by allied Commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and other officials.

"Every one of them's a hero," Schwarzkopf said after greeting the freed POWs. "It's almost over."

Freed POWs bandaged

Several of the former POWs were bandaged and one had a cast on his leg. Another, identified as an American F-16 pilot, was carried from the plane on a stretcher. The only woman, U.S. Army Maj. Rhonda L. Cor-num, had both arms bandaged and in slings. She smiled as she left the plane.

Cornum's arms were believed to be broken, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal said. He said one POW suffered a broken leg and two had back injuries.

Cornum, 36, of East Aurora, N.Y., had been reported missing over the weekend while on a search-and-rescue mission in a Chinook helicopter. One other female POW, Army Spc. Melissa Rathbun-Nealy of Newaygo, Mich., was released Monday by Iraq.

The freed Americans were flown to Bahrain later Wednesday and were to be taken to the Navy hospital ship USS Mercy, Neal said.

The POWs were turned over to the Red Cross in Baghdad on Tuesday, but high winds and poor visibility delayed their departure from Iraq.

Wednesday, under the supervision of Red Cross representatives, they left their Baghdad hotel and boarded a bus for the airport. All wore yellow jumpsuits emblazoned with the letters PW, and all appeared in generally good condition.

In addition to the 15 Americans, the freed captives included nine Britons, nine Saudis, an Italian and a Kuwaiti. The release of the prisoners was among peace terms laid down by the victorious allies.

Iraq, which released 10 other allied POWs on Monday, said the 35 released Wednesday were the last prisoners it held. If this is true, that would leave 28 Americans unaccounted for in the fighting. The Pentagon now puts the U.S. casualty toll in the 42-day war at 115 dead and 330 wounded.

Fourteen of the Americans listed as missing were aboard an Air Force AC-130 gunship that disappeared Jan. 31 after radioing a terse "mayday." Wreckage of the plane has been discovered in the Persian Gulf, a spokesman at the Hurlburt Field, Fla., air base said Wednesday.

No official casualty figures were released by the Baghdad government, but tens of thousands of Iraqis were believed killed in the war.

Rebellion in Iraq

With the war over, Saddam's government was busy coping with the outbreak of rebellion at home.

The southern Iraqi city of Basra, where heavy fighting had been reported, was said to be back under the control of pro-Saddam forces Wednesday. But continuing unrest was reported in other southern cities, and in northern Iraq, Kurdish guerrillas claimed to have seized at least five towns.

Neal said the unrest in Iraq continued, mostly south of Baghdad and in more isolated areas north of the capital, but at a lower level. "It's an internal problem and one I assume the government and the military will eventually resolve," he said.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications of unrest in Karbala, site of an important Shiite Muslim shrine, and that a unit of the pro-Saddam Republican Guard was moving in.

Kurdish rebels, who have long fought for an autonomous homeland, claimed to have seized the provincial capital of Erbil, about 80 miles south of the Turkish frontier. There was no way to independently verify the claim.

Also Wednesday, Iraq's government-controlled al-Baath newspaper carried an article signed by Sad-dam's son Udai, in which he denied reports that he was killed in Basra.

More journalists missing

More Western journalists were reported missing Wednesday in southern Iraq, and an Iraqi opposition group said at least five foreign reporters were seen in the custody of Iraqi government forces. More than two dozen journalists were unaccounted for - although a few called their news organizations Wednesday to say they are safe.

An Iraqi opposition group, the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said Wednesday it is holding 21 of the 25 journalists.

A spokesman for the group said the journalists had been taken into custody by the group and were being cared for after a firefight on the highway linking Kuwait City and Basra.

Pentagon sources said the 82nd Airborne Division - among the first troops to go to the gulf - would be among the first to return, arriving Thursday.

Congress considers aid

In Washington, Congress was moving to give Israel $650 million in new aid as it pushed ahead with two emergency money bills to pay for the war.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration released figures showing $54.5 billion has been pledged by allies to offset costs of the war, and $16.9 billion actually has been paid.

The aid for Israel should ease the way for a visit to Jerusalem next week by Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

A compromise worked out during several days of negotiations, the Israeli aid was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in a voice vote Tuesday. It is expected to be endorsed by the full House when it comes to the floor on Thursday.


(additional information)

President Bush will address Congress at 7 p.m. tonight about the Persian Gulf war and its aftermath. All major television networks are expected to carry the speech. *****


War scorecard

Based purely on the numbers, the allies waged one of the most decisive wars in history. Death toll for U.S. forces is 115, while Iraqi dead total at least 50,000. U.S. military cost was stunningly low:

U.S. Iraq

Tanks 3 3,300

Artillery None 2,200

Aircraft 23 91

Vehicles Several 2,100

(M-2 Bradleys) (armored)