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IRAQ: DENIAL: BAGHDAD SAYS REPORTS OF ATTACKS ON REBELS ARE `MISLEADING IRANIAN PROPAGANDA.'

Iraq has dismissed as "misleading Iranian propaganda" reports that its soldiers are attacking rebels fighting anew to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein.

Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Ali Hassan Al Meguid, in a statement broadcast over Baghdad Radio Sunday, called the Iranian reports "groundless and untrue."Iran fought a stalemated war with its neighbor from 1980 to 1988, and many Iraqis who oppose Saddam have fled into that nation. Iran reports Saddam's army is attacking Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq.

"The Iraqi army have no plans to advance into the northern areas in Kurdistan," Meguid said, also denying heavy fighting has erupted in the south. "These claims are utterly baseless and misleading Iranian propaganda."

Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Iraqi forces were pounding rebels who have sought refuge in the southern marshlands of the nation. IRNA said Saddam's fighter planes, gunboats and heavy artillery units shelled the vast area.

The Shiites constitute about 60 percent of Iraq's 20 million people. The nomadic Kurds represent a minority population in the country. Both groups have chafed under the control of Saddam and his Sunni Muslim regime.

Saddam's army crushed simultaneous revolts against his regime by Kurds and Shiites in March 1991, only days after U.S.-led allied forces drove the dictator's troops out of the tiny emirate Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war.