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U.S. warship fires warning shots over Iraqi freighter in gulf

An American warship fired shots across the bow of an Iraqi freighter in the Persian Gulf on Sunday after the vessel's captain duped a boarding party into believing he was turning around. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the incident was one of about a dozen cases in which U.S. ships have fired warning shots to enforce trade sanctions on Iraq.

A Navy spokesman said the Al-Bahar al-Arabi ignored the warning shots fired by the destroyer O'Brien, and warships, including the Italian frigate Libeccio, were shadowing it.

The spokesman said U.S. personnel boarded the freighter in the gulf Saturday to enforce the United Nations trade ban against Iraq. The captain apparently agreed to return to Iraq but after the party disembarked the ship continued toward the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Spokesman J.

D. Van Sickle said it was unclear what the 7,000-ton vessel was carrying.

The sanctions were imposed after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Van Sickle said two Iraqi ships had previously ignored warning shots after defying orders to halt. Warships trailed them and then let them go, he said.

Iraq to free Britons

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agreed Sunday to free an unspecified number of Britons held in Iraq and told former British Prime Minister Edward Heath he wanted to work for a peaceful end to the Persian Gulf crisis.

Heath, the most respected Western statesman to meet Hussein since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, said the Iraqi leader gave no indication he would withdraw from the emirate in accordance with United Nations demands.

"The president assured me that some (men) will be returning to Britain as a result of my visit," Heath told reporters after three hours of talks with Hussein.

He said arrangements were being made for Britons to fly home Tuesday. He said Hussein sought nothing in return.

Heath, prime minister from 1970-74, arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to seek freedom for sick or elderly Britons stopped with other Western and Japanese men from leaving Iraq since the invasion. British diplomatic sources say 53 Britons, about half of them held at strategic sites to deter attack by U.S.-led forces in the gulf, are seriously ill or elderly.

Gas stations jammed

Iraq remained defiant as U.N. sanctions forced motorists to wait in long lines for gas Sunday, filling up before the start of rationing Tuesday.

Iraqi authorities have said motorists would be limited to 6.5 gallons of gas a week and a gallon of motor oil a month.

The rationing of gas amounted to the first official acknowledgment that the United Nations' trade blockade started after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait was starting to bite.

But Iraq, facing the threat of assault by U.S. and other forces in the gulf, remained defiant.

Iraq's official press declared the economic blockade a failure and pledged to fight the "battle of all battles" against the multinational forces in Saudi Arabia and other gulf Arab states.

Briefly. . .

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, insisting that only Congress can declare war, indicated Sunday he and House Speaker Thomas Foley would summon lawmakers back to Washington from their upcoming break if President Bush decides to launch military action against Iraq.

Jordan, under pressure to apply U.N. sanctions more rigorously, has halted sales of medicine to Iraq, customs officials said Sunday. U.N. Resolution 661 bans all dealings with Iraq and occupied Kuwait, but says the Security Council may allow food and medicine through in humanitarian circumstances.