Iranian government troops battled Kurdish guerrillas on two fronts today, pitting tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships against insurgent forces defending mountain strongholds in the country's Kurdish region.
Fighting around the Kurdish-held town of Saqqez, the scene of the worst clashes in the government's effort to crush resistance from Iran's autonomySeeking Kurdish minority, escalated as transport helicopters shuttled several hundred fresh government troops into a besieged military garrison outside the tow, correspondents in Saqqez reported.
Late tonight, the official Pars News Agency said in Tehran that government forces had recaptured Saqqez after a three-day battle. There was no independent confirmation of the report, as telephone operators reported all lines to the hill town had been cut.
The agency quoted the new commander of the 28th Infantry Division based in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Providence, as saying the town fell to a relief column. Pars indicated that the column first relieved the garrison, which had been under heavy moror and light artillery fire from Kurdish guerrillas before moving on Saqqez.
Helicopter gunships pounded the town throughout the day with rockets and machine gunfire, setting many buildings on fire, witnesses said. Saqqez is about 50 miles from the Iraqi border and is considered strategically important by the Kurds because it commands a main road between the Kurdish cities of Mahabad and Sanandaj.
No reliable casualty figures were available. Tehran newspapers have estimated that about 600 persons have been killed on both sides since fighting broke out in Kurdistan 10 days ago.
Kurdish guerrillas, under the leadership of the banned Kurdistan Democratic Party, still hold Mahabad, although a battle between government forces and guerrillas was reported to be raging 20 miles outside the town today.
The rebels claimed to be holding off a force of 65 tanks with Soviet-made grenade launchers, artillery and dynamite.
In Saqqez, Kurds said they had captured six tanks from government forces moving toward Saqqez from the south. The Kurds said they ambushed about 400 regular troops and Revolutionary Guards -- an elite force loyal to unofficial head of state Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- about 25 miles south of Saqqez.
In Mahabad, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Abdurahman Qassemlu, said the Kurds were ready to negotiate with the central government if it agreed to suspend further troop reinforcements to the Kurdish region, release Kurdish political prisoners and hostages and stop executing Kurds alleged to have taken part in the fighting.
Qassemlu said that if these conditions were not met, his Kurdish guerrillas would keep fighting.
The Iranian Kurds, fighting for autonomy in the mountainous northwestern region where they number about 3.5 million, are part of an ethnic group with members in Turkey, Iraq and Syria totaling several million people. They are mostly Sunni Moslems, a majority in the world of Islam, but a minority in Iran where the Shiite sect led by Khomeini predominates.
Although Mahabad lies outside or Iran's Kurdistan Providence, it is the Kurds' main stronghold. Mahabad was the capital of a short-lived Kurdish republic declared after World War II.
The highway running south from Mahabad to Saqqez was reported almost entirely in the hands of the Kurds, who were digging in on both sides of the road and in the surrounding hillsides. Isolated groups of government troops were stationed near the road, but were not involved in clashes with the guerrillas.
In Tehran, meanwhile, religious leader Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani cursed the Kurdistan Democratic Party and branded its leaders communist in a speech marking the end of the Islamic holm month of Ramadan.
"Dust on their heads," he said, using an old Persian curse. "There is no place for them here. The revolution is an Islamic one and everybody who chooses another path must be suppressed."