Iraq fires more Scuds at Saudi Arabia all are intercepted or fall harmlessly WAR IN THE GULF

January 22, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq launched more waves of Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia yesterday and early today, not long after a senior U.S. commander said that U.S.-led military forces were "nowhere near" the goal of eliminating the missile threat.

All the Iraqi medium-range ballistic missiles -- at least five in all -- were either intercepted by air-defense missiles or fell in areas where they caused no serious damage or injuries.

The first attack, a lone missile launched before dawn at Dhahran, fell harmlessly into the Persian Gulf off the coast of Al Jubayl, U.S. military officials said. It appeared to have been launched from Basra in southern Iraq, a stronghold of the country's elite Republican Guard and the same area where earlier attacks originated, officials said.

The second barrage occurred around 7:15 a.m. local time today, marking the first daylight missile attack by Iraq. It involved at least three missiles aimed at the Saudi capital of Riyadh and one apparently aimed at Dhahran.

One of the missiles fired at Riyadh landed, smoldering but nearly intact, onto a city street, according to initial reports. It was unclear whether it had been intercepted or fell without exploding, but it caused no serious damage.

At least two other missiles -- apparently the modified Soviet-made Scuds that have not shown a high degree of accuracy -- landed harmlessly in the desert near Riyadh.

Around the same time, according to U.S. military officials, a U.S. Patriot air-defense missile intercepted an incoming missile that was streaking toward an air base in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Associated Press reported that Western reporters at the International Hotel in Dhahran heard a Patriot missile fire, then saw a flash and a dull explosion seconds later, indicating that a missile had been intercepted.

Despite a ferocious air campaign to destroy strategic targets in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Burton R. Moore told reporters yesterday that Iraq still could launch its Scud missiles from permanent launch pads or from truck-mounted mobile launchers.

"We have not achieved 100 percent of our objectives against fixed sites [and] mobile sites," he said at a briefing at U.S. military headquarters in Riyadh.

His remarks undercut a rosy assessment given by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, who suggested last Friday that the mission to attack fixed launch sites at the outset of the war against Iraq had been accomplished.

General Schwarzkopf said that since then, the easily concealed mobile launchers had become top-priority targets.

General Schwarzkopf announced that U.S. and allied warplanes destroyed six mobile launchers, which meant that Iraq had lost a "rather considerable percentage" of its launchers.

At the Pentagon, Gen. Tom Kelly, head of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Iraq has not gained any tactical advantage by launching missiles at U.S.-led forces.

At the briefing in Riyadh, General Moore corrected earlier Defense Department and military accounts of Iraqi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia late Sunday and early yesterday.

Nine Scud missiles were fired in those attacks on Dhahran and Riyadh, but all were shot down by Patriot air defense missiles, General Moore said.

Two Scuds were destroyed in the air over Dhahran in the first wave. A third missile landed in the Persian Gulf.

Six other Scuds rained on Riyadh in a separate attack.

The latest attacks, combined with a single, unsuccessful Scud attack on Dhahran last Friday, attacks on Israel, and the five launched overnight and early this morning brought to at least 26 the number of missiles that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had launched in less than a week.

"We continue to aggressively pursue his fixed and mobile capabilities," General Moore said. "It's too early to say we have [achieved] those objectives. . . . We continue to try and take them out."

Asked whether bombing raids had eliminated most of the launchers, General Moore replied, "We have taken some of them out."

The general, reporting that more than 8,100 sorties have been flown since the war began, said missions will continue to strike at another set of strategic targets -- Iraq's facilities to command and control its more than 545,000 troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Later at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. Mike McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. intelligence sources believe that senior Iraqi commanders can still direct all their forces.

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