Iraqi military reportedly hiding in neighborhoods War in the Gulf

February 05, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As allied bombs struck again at Iraq's capital city, U.S. military officials disclosed that Iraqi commanders were sheltering themselves by moving their headquarters into residential areas.

In what a U.S. general termed the allies' attack-a-minute bombing campaign, Marine jets also smashed Iraqi tanks in the Kuwaiti desert while U.S. B-52s and fighter aircraft continued to hit Republican Guard positions in southern Iraq.

Across the Persian Gulf, Iran initiated a new diplomatic effort to end the war, now in its 20th day. But Bush administration officials were quick to play down chances for a negotiated settlement.

Meantime, possible terrorist incidents were reported in the United States and Saudi Arabia, prompting fears of a wider Iraqi campaign against nations of the U.S.-led coalition.

In Norfolk, Va., site of the world's largest naval base, authorities disarmed or detonated two pipe bombs attached to chemical storage tanks containing highly explosive methanol and sodium sulfide. The sophisticated devices were found in a waterfront dTC industrial area 10 miles from the Norfolk Naval Base.

In Jidda, Saudi Arabia, four people -- including three U.S. servicemen -- were slightly injured when a hotel shuttle bus in which they were riding was fired upon by an unknown gunman.

There was no immediate evidence of Iraqi sponsorship in either incident.

U.S. officials continued to be reluctant to estimate the damage that has been done to Iraq's army, a key factor in deciding when to begin a ground offensive.

"There's been a lot of speculation that cracks are beginning to appear, and that's probably the case," said Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces. "But I would hate to try to define how big the cracks are, how critical the cracks are, what the results of the cracks are."

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, while saying the U.S.-led operation was "basically on track," denied reports that a ground campaign would begin in the next three weeks.

He told a Pentagon briefing that there was no "artificial timetable . . . no drop-dead date" to decide when to order a land invasion.

"I think no one knows today the precise date upon which we might begin a ground campaign," he said. "That decision simply hasn't been made yet."

Speaking with reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, General Schwarzkopf said the apparent shift of Iraqi command posts into schools or similar buildings in residential areas had given the Iraqis "an advantage," since coalition forces are under orders not to target civilian areas.

"We are not going to reduce ourselves to that level of immoral conduct just to even the score," the U.S. commander said, when asked if the U.S.-led forces now would bomb residential neighborhoods. "Guys in white hats don't do that."

Another top U.S. official, Marine Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, said Iraq could hide only "a select part" of its military forces in civilian areas.

"I'm not sure that he can somehow put a half a million troops and 5,000 tanks in a residential area," he said.

Allied bombing of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad resumed Sunday night, with three waves of attacks that kept residents in shelters from midnight until dawn. Some targets, including communications centers, government offices and industrial installations, had been bombed once or twice before since the war began, eyewitnesses reported.

General Schwarzkopf said it was "highly probable" that much of the damage to civilian neighborhoods that has been shown to Western journalists was done by Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles that missed their targets and crashed to the ground.

Much of Baghdad remains without running water, which is provided on a rotating basis to residents of the city's five sectors. There is no electric power, except by gasoline generator. Fuel, however, is scarce, with Iraqis permitted rations of less than 16 gallons a month. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has sharply criticized U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar for failing to condemn what Mr. Aziz called "horrendous and deliberate crimes against Iraqi citizens and their economic, scientific, cultural and religious installations" being caused by the U.N.-authorized air campaign.

"You remain silent about these crimes, which are being committed for the first time in history in the name of the United Nations and under the . . . resolutions that were issued by the U.N. Security Council," Mr. Aziz said in a letter to the secretary-general dated Feb. 1.

"The objectives the United Nations is supposed to uphold are being violated before the eyes and ears of the U.N. secretary-general, who says nothing," the letter said.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar did, however, criticize allied bombing raids of supply routes into Jordan from Iraq, which Jordan says have killed Jordanian tank truck drivers.

Calling Jordan "an innocent victim of what is happening," the U.N. leader said yesterday that "anything which affects Jordan is something that I strongly deplore."

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