BEIRUT — Iran and Iraq shelled and bombed border cities and towns Thursday in an all-day series of attacks and counterattacks that defied an eight-month-old agreement to prevent assaults on civilian areas.
"What Iraq has done so far is nothing but a very small portion of its potential," said an Iraqi military spokesman as the 4 1/2-year-old conflict worsened. Iran, meanwhile, vowed to "turn Iraq into a hell of fire and devastation."
The attacks by both Iran and Iraq appeared to be the heaviest on civilian targets since June, 1984, when the United Nations mediated an agreement between Baghdad and Tehran to spare civilian targets.
Four Cities Hit
Radio and news agency reports monitored in Beirut said that Iraqi warplanes and artillery attacked the Iranian cities of Dezful and Abadan and that Iran shelled the Iraqi port of Basra and the town of Mandali.
The Baghdad command said its aircraft launched dozens of sorties against Iranian positions and also attacked a ship near Iran's Kharg Island oil terminal in the Persian Gulf.
Seventeen people were killed and at least 123 wounded in Iran, according to Iran's official news agency.
Iraq gave no specific casualty reports, but in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz said there were "a large number of casualties among the civilian population" in Basra. He also claimed that Iraqi forces were hitting only non-civilian targets.
Western reporters are generally barred from the war zones, and there was no way to independently verify casualty reports. There was also no confirmation of the Iraqi attack on the Persian Gulf ship.
Air strikes and artillery barrages continued into the night despite an appeal Wednesday by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar for Iran and Iraq to stop the killing and the threats.
Iranian artillery shelled Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, on Thursday morning and again later in the day. The attacks on Basra and Mandali, in the central sector of the border region, were confirmed by Iraq's state-owned media and Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency.
An Iranian statement said Iraqi aircraft twice attacked the port city of Abadan, across the Shatt al Arab waterway from Basra, killing nine people and wounding 48.
Iran also reported eight missile attacks by the Iraqi army on the town of Dezful, 50 miles inside Iran's southern front with Iraq.
An Iraqi military spokesman said the attacks on Dezful and Abadan were part of Baghdad's promised retaliation for Iranian attacks on Iraqi settlements, including Basra, which Iran shelled Tuesday evening. Iraq earmarked 30 Iranian towns and cities Wednesday for its retaliation.