BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iran mounted the first major ground offensive of the year in its war with Iraq, driving across the southern border Tuesday toward the main north-south highway in an apparent attempt to cut off southern Basra province.
Iraq acknowledged that enemy units had penetrated its territory but said it had recaptured some of the seized areas and planned additional counterattacks.
Iran's official news agency said the invaders killed or wounded more than 500 Iraqi soldiers, destroyed 20 tanks and two helicopters and took more than 100 captives, including five senior Iraqi officers. It said the prisoners were taken when Iranian troops captured an Iraqi headquarters at Beissa.
There were no reports of fresh attacks on civilian areas following an early-morning deadline arranged by the United Nations for an end to such strikes. Prior to that truce, Iraqi warplanes raided Tehran itself for the first time since the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War 4 1/2 years ago, and Iranian jets struck closer to the center of Baghdad than they have in the past two years.
Iran said its ground assault began just before midnight Monday, but Iraq said it followed its air and missile attacks early Tuesday on Tehran and five other Iranian cities.
An Iraqi businessman who drove the 300-mile road from Baghdad to Basra, the southern provincial capital, reported a "fierce battle" between the opposing forces.
The businessman, speaking by telephone, told a reporter that the battle was raging at mid-morning a few miles east of Qurnah, which is 15-20 miles inside the Iraqi border and 42 miles north of Basra. He said the Iranian objective appeared to be the Qurnah bridge, a strategic highway junction at thee confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
A military police checkpoint south of Qurnah "advises motorists to drive at not less than 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour across the highway to Uzayr," a village 18 miles to the north, "to avoid the sporadic shells that are slamming into the highway and around it," the businessman said.
Uzayr is near the command center of the 100,000-man East of Tigris force, two years.
pushed the Iranians out of an area of the Hawizah marshes they occupied for about a week.
Foreign reporters arriving in Baghdad from Basra said civilian traffic was detoured by military police at Qurnah because of intense shelling.
A communique from the Iraqi high command said the Iranian attackers occupied territory in the Hawizah marshland that separates parts of the two Persian Gulf neighbors, who have been at war since September, 1980.
The communique said, "We call on the attacking Iranian forces to withdraw were taken when Iranian troops captured an Iraqi headquarters at Beissa.
from Iraqi territory or raise the white flag to avoid certain death at the hands of our forces."
The military statement said the invaders occupied the "western edges" of the 1,158-square-mile Hawizah marsh--which would put them about 18 miles inside Iraq--and "tried to expand the area they crossed to but were confronted by our forces and totally failed."
The Iraqi communique said the defenders were "preparing to launch a counteroffensive against the remaining enemy forces, which are surrounded and which defended the highway against a major Iranian offensive a year ago and isolated in the marshes."