BAGHDAD, Iraq — Americans investigating the Iraqi attack on the U.S. frigate Stark met with Iraqi defense and government officials Tuesday, but there was no word on whether they would be allowed to see the pilot who fired the missiles.
A diplomatic source said "everything seems to be going well" in the joint investigation of the May 17 attack in the Persian Gulf, which killed 37 American sailors on the guided-missile frigate and wounded 21.
Unconfirmed reports in the Iraqi capital Tuesday said the pilot had been beheaded, apparently for embarrassing President Saddam Hussein's government. Information Ministry officials denied it.
The eight-man U.S. team led by Rear Adm. David Rogers, chief of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent several hours with senior Iraqi officials Tuesday morning.
Several of the Navy, Army and Air Force specialists shuttled between the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi Defense Ministry during the afternoon. Neither the Americans nor Iraqis would comment on the discussions.
"Both sides are determined to stay with this until they can wrap it up," one U.S. official said privately. "There's no deadline. They're here at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and they're engaged in talks to determine what happened and prevent it happening again."
He said initial sessions with the Iraqis were "primarily technical meetings."
The official did not elaborate, but a central question is why the lone pilot that Iraq says attacked the Stark did not respond to two signals from the ship identifying it as American. President Hussein has said the pilot of the French-built Mirage F-1 thought he was firing his missiles at an Iranian target.
Iraq's official news agency said Hussein received a cable from President Reagan to mark the feast ending the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that said: "The tragic attack on the Stark underlines the need to bring about peace to the region."
U.S. sources say the American investigators--seven Pentagon officers and State Department Iraq expert Greg Berry--want an explanation of why the Stark was hit in the central sector of the gulf, well south of the Iraqi air force's usual hunting ground.