MANAMA, Bahrain — A Kuwaiti cargo ship came under attack by Iranian troops firing machine guns from a speedboat at the mouth of the Persian Gulf early Monday, the first apparent retaliation for Iraq's resumption of the so-called tanker war in the gulf after a six-week lull.
As in past incidents, Iran made no official mention of the attack on the 24,349-ton Jebel Ali, a container vessel.
Gulf shipping sources said that Iranian Revolutionary Guards in a speedboat attacked the ship at dawn, about 20 miles from the port of Umm al Quawain in the United Arab Emirates.
In other developments in the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq announced early today that its warplanes struck two large vessels off the Iranian coast. according to an Associated Press report. The attacks brought to seven the number of raids Iraq claimed since breaking an informal cease-fire in the so-called tanker war in the gulf.
Baghdad radio said that a vessel was hit east of Iran's Kharg island oil terminal, with the second vessel struck about two hours later, apparently at a another location, according a report monitored in Cyprus.
Basra Reported Shelled
Earlier Iran said its warplanes bombed factories and military bases in the northern Iraqi town of Dukan. Tehran also reported that Iranian forces shelled factories, power stations and oil installations in Iraq's southern port city of Basra and the naval base at Umm al Qasr for a second day.
Military communiques issued in Iraq and monitored elsewhere said that Iraqi warplanes flew 100 combat missions Monday, including new attacks on Iranian oil installations in the Persian Gulf.
The attack on the Kuwaiti ship took place about halfway between Umm al Quawain and Abu Musa, an Iranian island that has been used by the Revolutionary Guards in the past to launch attacks against shipping headed for Kuwait.
The vessel was reported to have suffered damage in a container bay and to have returned to Dubai for repairs. There were no reports of casualties.
The Jebel Ali is owned by the Kuwait-based United Arab Shipping Co., a consortium of the gulf Arab nations.
Carefully Chosen Target
The Iranians apparently chose their target carefully, since only hours earlier, two Kuwaiti tankers that have been re-registered in the United States steamed in the general vicinity of Abu Musa Island, accompanied by six U.S. warships.
The convoy was spotted off Bahrain early Monday on its way to Kuwait, where it was expected to arrive today. The convoy is being preceded by Sea Stallion helicopters searching out mines in the sea lanes leading to Kuwait.
No incidents have been reported involving the American ships or the two reflagged tankers.
Arab nations along the gulf have been bracing for an expected Iranian countermove following Iraq's weekend resumption of air raids against Iranian oil facilities.
Kuwait has been singled out as a target by Iranian forces because it provides financial aid to Iraq as well as allowing war material for Baghdad to pass through Kuwaiti ports.
The Iranian position was reiterated over the weekend by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who said that Iranian retaliation would include attacks on "facilities which equip Iraq and beef up its war machine."
Iraq's resumed attacks on the Iranian facilities came after a six-week de facto truce in the tanker war. The truce was initiated by a U.N. Security Council resolution ordering both parties to stop fighting.
Baghdad Grows Impatient
But Iraq, which had accepted the Security Council's cease-fire order, grew increasingly impatient with Iran for failing to formally accept the plan.
In announcing that its fighters were in operation over the gulf again Monday, Iraq said that it had hit a fifth tanker since resumption of the air strikes Saturday. Gulf shipping officials have confirmed three of the five Iraqi strikes against shipping. In addition, Iraqi fighter-bombers have attacked Iranian oil loading platforms and offshore terminals.
Meanwhile, Iran hinted that it is prepared to discuss a cease-fire if the United Nations brands Iraq the aggressor, the Associated Press reported.
Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Cyprus, quoted Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying that Tehran is prepared for "all-out cooperation with the Security Council" if it condemns Iraq for starting the conflict.
"But if the Security Council submits to the United States and tries to pressure Iran, the Islamic Republic will resist with all its might," Rafsanjani was quoted as telling a news conference.
Expressions of Understanding
In Washington, a State Department spokesman criticized Iraq's resumption of attacks on Iranian targets in the Persian Gulf but reiterated expressions of understanding voiced by Administration officials over the weekend at Baghdad's frustration over Iran's failure to heed the U.N. cease-fire order.
Department spokesman Phyllis Oakley said, "We believe it is not helpful now for Iraq to resume military action in the gulf."