DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Swooping from one end of the Persian Gulf to the other and back again, Iraqi jet fighters attacked an Iranian oil terminal in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, hitting at least four ships, including the world's largest supertanker.
Iran threatened to retaliate, both against Iraq and against U.S. military installations in the Persian Gulf.
Late Monday night, hours after the Iraqi air blitz on the Hormuz oil terminal at the southern end of the gulf, a huge explosion rocked Baghdad, witnesses in the Iraqi capital reported.
Initial reports were sketchy, but from the sound of the blast, heard throughout the city, residents speculated that Iran had attacked Baghdad with one of its long-range surface-to-surface missiles. Iraqi authorities confirmed that a missile had struck a residential neighborhood but gave no casualty figures.
Second Neighborhood Hit
A second missile struck another residential area of the capital more than two hours later, killing and wounding an unspecified number of civilians, the official Iraqi News Agency quoted an Iraqi military spokesman as saying. The report was monitored in London.
In another development, nine Japan-bound ships sailed out of the gulf in convoy after receiving orders to leave from the Japan Shipowners Assn. The convoy was made up of six crude oil tankers, a liquid petroleum gas carrier, a chemical tanker and a cargo ship, all fully loaded and all either of Japanese registry or crewed by Japanese.
The shipowners' group had ordered the ships to port last Friday after two tankers, one Japanese and the other a Liberian-registered vessel carrying oil for a Japanese company, were attacked by five unidentified gunboats as they headed into the Strait of Hormuz.
An official of the Iranian Embassy in Tokyo was quoted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry as saying Iran would not attack friendly ships in the gulf and denying it was responsible for the recent raids.
Monday's convoy was intercepted by an Iranian gunboat shortly after it left its anchorage off Dubai. The gunboat's captain demanded the identity, destination, course and speed of at least four of the vessels before allowing them to proceed.
The gunboat also was involved in a tense exchange with the captain of a nearby Danish container ship, the 25,007-ton Chastine Maersk, heading into the gulf. The Danish vessel later stopped and took on a boarding party of eight Iranian Revolutionary Guards for a routine inspection.
Japanese shipping sources said the shipowners and the All Japan Seamen's Union were holding talks on whether it would be safe to allow six other Japanese ships now outside the gulf to enter the waterway and collect their cargoes.
Japan's Transport Ministry last week told owners to keep their ships out of the gulf until their safety could by guaranteed.
An Iraqi war communique said that "a very large number" of jet fighters were involved in Monday's long-range strike against Iran's major oil terminal in the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the gulf.
Gulf-based shipping sources said that at least four ships were hit by the French-made Mirage jets, including the 564,739-ton Seawise Giant, the largest supertanker in the world. The sources said that damage to the Liberian-flagged vessel, which is being used by Iran as a storage tanker for oil shuttled from the northern end of the gulf, was minor.
But they added that another ship, the 256,263-ton Cypriot-flagged Shining Star, was set ablaze during the attack. Hours later, it was still burning, and 15 tugboats were fighting to bring the fire under control, the sources said.
Also damaged in the attack were the 237,311-ton Liberian-flag supertanker World Admiral and the 183,526-ton Panamanian-flagged Brazil Star, the shipping sources said.
Few details were available, but there were unconfirmed reports that at least one crewman aboard the World Admiral had been killed.
Monday's raids were carried out by Mirage fighter-bombers flying from the northern end of the gulf to the southern tip and back again, a round-trip journey of more than 1,100 miles.
Iraq has made only a few such long-range strikes, and the first time it did so, Iran charged that the planes had landed in Saudi Arabia to refuel along the way. Iraq denied this and said it had acquired midair refueling capabilities.
As the focus of the Iran-Iraq War shifted to the southern end of the waterway, U.S. helicopters scoured the seas off Bahrain, midway up the gulf, for a Marine officer missing since Sunday night, when his UH-1 helicopter crashed near the La Salle, the command ship of the U.S. gulf task force. The officer was identified as Marine Maj. Daniel Haworth, 34, of New Castle, Del.
Three other crewmen were pulled to safety, and the Navy temporarily commandeered its giant Sea Stallion helicopters from their minesweeping duties to search for Haworth, U.S. officials said.