DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iraq kept up the military pressure Monday on Iran, hitting another tanker in the Persian Gulf and bombing strategic targets on the Iranian mainland.
Iraq's President Saddam Hussein said in a rare newspaper interview that he believes Iran is growing weaker, "but we should be cautious at all times to avoid the kick of the dying mule."
Western analysts noted with puzzlement that Iran has not carried out any retaliatory attacks against shipping in the gulf for five days, since U.S. helicopters attacked three Iranian gunboats that had fired on a patrol helicopter.
In the past, the Iranians have scrupulously retaliated for every Iraqi air raid, but Iraqi attacks of the past few days have gone unavenged despite the bellicose tone of Iran's propaganda.
In the latest Iraqi raid, fighter-bombers launched Exocet missiles at the 20,826-ton Marianthi-M, a tanker registered in Panama that Iran has used to shuttle oil from its beleaguered oil terminal on Kharg Island in the northern gulf to makeshift facilities near the Strait of Hormuz in the south.
Shipping sources said one or two crewmen were killed in the attack. An unexploded missile was said to be lodged in the ship.
Another tanker, the 215,925-ton Merlin, registered in Cyprus, also had an unexploded missile on board and was being towed toward Dubai after being hit by Iraqi missiles Saturday.
A third supertanker, the 239,435-ton Rova, registered in Liberia, was still burning out of control three days after being hit by two Exocet missiles. Two crewmen were killed and the remainder of the crew abandoned the ship, which has been written off as a complete loss.
In Monday's attacks on Iranian targets ashore, Iraqi planes hit a number of refining and manufacturing centers. Among them were a refinery and power complex in the central city of Esfahan, an oil products center in Khorramabad in the west, a power plant at Tabriz in the northwest and an oil-pumping station in Tanki Feni, in the southwest.
President Hussein said in the interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyassah that he doubts that Iran's spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, will lead his people into war with the United States.
"The aggressive nature of Khomeini has been totally broken," he said.
Iran has said it will retaliate against the United States for attacking the three patrol boats last week and for the seizure of an Iranian vessel three weeks ago that U.S. officials said was laying mines.
Said Rajaie-Khorassani, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, warned Sunday that his government is prepared to undertake "all-out war " against the United States.
Hussein said, "The Iranians know what it means to confront the United States, so I believe that they will not do so."
He said Iran is now isolated in the Islamic world because of what he called the "Iranian threat."