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New Fighting Follows Peace Move by Iran

July 20, 1988|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A day after Iran announced its acceptance of a U.N. cease-fire resolution in the 8-year-old Persian Gulf War, Iran and Iraq battled in the skies over the region Tuesday in fighting that seemed to undermine the newly raised prospects for peace.

The air clashes appeared to be an effort on both sides to make a show of strength before any formal cease-fire could be arranged, observers said. No ground fighting was reported.

Baghdad Radio reported that Iraqi warplanes had attacked industrial targets in southeastern Iran and that an Iranian F-14 jet fighter had been shot down after a dogfight over the gulf. An Iranian F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber was destroyed by anti-aircraft fire after a bombing run over the northern oil city of Kirkuk, the Iraqis said.

In Tehran, the official Iranian news agency IRNA said Iraqi planes had hit a nuclear power plant under construction in the coastal city of Bushehr, along with other targets, in a series of what it called "barbaric attacks." The agency said three Iraqi planes were shot down and several workers were killed.

Iraqi planes have attacked the Bushehr plant repeatedly in recent years. A number of foreign engineers have been killed in the raids.

At the same time, the Iranian news agency said an Iraqi plane was shot down over the gulf after air raids on Ahvaz in southwestern Iran.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said he is sending observers to Iran and Iraq and that he expects a cease-fire to be in place within a week to 10 days.

The U.N. Security Council on July 20, 1987, adopted Resolution 598, which demands a cease-fire in the region. Iraq announced that it would comply, but Iran refused to do so. Three months later, Iraq renounced its acceptance.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, delegates and U.N. officials said they were not surprised at the new fighting. "The continuation of hostilities is a clear sign that a cease-fire must go into place as soon as possible," U.N. spokesman Francois Giuliani told reporters.

In the nearly eight years of war, the two sides are believed to have lost at least 500,000 men each. Since 1983, both have attacked oil tankers and other shipping in the gulf, involving other regional powers, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in the fighting. The United States for the past year has had a naval force in the gulf to protect shipping.

No Word From Baghdad

There was no official word in the Iraqi capital Tuesday that the government of President Saddam Hussein will go along with the cease-fire resolution. It provides, among other things, for the convening of a commission to assess responsibility for the war, which began when Iraq invaded Iran in September, 1980.

Iraq's official news media on Tuesday scorned Iran's decision to accept the cease-fire, and the Iraqi news agency asserted that the war had not yet ended. It said Iran's acceptance of the cease-fire came as a result of Iraqi victories.

Since April, the Iraqis have retaken almost all of the territory they had lost to Iranian counteroffensives that began in 1982. The Iraqi victories have virtually made moot the question of withdrawing to internationally recognized borders, as required by the Security Council's resolution.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful Speaker of Iran's Parliament and acting commander of its armed forces, said the decision to accept the cease-fire was made by Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He said the decision was made "for the benefit of the Iranian nation, and there is no weakness in it."

He told the Iranian people that Iran had come under attack by world powers and that the turning point had been the destruction of an Iranian airliner on July 3 by the U.S. cruiser Vincennes, with the loss of all 290 people on board.

But the Iraqi news agency said that in singling out the airliner incident, Rafsanjani was attempting to "cover up" Iran's battlefield defeats.

On both sides, there were words of caution. "We have to keep our fingers on the trigger and watch the enemy carefully," a Baghdad newspaper said in an editorial. Tehran Radio, meanwhile, said that "strengthening the front and bolstering our combat capability . . . should always be a priority within our country's program."

The U.N. resolution makes no mention of foreign forces in the gulf, but Secretary of State George P. Shultz, traveling in Tokyo, indicated that the United States is prepared to reduce its level of naval strength there if circumstances permit.

"As far as the U.S. naval presence in the gulf is concerned, the increase in our presence took place in response to problems," Shultz told a news conference Tuesday. "If the problems go away, the ship presence will go down. . . . As the needs diminish, so will our ship presence diminish."

Times staff writer Jim Mann, in Tokyo, contributed to this article.

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