In an indication of the war's toll on Iraq, Baghdad today said that it will begin drafting all 17-year-old males. Last month, Iraq lowered the conscription age from 18 to 17, but exempted youths still in school.
The decree announced over Baghdad radio said all 17-year-old males had to report to the conscription offices between Feb. 15 and March 20 or face unspecified legal action.
The latest call-up came as Iraq said its forces were prepared for battle with the allies despite the nonstop bombardment that began Jan. 17.
President Bush, meanwhile, conferred in the residential quarters of the White House with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who paid a weekend visit to the war zone. Cheney said Sunday that the nonstop allied air campaign has reduced the fighting power of some Iraqi divisions by 40%.
He did not say when a ground and amphibious assault might begin.
Hundreds of allied warplanes pounded Iraq today, destroying a major bridge, taking out Scud missile launchers and choking off traffic to the military headquarters in Basra, U.S. officials said.
U.S. pilots returning from the raids reported dropping tons of bombs on concentrations of Iraqi tanks and other armor. "We hated to come back but we ran out of bombs," said Capt. Dewey Gay, 26, of Warren County, Tenn.
U.S. military officials said Iraqi jets that have fled to Iran pose little threat because their pilots are inexperienced and cannot be kept combat-ready.
Former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, just back from a visit to Iraq, said today that the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 civilians have died in the allied bombing.
Iraqi Religious Affairs Minister Abdullah Fadel also said "thousands" of Iraqi civilians have died. It was the first time a senior Baghdad official spoke of such high casualties.
In Washington, the White House accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of waging a "propaganda and P. R. war" that exaggerates civilian casualties and damage.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that even Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev may have been led astray by the Iraqi claims.
Fitzwater declined to give an estimate of Iraqi civilian damage, saying only that "the targets we are attacking are the ones that have some kind of military benefit. . . . There's no question that there has been collateral damage. But we don't think its very extensive. The propaganda and P. R. battle is where Saddam is scoring his points."
Also today, Iraq fired another Scud missile at Israel, and the army said it landed in an unpopulated area.
And Iraq fired a Scud missile at the Saudi capital, but it was destroyed by two Patriot missiles.
On the diplomatic front, a Soviet envoy headed to Baghdad today for a meeting with Hussein, one day after Iraq rejected an Iranian peace initiative. In Yugoslavia, Iranian officials met with members of the nonaligned movement and expressed hope that a peace plan could still be fashioned.