Gulf war intensifies in land, sea, and air
The conflict between Iraq and Iran raged Sunday at unprecedented levels of intensity. Both sides reported air and missile strikes on towns and cities, more attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, and ferocious battles on the ground as Iranian forces continued their efforts to cross the Tigris River in southern Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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Iraq introduced a new dimension to the 41/2-year-old war Sunday by declaring that all Iranian airspace will be a war zone starting Tuesday evening. Iraq warned international airlines to steer clear or risk having their airliners shot down. A number of airlines have already decided to suspend flights into both Iran and Iraq.
If the Iranians can consolidate positions west of the Tigris River, they will have cut the main highway linking Baghdad with Basra. There are several other routes between Basra and the capital, and the Iranians would still have a great deal of ground to cover if their aim is to isolate the Basra area from the rest of the country.
But if they can hold positions on the main highway alongside the Tigris, they will have achieved their most significant penetration to date, disconnecting the Iraqi front line for the first time.
Given Iraq's well-organized defenses and daunting air power, the Iranians must have paid a terrible price for their advance.
But for the Iraqis, it must be deeply worrying that, five days after the campaign began and despite Iraq's claims that it had turned the tide, the Iranians were in a position to launch what by Iraq's admission was a major thrust across the Tigris.
The Iranians would of course remain vulnerable to continuing Iraqi efforts to oust them from the north and south, and to the full fury of Iraq's superior air power. But for the time being, Iran's two main advantages in the war -- its greater manpower and its forces' willingness to risk life and limb -- appear to have paid off on the battlefield.
Iraq, meanwhile, has been going all out to make the most of its superior strike power.
In the past two weeks, Iraqi warplanes have raided more than a score of Iranian cities, while long-range missiles have wrought havoc in other centers. Iran has given civilian casualty figures of hundreds killed and thousands injured.
Iran's ability to hit back in kind is seriously restricted. Iranian field artillery has pounded urban areas, particularly Basra, but the severity of casualties and damage that can be inflicted by such bombardments cannot compare with the devastation caused by heavy bombs and missiles.
Iranian warplanes have made several efforts to attack Iranian cities, including one strafing raid on the outskirts of Baghdad, but the Iraqis admitted no serious casualties or damage.
Clearly, the balance in these exchanges is strongly in Iraq's favor. The Iraqis insist they will only halt the campaign if Tehran agrees to negotiate the wider peace it has so far refused to contemplate.
Before nightfall Sunday the Iraqis had reported that their warplanes had carried out raids on seven Iranian cities, including Tehran -- the third strike on the Iranian capital in less than a week.