Iranian missiles reignite `war of cities' with Iraq. Escalating attacks on nonmilitary targets give urgency to UN diplomacy

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Iran-Iraq war is heating up as Tehran and Baghdad threaten further to escalate missile, bombing, and artillery attacks against each other's cities as well as economic and military targets. The threats come after Iran fired at least two long-range surface-to-surface missiles early yesterday morning at Baghdad, causing civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital.

[Iran's official news media, monitored by the Associated Press, reported that Iraqi warplanes later bombed residential districts of Tehran.

[The Turkish Anatolia news agency reported that a bomb exploded 300 yards from a downtown hotel where Turkish State Minister Yusuf Ozal was staying with an official delegation led by Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, his brother. There were no reports of casualties among the Turkish group.]

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``All Iranian cities are now targets for our air and missile forces until further notice. The losers in the end will be the rulers in Tehran,'' said an Iraqi military spokesman in a radio broadcast.

Iran said the missiles were aimed at Iraqi military and communications centers in retaliation for Iraqi air attacks in recent days that have killed 20 Iranian civilians.

Iran said its Revolutionary Guards forces fired three missiles toward Baghdad in the attack yesterday, but Iraqi officials confirmed only two missile strikes.

It is unclear what effect the resumption of the so-called ``war of the cities'' will have on shipping in the Gulf or on Iran's long-anticipated major attack against the Iraqi port city of Basra. But the new violence is likely to give greater urgency to efforts at the United Nations to adopt a follow-up resolution to the UN Security Council's July 20 demand for a cease-fire in the seven-year Gulf war.

Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's foreign minister, has appealed to UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to halt Iraqi attacks on Iranian cities.

In June 1984, Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar helped negotiate a UN-backed agreement between Iran and Iraq that they wouldn't attack each other's cities. The agreement has been honored only intermittently. In its last missile attack on Nov. 8, Iran fired two Soviet-made Scud missiles into Baghdad just as the Arab summit was getting underway in Amman, Jordan. In an October attack, an Iranian missile slammed into a Baghdad school killing 36 Iraqis, most of them children.

The current escalation could mean the end of a 13-day lull in attacks on Gulf shipping should Iraq decide to pull out the stops and launch counter attacks on all fronts.

The Iraqis have refrained from carrying out any attacks on Iranian oil tankers for the past two weeks.

The Iranians, who maintain that they attack Gulf shipping only in retaliation for Iraqi raids on their shipping, haven't struck in Gulf waters since Feb. 11.

Another major question concerns whether Iran might now step up efforts to launch its threatened invasion of Basra.

At one time Iran was reported to have massed some 250,000 soldiers near the southern border with Iraq, in anticipation of another major thrust aimed at breaking through Iraqi fortifications and capturing Iraq's second-largest city. But the attack has yet to take place, and many analysts question whether Iran has the capability or desire of mounting a major campaign.

On Friday, Iraq said it destroyed a key bridge at Qatour in northwest Iran near the Turkish border.

The next day, Iraqi bombers struck deep inside Iran at the Islamic Republic's second-largest oil refinery located on the outskirts of Tehran. Iraq said its planes hit the 200,000 barrels a day Rey refinery. But Iran said Iraqi bombs fell instead on residential areas near Tehran, killing one civilian.

Iran retaliated for Iraqi raids with long-range shelling over three days, ounding six Iraqi border towns. In addition, Iranian jets bombed Basra, oil facilities at Abul Khassib south of Basra, and hit a bridge to a key Iraqi army position on an island in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway.

The Iraqis hit back Sunday with bombing attacks against the western Iranian cities of Dezful and Hamadan.

Soviets said to back Iran embargo

The Soviet Union will stop opposing an arms embargo of Iran, making possible a United Nations Security Council resolution to that effect within two to three weeks.

That is the expectation of David Mellor, Britain's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who briefed reporters Sunday night on a stopover here during a regional tour.

Mr. Mellor warned, however, that the Soviet Union might insist that an embargo not begin for 30 to 60 days after the resolution passes, to allow more time for diplomatic efforts by the UN Secretary General.

``If that is the price the Soviet Union wishes to extract to agree to the resolution, then I guess we shall have to agree that it is a price worth paying,'' he said.

The Soviets have been reluctant to vote for an arms embargo against Iran, favoring diplomacy over pressure tactics like the US-backed embargo. Moscow has been accused of delaying passage of a UN embargo resolution in a bid to foster better bilateral relations with Tehran.

The resolution will follow up the Security Council's July 20 cease-fire demand, which was accepted by Iraq but ignored by Iran.

Mellor noted that a Soviet proposal for the formation of a multinational naval force to police the Gulf has been ``decoupled'' from embargo discussions. The British minister said the creation of such a joint force, which would bring together Soviet, British, US, French, and other warships under a unified United Nations banner, was ``not a viable proposition.''

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