Gulf war fighting rages as UN sends team to ready cease-fire

Iran and Iraq are continuing to slug it out in air and ground fighting two days after Iran announced acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 598, which aims to end the Gulf war. Diplomatic and military analysts say the ongoing fighting is partly a result of Iraqi distrust of Iran's motives, and partly a desire by both sides to improve their positions prior to the start of UN-backed negotiations.

UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar announced yesterday that a UN team would depart immediately for Baghdad and Tehran to arrange the details of a comprehensive cease-fire. The team will report back in one week, allowing the UN chief to announce the date the cease-fire will start.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General intends to work with the two parties on other details, mainly dates for beginning and completing the troop withdrawals; for release and repatriation of prisoners of war; and for the establishment of the impartial bodies to investigate responsibilities in the conflict and assess war damages.

The UN team will be led by Lt. Gen. Martin Vadset of the Jerusalem-based UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), and will be comprised of officers from his staff plus the UN military observer already in place in the two capitals.

In an apparent attempt to dispel widespread skepticism about Iran's peace move, Radio Tehran on Wednesday broadcast a message by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in which he said his decision to accept the UN peace plan was sincere.

``I had promised to fight to the last drop of my blood and to my last breath,'' the 88-year-old Iranian leader said.

``Today's decision is based on the interest of the Islamic Republic,'' Khomeini said, adding that the peace move had been recommended to him by other Iranian leaders.

Analysts say Khomeini's statement is unlikely to convince Iraq.

``They are still in a state of war,'' says David Bolton, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies in London. ``All we have is agreement to a cease-fire, not an actual cease-fire, and certainly not peace.''

Iran said its forces yesterday crushed attacks by Iraqi ground forces on the northern war front near Piranshah and in the central front near Mehran. Iraq said its warplanes bombed two oil pumping stations near the Iranian city of Aza.

The Iraqi air attack came four hours after two Iranian F-5 jet-fighters failed in an attempt to bomb Dukan Dam in northern Iraq.

Iraq has said that Iran's sincerity needs to be tested, and called for direct negotiations at UN headquarters. Iranian diplomats at the UN said that they do not envisage any direct talks now.

Some observers see the upcoming hajj, or Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia as an important indication of Iranian intentions. In his comments on Radio Tehran, Khomeini seemed as belligerent as ever against Saudi Arabia. ``God willing, we will empty our hearts' anguish at the appropriate time by taking revenge on Al-Saud [the Saudi ruling family] and America,'' he said.

Iran is boycotting this year's hajj in protest of Saudi restrictions on the number of pilgrims it will permit from Iran. In addition, Saudi Arabia said it would not permit Iranian or other pilgrims to hold rallies and political demonstrations during the hajj rites.

Marian Houk contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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