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U.S. Claims Iraqi Nuclear Reactors Hit Hard

By Rick Atkinson and Ann Devroy
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 21, 1991; Page A01

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Allied bombers have "thoroughly damaged" Iraqi nuclear research reactors while virtually destroying the country's air defense radar network and most of Iraq's Scud missile launchers, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf War said yesterday.

Iraq displayed some of its surviving Scud firepower by launching 10 missiles at Saudi Arabia in two separate volleys last night and this morning, but U.S. Patriot missiles apparently destroyed nine in the air, while the 10th fell harmlessly into the Persian Gulf. Both attacks, one on the eastern city of Dhahran and a second on Dhahran and the capital city of Riyadh, triggered air raid sirens and sent people scrambling for shelters and gas masks.

Even before the attacks, the U.S. commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, had warned that the Scud threat had not been eradicated. Appearing live on four morning television shows from his headquarters in Riyadh, Schwarzkopf acknowledged the difficulty in knowing precisely how many mobile launchers Iraq had at the start of the war. All 30 fixed Scud sites have been "neutralized," he said, and "we may have killed as many as 16" of the 20 or more mobile launchers.

The four-star Army general also offered the most sweeping and detailed claims yet for the success of the four-day allied bombardment against 250 targets, asserting that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability had suffered "a considerable setback if not a total setback by this point in the game."

Iraq countered Schwarzkopf's assessment with claims of its own yesterday, broadcasting interviews with seven men whom the official Iraqi News Agency said were captured allied airmen -- three Americans, two Britons, an Italian, and a Kuwaiti. Several of the men identified themselves with names corresponding to those of pilots missing in action; some of the aviators condemned the allied attack, although it was uncertain whether the statements were voluntary or coerced.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein also warned in a radio address that only a fraction of his arsenal has been used in the four-day-old Persian Gulf War. In a fiery, seven-minute speech, only the second time he has been publicly heard since the war started Thursday, Saddam renewed his call for a holy war against the allied forces and warned that "when the deaths and dead mount on them, the infidels will leave." It was not clear whether the broadcast was live or taped.

No additional Scuds hit Israel. After virtually constant telephone conversations between U.S. and Israeli government officials, President Bush sent Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to Israel for what the White House described as "on-the-spot coordination."

Much of the nation, including Bush, appeared to enjoy at least a superficial tranquility on the first Sunday of the war, attending church services, watching football and just relaxing.

But signs of Operations Desert Storm were visible throughout the country in ways large and small. In the American Football Conference championship game in Buffalo, the Los Angeles Raiders wore decals of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Squadron on their helmets to honor a player's brother serving in that unit. At Candlestick Park in San Francisco, site of the day's other championship game, thousands cheered and waved small American flags when it was announced that the game was being broadcast to troops in the gulf.

About 100 anti-war protesters at the San Francisco stadium chanted "Go peace, go 49ers." The crowd was minuscule compared with the large protests that have swept the city since the war began. In Atlanta, on the eve of the federal holiday marking her late husband's birthday, Coretta Scott King called for an immediate cease-fire in the gulf war.

In New York, more than 10,000 people gathered at the United Nations in what appeared to be the largest pro-war rally to date. Organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the demonstration drew a number of politicians including Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D), who condemned Saddam as "our enemy."

Themes of war and peace dominated sermons and services in many churches across the country. "Some of us have come out in favor {of the war}. Some have come out opposed. That is all trivial," the Rev. Jerry Wertz told an unusually crowded 8 a.m. Mass at St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church in Long Beach, Calif. "Through our prayers and actions we keep this body together."

At Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Baltimore, worshippers tied votive candles with yellow ribbons. At New Orleans's First Baptist Church, music director Benjamin Harlan told the congregation, "We're going to sing 'America the Beautiful,' and on that last stanza give it as much as you've got."

Protests against the gulf war continued overseas in several nations, including Germany, where the most widespread and vociferous demonstrations have taken place. In Barcelona, Spain, some 50,000 people staged a mass rally calling for an end to the war, and several thousand students and other citizens marched through downtown Tokyo carrying "Stop the War" signs. Moslems in South Africa and in Pakistan staged anti-U.S., anti-Israel rallies and demonstrations.

Military officials reported three more U.S. planes shot down yesterday, bringing to nine -- plus six other allied aircraft -- the number lost in more than 7,000 sorties. Fifteen Iraqi planes have been shot down in air-to-air combat, according to a U.S. official in Saudi Arabia, who also noted that Iraqi losses from an allied raid against troops firing air-defense missiles from gulf oil drilling platforms had grown to five dead, four wounded and 23 captured, including several who tried to flee in rubber rafts.

In his flurry of television appearances yesterday, Schwarzkopf speculated that Saddam is "probably in a state of semi-shock right now trying to figure out what to do." The Iraqi leader has "taken to hiding in buildings and hotels . . . deep among innocent civilians, with the sure knowledge that we're not going to go in there and kill a lot of innocent people."

Some military experts have expressed skepticism that the allied bombing campaign has been as overwhelmingly successful as U.S. officials have portrayed. Schwarzkopf acknowledged that persistent bad weather has been a nuisance, particularly in frustrating satellite and aircraft observation of target damage.

But Schwarzkopf described an Iraqi military that has been rendered at least partially blind, deaf and immobile by the fury of the allied onslaught. Every Iraqi fighter interceptor daring to confront the raiders has been shot down, he said, forcing the vast majority of Iraq's air force to either flee or remain hidden.

"We have almost completely taken out their ground control radars. That's the method by which they normally vector their airplanes against their enemy aircraft," the general said. "And as a result, their aircraft have been kept on the ground and kept very much in shelters.

Those shelters are under attack "but there's no way in the world we can really estimate what's inside those shelters and how much damage we've done to date."

Iraqi aircraft fleeing northward have been attacked by some of the 96 U.S. warplanes now flying from the air base at Incirlik, in eastern Turkey, Pentagon sources said. Reporters in the nearby Turkish town of Adana reported U.S. strike forces involving dozens of planes roaring off to battle yesterday, a development that has caused some political discomfort for President Turgut Ozal because of Turkish fears that Iraq will draw their country into the war. Some countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is obligated to support NATO-member Turkey if it is attacked, also are alarmed at the expanding allied second front in the north.

Schwarzkopf acknowledged that bombers are battering Iraqi Republican Guard units in southern Iraq but cautioned "about getting overly optimistic" because the forces have dispersed and armored divisions are particularly difficult to destroy with the kind of carpet bombing now underway.

Weakening the morale and combat capability of the Guard is seen by some Pentagon strategists as a critical element in reducing the effectiveness of Iraq's million-man army; Schwarzkopf predicted that "not many" of the Guard would be able to reinforce Iraqi positions in Kuwait in the event of an allied ground attack because troop movements in the open desert are easy for warplanes to detect.

Although "there have been defections all across the front in the last few days," the general said, "it's not large numbers." He said "safe conduct" leaflets have been dropped on Iraqi troops to encourage more surrenders by assuring "them that our intention is not to destroy all of them."

The bombing campaign has been "very successful" in trying to disrupt Iraqi command and control systems, Schwarzkopf said, so that "a lot of them aren't getting orders {and} a lot of them are asking for orders." In a speech Jan. 11, Saddam predicted that although his forces might be isolated from their command headquarters in the event of war, "we will not need communication" because of year-long exercises intended to teach Iraqi troops how to fight in isolation.

For Iraqi air defenses, however, Schwarzkopf said the battle is not going well. "He has no control whatsoever with his radar, so every time an air strike comes in he just throws everything he's got up in the air, which is great because he's going to run out of ammunition if he keeps on doing that," the general added.

Schwarzkopf provided few details about the damage to the Iraqi chemical, nuclear and biological weapons facilities. Congressional sources privy to briefings provided by the Pentagon have said, as one Senate source put it, that "nobody could answer whether the damage was complete or repairable."

Schwarzkopf said he had "high confidence," however, that Iraq's nuclear research reactors "have been thoroughly damaged and will not be effective for quite some number of years."

Estimating the number of Iraqi Scuds continued to be almost as difficult as finding and destroying all the launchers. Generals at the U.S. Central Command have said that before the war started Iraq had 30 fixed sites, all of which have now been destroyed, and "20-plus" mobile sites. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, however, told a television interviewer yesterday that his "rough guesstimate" was that "perhaps 30 or 40 launchers" survive.

Yesterday's and this morning's ineffectual Scud attacks suggest the limitations of the Soviet-made missile, which the Iraqis have modified by adding more fuel and substantially reducing the warhead size to give the missile greater range. And the impressive performance of the Patriot has lent a certain battle cachet to a weapon unknown to most Americans.

As part of the continually growing U.S. commitment to Operation Desert Storm, the Army announced yesterday that it will summon at least 20,000 more part-time reserve troops to active duty. Cheney had said Saturday that the number of reserves called to active duty could nearly double to 360,000.

Bush, who was inaugurated two years ago yesterday, spent the day at Camp David with friends and family, receiving periodic updates on the situation from his senior advisers. He is not due to return to the White House until midafternoon today.

Bush also took time out between glimpses of the football games to talk to several world leaders, including a call of concern to Saudi King Fahd after last night's Scud attack. Bush also spoke for 20 minutes with British Prime Minister John Major. A government official in London subsequently told reporters that "a lot more air strikes" are planned in the war and that "we are not talking about ground warfare for some time yet." Pentagon officials believe this bombing phase of the war could last for three or four weeks prior to any substantive ground attack.

As a further demonstration of U.S. resolve to protect Israel -- and discourage retaliation against Iraq in case of another Scud attack -- administration officials said that another aircraft carrier will be dispatched to the eastern Mediterranean, bringing to seven the number of U.S. carriers deployed to the Middle East. On Saturday, the United States had flown two batteries of U.S.-manned Patriot missiles from Europe to Israel to help safeguard potential targets there.

Concerned about potential criticism that the richest nations in the allied coalition are not contributing enough to the war effort, the Bush administration also increased pressure on Japan and Germany to underwrite a larger share of Operation Desert Storm. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, in New York to meet with finance ministers of the Group of Seven industrial democracies, appealed to his Japanese counterpart to give more than the $2 billion already promised; Brady planned to make a similar appeal to Germany, which has promised $1 billion in military aid and $2 billion in other assistance.

The peaceful Sunday in the United States contrasted sharply with the scene at Jordan's border with Iraq, where refugees recounted the horror of bombs allegedly landing near and in residential neighborhoods of Baghdad and Mosul.

"When the planes come, people run left and right and look for basements and shelters," said Yaaqoub Chahine, a Palestinian teacher living in Kuwait. "People have started hating these air raids. They live in constant horror, fearing death in their shelters."

Other refugees described bombs hitting bus stations, churches and other non-military targets. They also portrayed a population living on hoarded food, without electricity, water, or public transportation.

Baghdad Radio claimed that 154 allied planes have been shot down, a tally described by a Pentagon official as "ridiculous."

In addition to the air war casualties suffered by U.S. forces, the Pentagon announced that two soldiers assigned to a VII Corps engineering battalion died when their bunker collapsed Saturday. In Saudi Arabia, the first Purple Heart was awarded to Clerence D. Conner, 19, a Navy medic serving with a Marine unit near the Kuwaiti border. Conner was wounded in the right shoulder by Iraqi shrapnel.

While Bush spent the holiday weekend at his retreat in the Maryland mountains, his advisers kept in phone contact from their homes without holding the kind of recurrent crisis meetings that marked the initial days of the war.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and his wife joined the Bushes Sunday afternoon at the 143-acre presidential retreat and were to stay overnight in what the White House described as a "purely social" gathering. Two of Bush's children, Dorothy and Marvin, and their families were at Camp David for the weekend as well.

Although Foley had favored allowing the sanctions to remain in effect longer before resorting to military force, the speaker closed ranks with the White House after the war began. Foley yesterday rejected the proposal of a bombing pause because, he said, it would give Saddam an opening for "schemes and maneuvers" to prolong the conflict.

Some Democrats warned yesterday that if Saddam is able to keep the war going for weeks by avoiding a surrender, domestic U.S. support will erode significantly.

Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said, "Saddam Hussein does not need to win the war. He doesn't need to win battles. All he has to do is keep this war going and to create casualties. If he does that over a period of time, then you're going to see an erosion of support for the war."

Staff writers Barton Gellman, R. Jeffrey Smith and John Yang in Washington, and special correspondent Mike Freeman in San Francisco, contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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