Artillery duels and intense close-in fighting between Iraqi and Iranian troops raged today in this battered port city despite the Iraqi Army High Command's claim that it has broken Khorramshahr's defenses and stands poised to capture the oil refinery city of Abadan.
A high Jordanian official, meanwhile, reiterated today that Jordan has thrown its full moral, political and material support behind Iraq and is prepared to commit Jordan's Army if necessary. The official's comments came as King Hussein returned from a visit to Saudi Arabia, which Jordanian Prime Minister Modar Badran told reporters had produced "full understanding" in support of territorial rights Iraq seeks in its war with Iran.
Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a decree putting all matters relating to the war into the hands of the Supreme Defense Council, a body that oversees defense matters, according to Tehran radio. The radio said the council would coordinate all armed forces.
The council is a seven-man body consisting of President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, military leaders and aides of Khomeini. Today's decree ordered that one member of parliament should also serve on the council and that "no groups or individuals shall disobey its orders."
Bani-Sadr, in an interview last night with The Associated Press, said in reply to a question on the size of Iraq's invasion forces, that "all of its invading forces at the moment are engaged in a war with us. I have been told," the President said, that "between seven and 10 divisions" have been committed against Iran. Tehran's forces, he added, were "enough to be victorious."
Iranian Army regulars and Revolutionary Guards apparently had yielded a strategically important crossing to Iraqi troops over the Karun River, a tributary of the disputed Shatt-al-Arab estuary, but the defenders forced the Iraqis into skirting the Iranian strongpoints and establishing an erratic front far inland of the Shatt and away from the main supply road to the dock area here.
The Iraqi Army's purpose in crossing the river behind the Iranian forces appeared to be to encircle the pocket of defenders while at the same time reaching the Abadan road for a direct assault on the oil refinery city that is 15 miles to the south. Seizure of Abadan would give Iraq control of both sides of the Shatt.
But it was obvious that even though the Iraqis control the sprawling port complex on the Shatt-al-Arab and have thrust far into Iranian territory to threaten the fringes of Abadan, they are not in central Khorramshahr, as was claimed in government communiques yesterday in Baghdad.
Just a few hundred yards below the captured Iranian docks, where abandoned freighters lie at their moorings after last week's attack by Iranian forces, heavy and sustained machine-gun and small arms fire rattled throughout a visit to the front by foreign correspondents.
As the Iranians sought both to prevent an Iraqi thrust along the banks of the waterway and to repel the Iraqi attempt at encirclement from behind at a narrow canal-like waterway just below the docking facilities. Iraqi troops could be seen lobbing hand grenades across the passage as Iranian soldiers responded with bursts of machine-gun and rifle fire. The Iraqi troops were also under sporadic sniper attacks. The line at that point along the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab appeared stable as the Iraqis set up mortar emplacements and dug defensive positions.
In contrast, the scene on the docks had a carnival atmosphere as Iraqi troops continued to loot the port's cargo containers, carrying away food, soccer balls imported from China, cases of Perrier water and beer and other cargo. Officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Information, anxious to demonstrate that the Army is in control of Khorramshahr depite claims from Tehran that the city has not fallen, attempted to convey a sense of normality despite the crackle of rifle and machine-gun fire just a few hundred yards to the south.
"Don't worry about it. It is nothing. They are just signaling the people to get off the ships," said an escort officer waving his hand at longsince abandoned cargo ships still burning in the Shatt channel from the Iranian attack.
As disbelieving correspondents made their way closer to the narrow canal across which Iraqi and Iranian troops were still fighting, the ministry officials sought to remove them from the area, and said reporters would not be allowed to visit the Karun River crossing. When asked why not, an Iraqi officer said, "There is fighting there. We are in control but there is still fighting."
In the port, soldiers alternated between posing for photographs atop tanks bedecked with posters of President Saddam Hussein and smashing Perrier water bottles and imported china in celebration of the victories their official radio says have been achieved.
"Khomeini is here!" shouted a jubilant soldier as he struggled with a burlap bag full of looted goods. "The Persians are finished in Muhammerh," he added, using the Iraqi name for the port city. Despite the tenacious Iranian resistance within the city, which has settled into bitter house-to-house fighting, there were signs that the Iraqi forces had made enormous gains in the past week.
Tank staging areas, artillery batteries and supply depots have been moved forward several miles from where they were last week, and areas of the port for which the Iraqis were struggling a few days ago have become rear support areas.
On the approaches to the city, more than a dozen heavy artillery guns aimed at Abadan continued to pound the oil city while occasional incoming shells from the Iranian side exploded nearby. Heavy black smoke billowed from the east from what Iraqi commanders said was a bombed Iranian tank depot. All along the approach roads truckloads of reinforcements rolled south, as the Iraqis apparently sought to consolidate their positions.
In other developments today, Saudi Arabian radio confirmed that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar have agreed to increase their daily crude oil production jointly by 1 million barrels.
The increase will help cover shortages caused by the Iranian-Iraqi war, which has brought crude oil production in the two nations to a standstill. Analysts have estimated that the war has created a drop of as much as 2 million barrels a day between the two countries.
In Amman, about 40 correspondents have arrived from Baghdad over the past few days after being asked to leave by Iraqi authorities, Reuter reported.
The correspondents said the move appeared to be aimed at reducing the foreign press corps in Iraq to manageable proportions, rather than at curtailing the flow of news about the Persian Gulf war.
One of the latest group of 18 correspondents who arrived in Amman last night said there being forcibly evicted. He said there were still about 100 foreign journalists in Baghdad and in Basra, in southeast Iraq near the scene of heavy fighting in the Iranian oil province of Khuzestan. The journalists said those who had left Iraq had been told they could apply for visas to return later.