Iran and Iraq continued air strikes against each other's cities today as the U.S. Embassy advised Americans here that Iran is "entirely capable" of making good on threats to attack Baghdad in retaliation for Iraq's two-day old air offensive.
Families of embassy officials were cautioned yesterday afternoon to avoid working in or traveling through the city center.
Americans inquiring about the situation today were informed by an embassy spokesman that attacks on Baghdad similar to blasts that killed dozens of persons in March and April can be expected, "particularly if Iraqi air raids on Tehran and other Iranian cities continue."
"While we are not in a position to predict the pattern of Iranian attacks, we would expect them to be at least of the same scope and intensity that occurred two months ago," the spokesman said. Iraqi military communiques reported three air attacks on Iranian cities and on a military base.
But despite a threat by Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi of "crushing" retaliation, Baghdad remained quiet throughout the day, its streets brightly lit and full of normal traffic late into the night, as residents continued with the nocturnal feasting of the holy month of Ramadan.
Only one Iranian air attack could be confirmed independently by civilian sources here: a raid on Umm Qasr near the Kuwaiti border on the Persian Gulf yesterday that forced the evacuation of a construction camp. The same site was strafed on Thursday by Iranian F4 Phantom jets, according to a senior Iraqi official.
According to an Iranian military communique, Iraq attacked 13 cities across Iran, and Iran retaliated with attacks on nine Iraqi cities, Agence France-Presse reported.
The communique gave no precise casualty figures, saying only that "several" persons had been killed in Iran. The targets ranged from Tabriz in the northwest to Abadan in the southwest, it reported.
Tehran's official news agency IRNA said Iranian jets made a dozen sorties against a number of Iraqi towns, including Al Amarah, on the key Baghdad-Basra highway, and Jassan, in east-central Iraq. Iranian gunners also reportedly shelled Basra in southern Iraq and Mandali northeast of Baghdad.
Iraqi raids on the Iranian capital continued into early Tuesday, AFP reported, with at least one explosion heard in a populated area south of Tehran. Power cuts plunged the city into darkness, and sirens were heard throughout Tehran as emergency vehicles raced through the streets. The Iranian news agency also said that an Iraqi rocket struck a camp in Tehran where Iraqi prisoners of war are being held. But it gave no casualty figures.
Radio Tehran said Iran had fired a ground-launched missile on Baghdad early Tuesday, but it gave no details.
Meanwhile, Iraq went ahead at dawn with the unilateral release of 30 crippled Iranian prisoners of war under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
It was, said one foreign official who participated, "one of the saddest repatriations." All the prisoners were maimed in some way and clearly never could return to the front.
As the sun came up on the runway and a local television crew spotlighted their faces, some hobbled up the red-carpeted ramp into the Iraqi Airways 737 on crutches. Others were taken on stretchers, and at least one was carried aboard, limp and helpless, in the arms of Red Cross workers.
The plane landed in Ankara, Turkey, according to Red Cross officials who were aboard, after a long detour via Egyptian airspace, apparently to avoid Iran to the east and Syria and Israel to the west.
According to Red Cross officials, Iraq now acknowledges 10,000 prisoners of war while Iran has registered 45,000 Iraqi prisoners after 56 months of war.
Baghdad's evident complacency in the face of Iraq's threatened retaliation is based on air superiority estimated by western military analysts as almost 4 to 1. During March and April, while Iraq's jets bombed Iran from high altitudes with apparent impunity -- and limited accuracy -- not one Iranian aircraft reached Baghdad.
Eight large explosions in succession here were attributed to sabotage or to old, Soviet-made Scud missiles. The first and most visibly effective blast in March tore out the top floors of a 13-story bank building, reportedly destroying many important financial records and leaving the bare-girdered skyscraper looming over downtown like a skeleton.
But all the other explosions occurred at ground level, in some cases just outside the security perimeters of important government installations. Foreign military analysts here note that most of the ensuing security precautions at hotels and public buildings appeared directed against sabotage.