Iraqi bombers appear to have missed all their targets in their two most recent raids on Iran's oil facility at Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf, U. S. officials said yesterday.
The Iraqi planes came in so high and fast that their bombs apparently fell harmlessly into the water, according to intelligence reports on the raids of Monday and Friday.
These cautious bombing tactics were in sharp contrast to the raids Aug. 15 and 25, officials said, when about a dozen bombers flew in low and virtually destroyed a T-shaped oil-pumping complex on the eastern side of Kharg. But that failed to reduce Iran's export of oil because another small island pumping station can pump far more oil than Iran is exporting now, officals said.
The return to cautious high-level bombing after the comparatively effective lower-level raids received varying interpretations at the Pentagon and State Department.
One official saw the change as an indication that Iraq cannot escalate the war without inflaming its populace against the protracted conflict. Another said Iraq has fought in fits and starts all along and might go back to riskier raids by sending its bombers in low again.
"Weighed against the losses Iraq will suffer if Iran goes ahead with another main force offensive," one U.S. official said, "the loss of some planes would be more than acceptable if this brought a negotiated end to the war that has been full of tragic miscalculations on both sides."
The Iraqis have been bombing Kharg Island with French Mirage F1 fighter-bombers, sources said. The F1 can fly as high as 60,000 feet. Bombers diving on small targets, like the oil pipelines on Kharg, go below 5,000 feet, making them vulnerable to ground fire. The Iraqi planes made no such low-level runs in the last two raids, officials said.
Iran has a formidable air defense around Kharg Island, officials said, including U.S. Hawk missiles.
The U.S. government's view that Iraq's four recent raids against Kharg have failed to reduce Iran's oil exports was shared by oil industry specialists in London yesterday.
"There has been no significant dent on Iranian oil exports yet," Michael Humphries, an oil analyst for Samuel Montagu merchant bankers of London told United Press International.
A spokesman for the Howard Houlder shipping firm of London said, "There doesn't seem to be any interruption in the amount of oil getting out."
Because of falling demand, U.S. officials said, Iran has not been pumping its Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries quota of oil, making it easier to overcome the effect of Iraqi bombings.