MANAMA, BAHRAIN, SEPT. 27 -- Iranian sailors who survived the U.S. attack on their mine-laying ship were welcomed home today by cheering crowds as Iraq conducted one of its heaviest days of attacks on Iran's oil shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Iran hardened its position on a cease-fire and warned that the seven-year-old Iran-Iraq war may drag on "for a long time."

Iraq said it attacked three oil tankers, raising to six the number of claimed strikes on tankers in Iranian service since Friday. Shipping sources confirmed Iraqi attacks on three vessels.

Tehran radio said that, in the Iranian capital, a crowd greeted Iranian sailors on their arrival home, six days after U.S. Army helicopters attacked their vessel, the Iran Ajr, off Bahrain. The Iran Ajr's captain, Farsh Chian, was quoted by the official Iranian Republic News Agency as saying U.S. forces bombarded the ship for three hours. He said the ship was carrying "nonmilitary supplies when it was attacked."

The news agency also quoted a crew member as saying their "captors" had mistreated them, "savagely imprisoning" them aboard a U.S. warship, with their hands bound with wire. "For politicial propaganda purposes, the Americans had offered to give the crew members political asylum but they had been met with a negative response," the agency said.

For the first time in recent weeks, a senior Iranian official -- parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- vowed that Iran would force the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Earlier this month, Iran had publicly dropped its demand that Saddam Hussein be removed in exchange for peace, insisting only that Iraq be named as the aggressor and punished.