DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 27 -- A massive oil slick in the Persian Gulf, created when Iraq opened the valves on a supertanker loading terminal off Kuwait, apparently has been stabilized as a result of a U.S. bombing raid near the facility, the commander of Operation Desert Storm, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, said today.

U.S. military and oil industry officials said a bombing raid Saturday night on a critical link to the Sea Island supertanker terminal will at least temporarily stop Iraq from sending millions of gallons of crude oil pouring into the ecologically fragile gulf.

One Saudi official, however, said the Iraqis still appear to be dumping oil into the gulf. But a Saudi petroleum industry source said that the slick appears to have been contained.

The Saudis reported that the slick -- now estimated to contain between 6 million and 10 million barrels of oil -- had begun to disperse throughout the northern gulf, posing a potential threat to the shoreline of Iran as well as Saudi Arabia.

Schwarzkopf said F-111 fighter-bombers destroyed a critical component of the loading terminal when it knocked out conduit pipes and valves used to collect crude from dozens of onshore oilfields and funnel the oil to floating docks 10 miles off the Kuwaiti coast.

The "manifolds," as the conduit pipes are called, served as the hub of the Sea Island terminal. Pipelines from outlying oilfields, acting in effect as spokes, converge at the manifolds.

The two manifolds that Schwartzkopf said were hit by television-guided "smart" bombs transferred oil from two storage tanks located five miles inland to oil buoys anchored 13 miles offshore.

"By bombing the manifolds, you cut off the link between the oil field and the water," said George Jardim, emergency response coordinator for Chevron Corp. Jardim said that repairing manifolds is a "major construction job" requiring as long as two weeks, an estimate Schwartzkopf ventured in a briefing Sunday.

But another oil industry official said that it may be impossible to repair the devices without the use of large valves that Iraq is not capable of manufacturing. "By hitting the manifolds, you can totally disrupt the ability to pump oil offshore," said the official.

While thousands of gallons of crude could remain in the 13 miles of loading line that connect the manifolds to the buoys, experts said, there is little threat of the oil leaking into the gulf unless the lines are graded steeply downhill.

"If it's not under pressure from gravity or pumps, there's no reason for the oil to go anywhere," said an industry official. "They just cut the . . . cords. Very cleverly done, and obviously with the help of people who knew exactly what the terminal looks like."

Saudi officials said today the mammoth oil slick poses no danger to the country's water supply or heavy industries but acknowledged it may already be too late to prevent a wholesale slaughter of birds, fish and other marine animals. They warned that the slick will disrupt the region's ecosystem for years to come.

Abdulbar Gain, director of environmental protection for the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, said the southern edge of the slick had divided into two elongated "tongues." One stalled about two to three miles off the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia, and the other was floating toward the center of the gulf toward Iran, he said.

Meanwhile, pool reporters flown by the U.S. military to the Saudi coastal city of Khafji, just south of the Kuwaiti border, observed far less damage from the slick than had been previously reported -- an apparent sign that its eastern edge had begun to drift out into the gulf. While there were some oil-blackened rocks and streaks of thin oil along the waves, the reporters found none of the oil-drenched ducks and thick pools of crude along the beach that were taped by a British television crew late last week.

In an apparent effort to reassure the Saudi public, Gain told reporters that protective booms and other equipment installed by the government were sufficient to block the oil and protect the country's main industrial complex in Jubail as well as coastal water-purification plants.

"There is no danger, absolutely, to the {water} desalination plants," he said.

But other Saudi officials said there is no way of predicting whether booms will be able to contain such a large slick.

Niaz A. Khan, environmental specialist of the Royal Commission for Jubail, said Saudi officials had already planned for a "worst-case scenario" in which the purification plants would become contaminated, and the government would be forced to mix purified water with brackish well water.

At Jubail, workers today were hastily installing a new floating boom across an inlet that feeds sea water into a huge industrial cooling system for the city's factories. Abdulaziz M. Abuhaimid, chief engineer, said he had ordered another boom from a U.S. company but was unable to get it delivered because of the war. But he said he was confident that the cooling system could be protected from the oil slick.

No such assurances were given about protecting the aquatic life of the gulf. Gain said the limited circulation of the gulf's waters, its shallow depth and virtually enclosed geography made it more difficult for the oil to be dispersed by currents the same way slicks break up on the open sea.

Gain said it takes three to five years for water in the gulf to "turn over" -- more than 60 times longer than it takes in Alaska's Prince William Sound, site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

He said it is likely that crude oil from the slick would continue to wash ashore on the region's beaches for years to come, threatening birds, shrimp and other marine animals, such as sea turtles and the dugong, a large mammal similar to the African manatee, which nests farther south, near the island of Bahrain.

"Saddam Hussein is waging war on the region's wildlife," said Gain. "We anticipate an impact on fishery products for many years to come. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to assess the impact of this action."

Saudi and U.S. officials have offered sketchy and sometimes conflicting comments about the source of the oil slick. Aboud Azil Hokail, general vice president for the Saudi Aramco oil company, suggested that there may be two separate slicks: one generated by Iraq's dumping of oil that is still largely off the Kuwaiti coast, and another, much smaller spill -- about two miles long up to 200 yards wide -- caused when oil tankers were damaged during an artillery battle between Iraqi troops and U.S. Marines last week.

Hokail later backed off this theory during questioning by reporters.

Staff writer Michael Weisskopf contributed to this report from Washington.