Relentless allied air attacks have caused Iraqi military commanders to seek refuge by moving their headquarters into schools, while some Iraqi military vehicles have begun traveling in civilian convoys for protection, U.S. officials said yesterday.

As part of Iraq's effort to disperse its military, Baghdad also has attempted to hide warplanes in residential neighborhoods and reduce large congregations of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles, the officials added.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. commander of Operation Desert Storm, told reporters that allied warplanes will not bomb schools and other civilian facilities known to have been commandeered for military purposes.

When Schwarzkopf's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, later was asked whether the Iraqis are using "schools, mosques and hospitals as headquarters," he replied, "That happens to be a true fact." Neither general offered hard evidence of Iraq's efforts "to protect their military capability," as Johnston put it, but U.S. intelligence officers are known to be eavesdropping on many Iraqi communications.

Despite repeated assurances by U.S. authorities that civilian buildings have been and will remain off limits to allied pilots, Iraqi residents and officials claimed again yesterday that numerous non-military sites -- including houses, residential buildings, stores and a mosque -- were struck.

United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar yesterday condemned allied air attacks in western Iraq that Jordanian officials have said resulted in the killing of several Jordanian truck drivers. State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said the United States is not targeting the trucks, believed to be carrying Iraqi oil to Jordan, which she said would violate U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq. But she said any Iraqi military vehicle hiding among civilian vehicles will be considered a legitimate target.

On the diplomatic front yesterday, Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said his government wants to help negotiate a peaceful settlement to the war, but U.S. officials reacted coolly, saying talks are impossible until Iraqi President Saddam Hussein withdraws his forces completely from Kuwait.

Among the 2,700 allied sorties launched as part of Operation Desert Storm yesterday were four Marine AV-8B Harrier jets that attacked 25 to 30 Iraqi tanks attempting to hide in southern Kuwait. Dropping 24 Rockeye cluster bombs, the Marine pilots reported "25 Iraqi tanks destroyed or at least burning," Johnston said.

Yet another American weapons system made its debut in the war as the battleship USS Missouri, firing in combat for the first time since the Korean War, edged into the northern Persian Gulf and hurled seven 1.2-ton shells at Iraqi targets in Kuwait. Subsequent aerial reconnaissance confirmed that the 16-inch guns, firing at prefabricated bunkers that Iraq was positioning under cover of darkness, destroyed the targets, Johnston said.

The Missouri firings came two days after U.S. officials declared that Iraq's small naval threat had been eradicated. "We wanted to let them know we have a third supporting arm" to complement air and ground forces, an officer in Saudi Arabia said yesterday. Asked about dangers from mines or missiles to the Missouri, aboard which Japan surrendered in Tokyo Bay to end World War II, Johnston noted that the battleship's armor in places is 17 inches thick.

Navy officers often have made great claims for the accuracy of their big guns, and Johnston yesterday asserted that "a 16-inch round from a battleship can hit, at 25 miles away, a target the size of a tennis court." But battleships firing at targets in Lebanon in the mid-1980s occasionally had accuracy problems, and there was no independent confirmation yesterday of the Missouri's purported success.

Asked about possible damage to civilian targets from errant allied bombs, Johnston replied: "I quite truthfully cannot tell you of any reports that I know of that would show inaccurate bombing, particularly north of the Saudi-Kuwaiti border . . . . I cannot tell you of any that I know of that have grossly missed the target."

But Air Vice Marshall W.J. Wratten, deputy commander of British forces in the Middle East, acknowledged yesterday: "Weapons systems are not always 100 percent accurate, and if they do malfunction, then it's quite possible that collateral damage will, unfortunately, arise. So that, too, is a fact of life."

Iraqis interviewed by Western news organizations yesterday suggested that Johnston's assessment does not conform with their experience. In the Iraqi city of Najaf, 120 miles south of Baghdad, residents told visiting correspondents that allied warplanes in a raid Jan. 20 had damaged 50 houses during an apparent effort to destroy a telecommunications tower. At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded, the residents told Reuter's Mammoun Youssef. One building examined by the reporters had been flattened, reportedly killing 13 of 14 family members inside.

Bombers apparently spared the nearby shrine and tomb of Imam Ali, cousin of the Prophet Mohammed and one of the holiest Shiite Moslem shrines, Youssef reported. But resident Abbas Mohammed Witwit, 50, displayed his 10-year-old son who, Witwit said, had suffered more than 50 shrapnel wounds in the bombing, as well as his 3-year-old daughter, who had suffered a broken hand and head injuries.

"They {the Americans} talk about humanity and progress," Witwit shouted angrily. "So what did these innocent children do to them? There is an army in Kuwait. Go and fight them, not us."

Three waves of allied bombers struck Baghdad early Monday, reportedly striking communication centers, government offices and industrial facilities -- some for the second and third times since the war began Jan. 17. Tracers from antiaircraft batteries and surface-to-air missiles laced the night sky as thousands of civilians huddled in air raid shelters.

"What is there left to attack?" an unidentified resident asked Reuter correspondent Bernd Debusmann after emerging from a shelter. "Have they not destroyed everything already? Will they never stop?"

Johnston, speaking to reporters in Riyadh, acknowledged that raiders had hit the Iraqi capital but denied a news report that B-52 bombers were involved in the strikes.

The daily newspaper al-Thawra, official organ of Iraq's ruling Baath party, vowed that the country will retaliate with a hit-and-run ground war using armor, mechanized and special commando forces. Another official newspaper said Baghdad retains the upper hand in the war, "not in terms of weaponry but in terms of determination to achieve victory."

In what Johnston characterized as a "possible terrorist attack," a gunman fired at a shuttle bus as it passed a junkyard in the port city of Jiddah Sunday night. Two American military personnel were slightly injured by flying glass as 9mm pistol or rifle rounds raked the bus, which also carried a Saudi security guard and an Egyptian driver. The gunman escaped.

Saudi Col. Ahmed Al-Robayan described the attack -- the first of its kind against Americans in Saudi Arabia since the war began -- as "a small act {that} could happen anywhere."

In other incidents linked by police to the gulf war, gunmen fired at the home of a Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan slightly wounding a guard. In Jerusalem, an arsonist set fire to the British Airways office, causing considerable damage but no injuries. In Athens, police dismantled a faulty time-bomb consisting of eight sticks of dynamite found in a shopping bag outside an American bank office.

What Johnston described as a "very quiet" day for allied ground forces was briefly disrupted at 4 a.m. (8 p.m. Sunday EST) when a U.S. artillery unit fired on an Iraqi infantry battalion. Two U.S. F/A-18 attack jets also destroyed an Iraqi rocket launcher "before it got any rounds off," Johnston added.

Asked about French reports that some toxins have been released into the air following allied attacks on chemical installations, Johnston reiterated that the bombing runs are intended to minimize such contamination. "I can't say that some may not be in the air in the immediate surroundings," he added, "but I suspect that there would be no serious damage to any communities."

As the war approaches its three-week mark, allied planes have now flown more than 44,000 sorties, including "approximately one bombing sortie for every minute of the Desert Storm operation," Johnston said. Yesterday's attacks included 26 fighter strike "packages" and six waves of B-52 strikes, for a total of about 250 individual aircraft sorties against Republican Guard units in southern Iraq and northern Kuwait.

The bombing is not only reportedly forcing Iraqi commanders to seek shelters in schools and other civilian havens, but is also causing Iraq to shrink and disperse its land convoys, Johnston said. Convoys that in the past would include 50 to 100 vehicles now are "down to five and 10," he added, "clearly some indication they're trying to minimize the target." One such target was detected at 8 p.m. Sunday night (noon EST) and was "systematically attacked and destroyed," Johnston noted.

Saddam will be able to protect "some of his assets" by dispersing them into civilian areas, Johnston said, but "I'm not sure that he can somehow put half a million troops and 5,000 tanks in a residential area . . . . He can't hide it all."

Hiding headquarters operations in what the United States claims are protected sanctuaries is not "a war stopper" because "we have already accomplished an enormous amount of degradation to his commmunications capability," the general added. Johnston also expressed little concern about Iraq "flushing" some warplanes to residential neighborhoods, a phenomenon first observed about the time Iraqi aircraft began flying to Iran for refuge.

President Bush told the nation's governors yesterday that the Persian Gulf War is "going according to plan" and that the allied coalition would set the timetable for the next phases, "not Saddam Hussein." Bush said "there have been no surprises" in the war, nor would there be any quick changes. "We have to go forward and prosecute this to a successful conclusion," he added.

That determination was echoed in the quick dismissal of Iran's offer to mediate a peaceful solution between two of its most bitter enemies.

"What's to mediate?" State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said yesterday in response. "There are 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions. The terms of those resolutions lay out the standards for ending this conflict," and require the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Tutwiler said that while the United States would welcome any nation's efforts to persuade Saddam to pull out of Kuwait, officials are pessimistic because all past diplomacy has failed. "No one that I'm aware of has been able to do such a thing," she said.

U.S. officials also discounted the Iranian initiative because they had received no formal proposal through the normal third-party channel -- the Swiss government -- that has been used by the two countries in the past.

The prospect of a ground war drew a cautionary note from Capitol Hill yesterday. Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believed it would be "a mistake" for the allied coalition to launch a potentially costly ground war for several months.

"We ought not to go into a ground war until they {the Iraqis} are so demoralized and weakened they cannot effectively resist," Cohen told reporters. He added that he and others in Republican leadership positions had shared that view with Bush and Pentagon officials.

Cohen said the United States should delay any major ground action "until the Haj," the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that begins in early summer. "By then," he predicted, "Iraq will be on its knees," increasing the possibility of an Arab-initiated peace settlement that Saddam could accept.

Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, in a speech to the American Mining Congress, yesterday said the United States has been "careful not to set artificial deadlines" for shifting from the air campaign to a ground war. Saying U.S. military planners "have assumed" they would need ground forces to drive Iraq from Kuwait, he later told reporters at a briefing on the Pentagon's proposed $290.8 billion budget for fiscal 1992, "I think no one knows today the precise date upon which we might begin a ground campaign."

Saudi officials yesterday provided more details of last week's battle for the town of Khafji, claiming to have captured enough armored equipment to outfit two battalions. The booty, according to al-Robayan, included 93 vehicles such as 11 Soviet-made T-55 tanks, 70 armored personnel carriers and 10 large trucks. Much of the equipment is either undamaged or can be repaired, al-Robayan said.

Saudi camps now hold 742 Iraqi prisoners, about half of them captured in Khafji; 43 are officers, including one major, the Saudi colonel added.

Official Israeli sources, looking back at the ground fighting in northern Saudi Arabia and southern Kuwait, yesterday estimated that two Iraqi armored divisions had been effectively destroyed, with more than 400 vehicles demolished. Approximately 10 percent of Iraq's armor and artillery has now been destroyed by the allies, the sources said, adding that only seven or eight mobile Scud missile launchers remain intact in western Iraq.

A senior Pentagon official said the Israeli reports appeared to be highly exaggerated. "We got a little bit of a swipe at" two divisions, the official added. "But the people we shot at were only those who came out of their holes." Actual fighting was believed limited to "a couple of brigades," with Iraqi losses totaling 100 vehicles.

U.S. officials also tried to clear up a mystery over the reported disappearance of 50 American trucks in Saudi Arabia. Dismissing a report that suggested terrorists had seized the vehicles for a possible attack, Johnston said the trucks belonged to the Army, which has located 10 of them, and suggested that the Marines had "borrowed" most of the others.

Staff writers Barton Gellman, Ann Devroy, David S. Broder, David Hoffman, Molly Moore in Saudi Arabia, Jonathan C. Randal in Iran, Jackson Diehl in Israel and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.