USS Missouri shells Iraqi positions

By THOMAS FERRARO, United Press International

With allied warplanes dropping bombs at the rate of one a minute, the historic battleship USS Missouri entered the high tech Persian Gulf War Monday by firing its 16-inch guns at fortified Iraqi positions in occupied Kuwait.

A bus carrying allied soldiers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -- far from the front -- was shot at by what officials presumed were ''freelance'' terrorists. No one was wounded but there were some minor injuries from flying glass.


Allied and Iraqi artillery exchanged fire across the Kuwait-Saudi border Monday but there were no direct ground contact between the two sides. Nor did Iraq try any incursions into Saudi territory.

Iran, trying to become a key player on the diplomatic side of the war, offered to speak both with U.S. and Iraqi officials in an effort to end the fighting. The United States said it would welcome any attempts to mediate an end to Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, but ruled out negotiation with Saddam Hussein over the terms of a pullout.


U.S. Air Force and Army officers, meanwhile, worked together on strategies for minimizing casualties by friendly fire such as the deaths last week of seven U.S. Marines.

''I'm not going to sit here and tell you that this will work perfectly,'' Air Force Maj. Bob Baltzer, 41, of Dayton, Ohio, said Monday at the camp of the Army's 1st Infantry Division.

''Some things will probably go wrong,'' he said. ''But the main thrust of what we're doing is to make sure we get eyeballs on the right targets.''

In Cairo, newspapers reported that pro-Iraqi extremists arrested last week made detailed confessions to Egyptian authorities Monday about subversive activities they planned to carry out.

In one report, the suspected saboteurs confessed that they planned to detonate a bomb within three hours after planting it inside the offices of an unspecified American firm in downtown Cairo. But the suspects were collared by Egyptian security forces before they could deliver the device.

The Missouri, on whose deck the Japanese surrendered to end World War II, had not fired its guns in combat since the late in the Korean War, U.S. military officials said. Its guns, the largest on any ship in the world, can hurl a 2,000-pound shell more than 25 miles.


This time its targets were prefabricated, concrete-reinforced bunkers set up by Iraqi troops in unspecified areas of Kuwait, the U.S. Central Command said in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. There was no estimate of damage to enemy positions.

Allied bombing runs continued unabated, said Marine Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston of the U.S. Central Command, with Saddam's elite Republican Guard taking a heavy dose. He also said three Scud missile sites were attacked and hit in the previous 24 hours.

Johnston said the number of air missions had passed 44,000 since the beginning of the war Jan. 17, meaning an average of ''one bombing sortie per every minute of Operation Desert Storm.''

Johnston said B-52 bombers conducted six air strikes overnight but would not confirm reports that three waves of B-52s had dropped bombs near residential areas southeast and west of Bagdad.

''That is a questionable report,'' Johnston said, characterizing it as ''curious.'' He did not, however, deny the action occurred.

Allied spokesmen have come under increasing questions about attacks on civilians in Iraqi-held territory followed refugee accounts reaching the west and Iraqi-controlled television reports.

Johnston said officials believed Iraq was moving military hardware into civilian areas specifically because the United States said it would not target those places.


''I think they're simply trying to protect their assets,'' he said.

Shots were fired from an empty lot shortly before midnight Sunday at a civilian shuttle bus carrying three U.S. soldiers, a Saudi guard and an Egyptian driver in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. The reason for the attack was unclear, U.S. military sources said in Dhahran.

Johnston said it was ''feasible'' to call the attackers ''freelance'' terrorists and not part of an organized plot.

''It looks like a random shooting, very small target and certainly no acknowledgment on the part of any organization that it was a contrived terrorist activity,'' he said. ''So I think it's pretty early to connect that with, necessarily, planned terrorist activity.''

In northeastern Saudi Arabia, elements of the 1st Marine Division attacked targets inside Kuwait with air and artillery bombardments Monday and exchanged fire with Iraqi troops across the border in separate engagements, staff officers said. No U.S. casualties were reported.

In the largest engagement, a battalion-sized task force -- about 600 troops -- operating close to the border attacked Iraqi ground radar and infantry positions with 155mm artillery near the Umm Gudair oil field in southwestern Kuwait.

At the same time, an Iraqi multiple-launch rocket battery opened fire on targets in Saudi Arabia and was attacked in turn by U.S. Marine aircraft. The Iraqi rocket site was destroyed with bombs dropped by two FA-18 fighter-bombers.


''It was a good night. A quiet night,'' said a 1st Marine Division staff officer.

Ironically, Johnston said one of the Scuds fired at Israel ''appears to have landed in Jordan,'' between Israel and Iraq. Jordan has maintained official neutrality in the war, but is aligned with Iraq.

In response to the Scud attacks, the Central Command said allied warplanes were able to attack two of the three launchers, and pilots reported seeing secondary explosions at one of the sites.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a high-ranking Pentagon official Sunday as saying an allied ground offensive could begin once military officials estimate that about half of Iraq's combat vehicles and equipment are destroyed.

Unless weather or some other factor disrupts the U.S. air war schedule, the Iraqi forces would be softened up enough for an allied ground assault in 10 to 20 days, the official, who requested anonymity, told the newspaper.

The newspaper quoted the official as saying the U.S.-led air campaign has had a ''dramatic effect'' on Iraq's 545,000 troops and their ground weapons.

But the official cautioned planners will not be able to determine exactly when the 50-percent target of Iraqi damage is reached, and emphasized any ground campaign would be a ''slugging match'' with substantial U.S. casualties.


Back home, U.S. officials discussed whether toppling Saddam should be a goal of the allied forces.

Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern ''we're about to do something dangerous here'' by broadening allied aims to include the Iraqi president's ouster.

''Getting rid of Saddam Hussein might come as a byproduct of getting him out of Kuwait,'' said Aspin, a congressional Democrat who has strongly supported President Bush's gulf policy.

''If it doesn't, making it one of the aims is going to mean that somebody's got to then go on to Baghdad,'' Aspin said. ''It means that this war is going to take a lot longer, and it's going to be a lot more casualties.

On the ABC News program ''This Week with David Brinkley,'' Defense Secretary Dick Cheney hinted at a different scenario, saying if Saddam remained in power, the allies could maintain sanctions ''to deny him the ability to rebuild that military force that he's used against his neighbors.''

''If we achieve our objective of getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, if we're able to destroy his offensive military capability, which we're well on our way to doing now, then I think we will have achieved our objectives,'' Cheney said.


Elsewhere in the Middle East, there were protests against the war in two of the Arab countries with troops on the allied side.

Some 300,000 people marched in Rabat, capital of Morocco, to protest, burning French, British, American and Israeli flags.

Leaders of several opposition parties in Egypt also condemned the war and formed a delegation to meet with President Hosni Mubarak to ask him to call for a cease-fire.

Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, on the CBS News program ''Face the Nation,'' said Saddam has ''no option'' but to fight to the end and predicted the Iraqi will be seen in the Arab world as a martyr, not a loser.

In other developments:

--Nine German peace activists, returning to Bonn after living in Baghdad since the war began, said as a result of allied bombings in the Iraqi capital there is ''hardly any water during the day, almost no electricity, and food is rare.''

--U.S. officials said the shortage of Roman Catholic chaplains in the Persian Gulf is so great that men dying in battle may wind up having only their squad leaders to read them Catholic-approved prayers in their last moments.

--Fears of gulf-related terrorism have temporarily closed the high-kicking Folies Bergere in Paris. Officials said the music hall would shut down for two weeks because of a lack of reservations.


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