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Iraqi Warplanes Raid, Iran Says It Holds Beachhead

January 12, 1987

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Iraq said its warplanes bombed Iranian cities, oilfields and industrial targets Monday and claimed to have retaken most of the southern swampland Iranian invaders overran in a 4-day-old offensive.

Iran said its troops crushed three tank-led Iraqi counterattacks and held its beachhead in Iraq. It claimed 16,500 Iraqis had been killed or wounded since the invasion began Friday.

Among those killed was Gen. Abdul Wahid Mahmoud Towfiq, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency claimed in a dispatch monitored in Nicosia.

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abdul Jabar Muhsin told a news conference Iraq’s forces had ″purged″ most positions the Iranians seized near Basra and the Iranians were pinned down in a stretch of marshland about three miles long and roughly half that wide.

This was about the same area the Iraqis mentioned Sunday, however, which indicated their counterattacks had not gained much ground.

Muhsin said surface-to-surface missiles were fired Monday at the main Iranian staging area around Khoramshahr on the eastern bank of the Shatt al- Arab border waterway.

″A decisive victory is imminent after which the Iranians will be rendered helpless,″ he declared.

Earlier communiques by Iraq said its troops drove out some Iranian units that had crossed the border about 20 miles south of Basra, the port city that is Iraq’s second largest and the southern provincial capital. Basra has been an Iranian objective since the war began in September 1980.

An Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad said Iranian troops were forced from one crossing point - apparently a sand bridge or ramp across Fish Lake, which Iraq created as a barrier to invasion by flooding lowlands.

The official news agency quoted Muhsin as saying Iranians tried on Sunday ″to launch attacks south of the Fish Lake, but their attempts were aborted and Iraqi forces are in control of the important crossings of the lake.″

Dispatches of Iran’s official news agency said its troops began a three- pronged attack late Sunday night.

Although they mentioned ″pitched battles″ and hand-to-hand fighting, the Iranians appeared not to have gained any new ground. The reports dealt mainly with such defensive actions as ″smashing″ three Iraqi counterthrusts.

Those included included a major operation Sunday night that Iran claimed was led by President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who visited the front.

Hussein’s visit indicated the seriousness his government attaches to the Iranian drive across the Shatt al-Arab toward Basra. The war began more than six years ago when Iraq sent an invasion force into Iran over the disputed border waterway.

Iranian reports claimed elite Iraqi units had been moved to the southern front, including elements of Hussein’s presidential guard and the Qaa Qaa commando brigade.

Tehran radio said the fanatic Revolutionary Guards loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asked students and other citizens to register at mosques, offices and factories for war service. The report claimed 200,000 people had signed up for the new Mohammad Corps.

Western military analysts said the Iranian invasion, involving more than 100,000 troops by Iraqi count, was the most serious since Iran seized part of the southern Faw Peninsula in February 1986 and could presage a full-scale assault on Basra.

Official Iranian and Iraqi reports of fighting often are exaggerated and cannot be reconciled because Western journalists are allowed into battle areas only on occasional guided tours.

In the air war, Iraq said its warplanes hit seven cities, including the holy city of Qom; Isfahan, a commmercial center, and the garrison town of Dezful. Other targets reported were a forward command center south of Ahwaz, a missile battery and three oil fields east of Abadan.

Iran said more than 100 civilians were killed and 400 wounded by ″inhuman″ Iraqi raids that began Sunday night on Isfahan, Arak, Brojerd and Islamabad-e-Gharb, formerly Shahabad.

Iraq also claimed its planes attacked Ilam, Abad, Qom and Kashan. Tehran’s official news agency said Iranian planes retaliated with raids on economic and military targets at Raina, Aqra, Sheik Saad and Qara Tapeh in northern Iraq.

The Iranians said they shot down three Iraqi planes, bringing to 34 the total claimed since the offensive began. Iraq’s official news agency conceded that five had been lost since Friday.

An Iraqi military spokesman said the air raids were in response to an Iranian missile attack Sunday on a residential area of Baghdad and repeated shelling of Basra.

Update hourly