Iraqis Hit Another Ship: Iran Says it Shot Down Iraqi Helicopter
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Iraqi warplanes blasted an Iranian supertanker in the Persian Gulf in a pre-dawn raid today, and Iran claimed its Revolutionary Guards shot down an Iraqi helicopter that was carrying a general.
The official Iraqi News Agency, monitored in Cyprus, said the warplanes struck a ″very large maritime target,″ a usual reference to a tanker.
Gulf-based shipping executives said the Iraqis hit the Iranian tanker Shirko south of Kharg Island, which harbor’s Iran’s main oil-loading terminal at the gulf’s northeastern end.
The extent of damage to the 230,000-ton Shirko was difficult to determine, said the executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said Iranian salvage tugboats that had rushed to aid the Shirko were not providing details of the attack.
It was the second tanker attack claimed by Iraq in less that 24 hours. On Friday, Iraq said its warplanes hit a tanker in the gulf before dawn.
INA also reported that an Iraqi army helicopter crashed Friday evening in northern Kurdistan province and that all the occupants were killed. It blamed the crash on a ″technical fault,″ but did not elaborate.
Tehran Radio, also monitored in Cyprus, said the aircraft was shot down by Revolutionary Guards. It gave no other details.
The Iraqi report called the Iranian claim ″a cheap lie″ and said the victims included the commander of the 5th Army Corps, Brig. Gen. Abdel-Aziz Ibrahim Hadidi.
It did not identify the other officers or say how many there were, and said the wreckage and bodies of victims were found today.
The 5th Army Corps is deployed in the mountainous Kurdistan region, where Iranian-backed Kurdish rebels are fighting for autonomy. Last week, both Iran and Kurdish rebel spokesmen reported heavy fighting in the region.
Iran claimed Revolutionary Guards captured 56 square miles in the region and that 4,500 Iraqi troops were killed. Iraq denied the claim.
Shipping executives said three vessels struck by Iranian gunboats Friday suffered minor damage, including one that was hit apparently by mistake.
The waterway was relatively calm during the earlier part of January after 34 ships were attacked by both sides in December. Last year, 178 ships were attacked, a record since the seven-year Iran-Iraq war spilled into the gulf in 1984.
Iran and Iraq each have claimed eight ship attacks in the gulf this year.
The first of Friday’s Iranian raids was against the 11,470-ton, Singapore- flag Havpil, a liquefied petroleum gas carrier owned by the Norwegian company Havtor AS.
The executives said this attack was a mistake because the ship was en route to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas with a shipment of butane and propane for Iranian use.
The second Iranian attack targeted the 157,849-ton, Panamanian-flag Topaz. The vessel was laden with iron ore destined for Saudi Arabia.
Iranian speedboats attacked an empty Danish-flagged ship bound for Saudi Arabia in the third raid, said the executives.
The 33,650-ton Torm Rotna sustained five or six holes above the water line consistent with the sort of damage produced by rocket-propelled grenades or deck cannon, they said.