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IRAQ AIRSTRIKES CONTINUE; U.S. AVOIDING HITS ON WEAPONS PLANTS : SATELLITE PHOTOS.

Byline: Steven Lee Myers The New York Times

American and British forces are taking care to avoid hitting Iraqi factories suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons, Pentagon officials said Thursday, adding that bombing and missile strikes had caused extensive damage to military, intelligence and communications targets.

Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to determine whether it had destroyed its stocks of those weapons led to President Clinton's order Wednesday to begin the air assault.

But the Pentagon said Thursday that although the elimination of chemical and biological weapons was the ultimate aim of the United States, the strikes avoided those plants for fear of unleashing deadly plumes of poisons and causing civilian deaths.

The strikes, which resumed Thursday night after a daytime lull, were inflicting significant damage to Iraq's air defenses, intelligence and security headquarters and barracks belonging to the elite Republican Guards, according to an early assessment offered at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The initial strikes appeared to catch the Iraqis by surprise, since they had done little to deploy troops or weapons to avoid attacks, Pentagon officials said. The Republican Guards, who help maintain President Saddam Hussein's grip on power, were a focus of the strike, but the Pentagon could not yet estimate the number of casualties.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, who appeared at the Pentagon with Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States did not intend to destroy sites suspected as weapons factories that might also make benign commercial products, even though those plants could be essential to the covert development of chemical or biological weapons.

``We're not going to take a chance and try to target any facility that would release any kind of horrific damage to innocent people,'' Cohen said earlier on NBC's ``Today'' program.

Cohen's remarks underscored the fact that even three or four days of heavy attacks - as Pentagon planners now envision - would not be enough to destroy Iraq's ability to produce even small amounts of weapons.

Having conceded that, Cohen and Shelton outlined a mission with the objective of weakening Saddam's government and military, including missile sites and military bases central to launching chemical or biological weapons.

``We have no illusions of how difficult it is'' to destroy chemical or biological weapons production, Cohen said at the Pentagon. ``We intend to focus on the military aspects of his regime.''

To that extent, the first wave of strikes appeared to succeed, officials said. Nearly 250 cruise missiles launched from seven warships and a submarine in the Persian Gulf - followed up by 40 attacks by fighter jets launched from the aircraft carrier Enterprise - struck more than 50 targets in the first day of the attack, Shelton announced.

Shelton unveiled satellite photographs showing extensive damage to two targets in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad: the military intelligence headquarters and barracks belonging to Republican Guard units.

``This building right here,'' Shelton said, pointing to a photograph of the intelligence building, ``you'll notice down here there's nothing left but rubble.''

Air Force bombers and fighters - including B-52s armed with more powerful cruise missiles - and British attack jets based in Kuwait joined in the assault for the first time just as dusk fell in Baghdad.

In the Iraqi capital, sirens again sounded and anti-aircraft fire speckled the dark with flashes and bursts. Afterward loud explosions reverberated throughout the city center.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf said the attacks struck civilian areas of Baghdad and inflicted heavy casualties. He described damage at several targets, including a factory producing batteries and several government buildings.

Iraq's health minister said at least 25 people had died and 75 others were wounded in Baghdad alone. One of the strikes also damaged a palace belonging to Saddam's daughter, Hala, who was uninjured, Iraqi officials said.

``The last time I checked, Saddam had something like 80 palaces,'' Cohen said when asked whether the strikes were deliberately aimed at Saddam or his family.

While the Pentagon offered few details of the strikes, officials said that nearly 100 missiles, each with 2,000-pound warheads, struck targets in Iraq on Thursday. They said they were fired by B-52s based on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Other American and British pilots flew deep into Iraq on Thursday, officials said.

By late Thursday night, after two days and dozens of strikes, no American or British pilot had been killed, the Pentagon said.

Little resistance

Despite the bursts of anti-aircraft fire in Baghdad, few of the fighter jets involved encountered significant challenges from surface-to-air missiles, though most of the aircraft flew high enough to avoid low-level threats.

Officials also said the initial cruise missile strikes succeeded in hitting their first targets: Iraq's air defenses, especially in the southern half of the country. ``The cruise missiles softened things up pretty well,'' one official said.

Attacks on Thursday continued through the night. The heavier cruise missiles launched from the B-52s - with their 2,000-pound warheads able to penetrate thick layers of concrete - were aimed at more heavily fortified targets in Baghdad, including underground bunkers used by the Iraqi military and political leadership.

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Map

Photo: (Color) Iraqis search through a home's rubble in southern Baghdad on Thursday morning. The U.S. attack on Iraq resumed later that evening.

Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Map: U.S., BRITISH ATTACKS ON IRAQ

Summary of missions the U.S. and Britain have launched against Iraqi targets:

Knight Ridder Tribune
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 18, 1998
Words:912
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