Hussein Orders Iraqi Pullout : U.S. Brushes Aside Move; Allies Press Land War : Gulf conflict: Many tanks of the elite Republican Guard are reported destroyed. Total of POWs now put at 25,000.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government ordered its forces to withdraw from Kuwait as allied troops pushed farther into Iraq and the occupied nation of Kuwait today in the third day of a massive ground offensive.
The White House turned a cold shoulder to the withdrawal announcement broadcast over Baghdad Radio.
“The war goes on,” said President Bush’s press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater.
Fitzwater said the Iraqi government had made no “authoritative contact” with either the U.S. government or the United Nations. “We don’t really consider that there is anything to respond to,” he said.
A senior military officer in the Pentagon derided Baghdad’s announcement, telling the Associated Press, “They want us to pause. They want us to stop.”
The Iraqi broadcast followed the U.S. military’s announcement that allied forces had destroyed scores of Iraqi tanks Monday in the first significant combat with Hussein’s top-rated Republican Guard.
Sources said that in other action, U.S. Marine and Army battalions, backed by persistent air attacks, continued to press toward the Kuwaiti capital, where much of the city was reported in flames.
In a potential logistics problem for allied forces, a total of more than 25,000 Iraqi troops have been captured or have surrendered after two days of battle, the coalition command said.
“Where we’re meeting the enemy, we are defeating the enemy,” Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal told a press briefing here. “We continue to achieve tremendous success.”
In just 36 hours, Neal said, allied firepower destroyed more than 270 Iraqi tanks, including 35 of Iraq’s top-line T-72s, Soviet-made tanks used by the Republican Guard.
Except for a devastating Iraqi Scud attack on a U.S. barracks near Dhahran that killed 12, injured 25 and left another 40 missing, allied casualties remained relatively low, with four Americans and five Arabs reported killed in battle and another 21 wounded.
Four American aircraft were lost in the allied offensive on Monday--two AV-8 Harrier jump-jets, one Apache helicopter and a tank-killing A-10 Warthog jet.
In other developments:
* Before the withdrawal announcement, Baghdad Radio claimed that Hussein’s forces were inflicting heavy damage on the allies and bragged about the fatal Scud attack on the barracks in Dhahran. “The defeated have abandoned their tanks, vehicles and equipment . . . and fled, tripping over their own feet while seeking a way to escape lethal Iraqi fire,” the communique said. “Our heroic missile corps continues to pound the coward traitors. . . .”
* In his first public appearance since the first night of the ground war, President Bush said the allied offensive is “on course and on schedule,” but he warned against premature euphoria. “We have the initiative,” the President said during a White House ceremony marking Black History Month. “Kuwait will soon be free,” he said. “There are battles yet to come and casualties to be borne, but make no mistake--we will prevail.”
Bush telephoned Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Operation Desert Storm, to offer his complements.
* In the first such attack in the war, Iraq fired two Silkworm anti-ship missiles at the allied fleet off Kuwait on Monday, British officials said. One of the Silkworms, apparently aimed at the U.S. battleship Missouri, was intercepted by a Sea Dart rocket fired by a British destroyer escorting the battleship, and the other missile fell harmlessly into the sea, the officials said.
* Famed oil firefighter Red Adair’s company is one of five firms hired by Kuwaitis to snuff out the more than 500 oil well fires burning in their occupied country. “We don’t know what we might see out there,” Adair said, “but it is going to be hot.” The veteran fireman said the firms expect to begin their perilous work as soon as Hussein’s forces are gone.
Baghdad Radio interrupted its programming at 1:30 a.m. today Iraqi time with the surprise announcement that the Iraqi leadership had issued orders to its troops “for an organized withdrawal to the position in which they were before the 1st of August, 1990.”
The broadcast, monitored in Amman, Jordan, said withdrawing to those positions constitutes “practical compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 660.”
Less than an hour before the Baghdad Radio announcement, the Soviet Union told the Security Council that it had indications Iraq was willing to comply with allied demands for a quick withdrawal from Kuwait.
But the council’s president, the ambassador from Zimbabwe, said that Iraq’s U.N. ambassador told him he had received no new instructions from Baghdad.
The Baghdad Radio report reached Washington while Bush was playing racquetball at the House of Representatives gymnasium. Brent Scowcroft, the President’s national security adviser, relayed it to him by telephone. Bush returned to the White House, heading directly to his living quarters, rather than to the Oval Office.
One White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States and its allies had no more reason to look favorably on Hussein’s plan than it did on Friday when it rejected a Soviet-Iraqi proposal for a three-week withdrawal, with other conditions attached, rather than the unconditional one-week pullout Bush demanded.
“The initial statement tying it to the Soviet proposal will make clear it’s not an acceptable plan,” the official said. “It wasn’t on Friday. Why would it be now?” Besides, he added, “if they’re interested in peace, they should approach it through some better forum than Baghdad Radio.”
Reflecting concern that the Iraqis were trying to bail out of the battlefield with as much of their armor and artillery as possible, the official said: “Their motives are kind of suspect. Now that we’ve started the war, it’s hard to see why we’d agree to it.”
He said the White House is confident that its partners in the anti-Iraq coalition will remain firmly opposed to allowing a peaceful withdrawal, after having joined the United States in putting troops in the field and risking the lives of their soldiers.
Asked earlier Monday how the United States would respond if Iraq tried to pull out with its equipment, Fitzwater replied: “If you’re talking about in-the-course-of-battle retreat, it would be just the way that’s handled in a normal war. I mean, when someone starts retreating in a battle, you pursue them, generally.
“If you’re talking about a retreat in the terms of Saddam saying he’s going to get out, in accordance with all the conditions of the United Nations, then that’s a different story,” Fitzwater said.
Hussein’s order came as U.S. war aims apparently focused on crushing Hussein’s military power as well as pushing his troops out of Kuwait.
A senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that allied troops have not completed the encirclement of the Iraqi army, so theoretically some Iraqi soldiers could escape northward.
“But where can they go?” he asked. “All the bridges are down. How fast can they move? If it’s just people (without tanks or weapons), who cares? And they will be relentlessly pursued for the purpose of capture and detention.”
Fitzwater also made it clear that the Administration has no interest in stepping back from any of the 12 U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq’s withdrawal and guiding the conditions for a pullout.
Kuwait’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Abulhasan, said Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait “already is taking place de facto. The Iraqi army has been defeated. The acceptance by Iraq of all the Security Council resolutions is now the core of the matter.”
Asked whether Bush would stick to the demand in the resolutions that Iraq pay reparations for the destruction in Kuwait, Fitzwater said, “Yes, absolutely.”
Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with his advisers at the State Department, where the Baghdad Radio report was being studied “very carefully,” a spokesman said. “We’re not prepared to offer any conclusions yet.”
U.S. fighter jets attacking under an overcast of low clouds and smoke hammered away at Republican Guard strongholds on Monday as the first ground encounters were reported between allied forces and troops of Hussein’s elite guard force.
The Iraqis responded with surface-to-air missiles from positions near the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border and with heavy antiaircraft artillery. The Iraqi fire reportedly was responsible for at least some of the four U.S. aircraft lost during the day.
The 35 Iraqi T-72 tanks were destroyed by U.S. Air Force A-10 warplanes, Neal told reporters. The number is only a fraction of the estimated 500 T-72 tanks that Iraq has, but their destruction was considered significant because it showed that some Republican Guard units had apparently been flushed from the protective bunkers south of the Iraqi city of Basra where they had been entrenched for weeks.
“They’re finally flushing,” said Col. Steve Turner, a squadron commander. “They’ve got to do something--either that or get killed in their holes.”
Neal would not say where the tanks were hit or confirm reports of Republican Guard units on the move. But U.S. Air Force pilots returning from combat missions Monday reported having spotted a column of 80 Iraqi tanks moving south toward coalition forces, according to dispatches from pool journalists.
At the Pentagon, officials said a U.S. armored force, driving north through southeastern Iraq, encountered a relatively small unit of the Republican Guard, which fought briefly and lost an estimated 25 tanks.
The U.S. Marine 1st and 2nd divisions, along with army units from the United States, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria, moved closer to Kuwait city on Monday, while amphibious assault teams and American and British naval warships maintained a holding pattern off Kuwait’s coast.
Pentagon sources said U.S. forces near the capital engaged in a sharp tank battle with the Iraqis in an encounter that left as many as 60 of Hussein’s tanks destroyed.
Few details of the operation to retake the capital--a mission expected to involve pitched street fighting--were available, but field commanders said forward elements of the 2nd Marine Division had taken up positions west of the city early Monday.
“We’re moving towards Kuwait city and we continue to experience success as we move in that direction,” Neal said.
“We will be there soon, very soon,” said Saudi Gen. Khalid Bin Sultan, head of the joint Arab forces.
Allied commanders said additional reports are pouring in of atrocities in Kuwait city commited by Iraqi soldiers against Kuwaiti civilians, including torture, rape and murder.
Khalid said troops found to have commited such abuses would be punished as war criminals and tried under international law.
More than 600 fires were reported burning in Kuwait, including government buildings in Kuwait city and at least 517 oil wellheads. American officials say the blazes are the result of a “scorched-earth” policy by Hussein aimed at leaving Kuwait’s oil-production capabilities and infrastructure--including water and sewer systems, hospitals, streets and homes--a shambles.
“Terrorism remains the only Iraqi success to date,” Neal said in a briefing with reporters.
Troops from the 101st Airborne Division and the French army have established a 60-square-mile staging area inside central Iraqi territory toward the Euphrates River valley, the central command said. U.S. sources said the drive had reached at least 50 miles into Iraqi territory; French sources doubled that distance.
In an effort to cut Iraqi supply lines, more than 200 attack helicopters had airlifted vehicles, howitzers, fuel, ammunition and 2,000 combat troops into position, the allied command said..
French military sources said an entire Iraqi division had been “neutralized” in the attack, during which 3,000 of Hussein’s troops were taken prisoner. The Iraqis said that before their capture, they had not had food in five days and had been given only one canteen of water apiece for at least twice that long.
French officers said only two of their soldiers had been wounded in the drive, both only slightly.
Prisoners of War
The number of Iraqi troops who have surrendered or been captured surged dramatically to more than 20,100 by Monday afternoon, according to Gen. Neal, and to 25,000, according to figures made public by Saudi officials. In one incident, Neal said, 50 Iraqi T-62 tanks sat parked 2 1/2 miles from allied positions, their crews indicating they wanted to give up.
“In some cases, entire battalions at a time” have surrendered, Neal said.
Military commanders insist they are prepared to handle such a huge volume of war prisoners, but the number is bound to pose problems. Special U.S. military police units are being brought in to process the prisoners, who will be bused from the lines where they were captured to Saudi holding areas.
Officials cautioned that the apparent low morale of many of these troops and the readiness with which they surrendered should not be seen as an across-the-board sign of how all Iraqi troops will react. Those in allied custody were generally front-line soldiers with less training and preparation than the Republican Guard.
Bush and the War
Speaking to the Patriot Foundation, which is seeking to raise money for a statue on the National Mall honoring blacks who fought in the American Revolution, Bush reported that “the liberation of Kuwait is on course and on schedule. . . .
“We have the initiative,” the President said. “We intend to keep it.
“Make no mistake. We will prevail,” Bush added. “Kuwait will soon be free, and America’s men and women in uniform will return home to the thanks and respect of a grateful nation.”
As Bush spoke, the muffled thumping of a single bass drum, beaten day and night by a small group of protesters in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, could be heard in the East Room.
The President, who spent Sunday closeted in the White House except for a brief appearance at church, told his visitors:
“This was a war thrust upon us, not a war that we sought. But naked aggression, such as we have seen, must be resisted if it is not to become a pattern. . . .
“Our success in the Gulf will bring with it not just a new opportunity for peace and stability in a critical part of the world, but a chance to build a new world order based upon the principles of collective security and the rule of law,” Bush said.
The President made his remarks as, separately, on Capitol Hill, members of both houses continued to debate informally what the United States should do once the war has ended.
White house spokesman Fitzwater insisted that the United States has no “territorial” designs on Iraq.
“We expect that country, want that country, to remain intact and able to function in a way that maintains stability in the region,” he said.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) suggested--as Bush has in the past--that the Iraqi people should overthrow Saddam Hussein.
“We should be bold enough to suggest to Iraqis that democracy is a good idea,” Lugar said.
Wilkinson reported from Riyadh and Williams from Amman, Jordan. Times staff writers John J. Goldman at the United Nations and John M. Broder and James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed this report.