Iraq said Monday it had scattered prisoners of war among "civilian, economic, education and other targets" - a move that recalled its prewar strategy of using foreign hostages as "human shields."
President Bush accused Iraq of treating the POWs brutally, adding, "It's not going to make a difference in the prosecution of the war." He called the Iraqi action "a direct violation of every convention that protects prisoners." Britain, Canada and Italy also deplored the Iraqi move.Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said the Iraqi tactic was "in effect a war crime." He and Britain's chief of staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir David Craig, said it would not deflect the allied air assault.
That onslaught continued Monday with a constant stream of U.S. warplanes roaring off the runways of a huge air base in Saudi Arabia. At a military briefing, Air Force Maj. Gen. Burton Moore said 8,100 sorties had been flown since the start of the war, though the allies were "nowhere near" their objective to knock out Iraq's Scud launching ability.
U.S. Patriot missiles, meanwhile, thwarted Iraq's boldest attack of the 5-day-old Persian Gulf war, turning back an early morning shower of missiles ticketed for Saudi Arabia (see accompanying story).
The overnight barrage of Iraqi Scud-type missiles was aimed at the Saudi capital of Riyadh and at Dhahran, site of a huge air base. Moore said eight were destroyed and a ninth fell harmlessly into the Persian Gulf - down from previous indications that there were 10 missiles.
One missile hit Riyadh, damaging a building in a residential neighborhood, but it was unclear whether it was a Scud that was not counted in the military's tally, a Patriot that went awry or some other rocket.
There were no injuries, the Joint Arab Command said.
Baghdad radio said Monday it held more than 20 prisoners of war, the highest number it had yet claimed. The radio, monitored in Nicosia, denounced the allied bombing as "devoid of the minimum human standards" and said, "Because of this rocketing, it was decided to disperse the more than 20 prisoners of war to civilian, economic, education and other targets."
The United States says its bombing has targeted strategic sites and has tried to avoid civilian buildings.
Monday's move to scatter the POWs at target sites came a day after it displayed seven POWs - three Americans, two Britons, an Italian and a Kuwaiti - on Baghdad television.
Answering questions put to them, the prisoners spoke stiffly and haltingly, some echoing phrases often used by the Iraqi government.
"I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq," said one of the captured fliers, who identified himself as Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, 28.
"I condemn this aggression against peaceful Iraq," said Warrant Officer Guy Hunter Jr., 39.
The third American, identified as Marine Lt. Col. Cliff Acree, hesitated after giving a rank and first name. The Iraqi questioner then cut in and gave the last name.
To those who knew them, the words uttered in wooden voices did not ring true. "It doesn't sound like Jeff," said Zaun's father, Calvin Zaun of Cherry Hill, N.J.
In Washington, the State Department "strongly protested Iraq's apparent treatment of U.S. prisoners of war as contrary to the third Geneva Convention of 1949" - an assertion that was supported by officials of the International Red Cross.
The Geneva Convention on treatment of POWs, which Iraq signed, says prisoners "must at all times be protected particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."
Iraq claims the allies have lost more than 150 aircraft - nearly 10 times the 17 aircraft the allies have reported lost, 15 of them to hostile fire. That includes 10 American aircraft - one of them a Navy F-14 that was downed Monday.
Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Pepin told reporters in Saudi Arabia that allied pilots are "looking at some of the most formidable air defenses ever encountered."
"The only way I can describe it is if you turn a room into the world's biggest popcorn popper and try to walk from one end to the other without getting hit by a piece of popcorn," said one Stealth bomber pilot.
The commander of U.S. forces in the gulf, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, said Sunday that pilots are locating many of Iraq's mobile missile launchers - and have crippled some Iraqi nuclear reactors.
Moore, the director of operations for the U.S. Central Command, said Saddam's ability to communicate with his troops had been impaired but not eliminated. Overall, "we are well on our way to our objectives," he said.
Rear Adm. Riley L. Mixson, commander of the Red Sea battle force of about 30 ships, said the air war would take at least two more weeks - even longer if the Iraqi air force continues to avoid dogfights and keeps the bulk of its planes on the ground. That would require intensive bombing to destroy the planes in their heavily fortified bunkers, he said Sunday.
Saddam boasted Sunday that once the ground war began, the allies would pay a terrible price.
"Our ground forces have not entered the battle so far, and only a small part of our air force has been used," he said on Baghdad radio. "When the confrontation begins with an all-out battle with all kinds of weapons and arms, the extent of the death in the enemy ranks will increase."
Israel, after two nights of Iraqi missile attacks, spent a second consecutive night free of alarms and incoming missiles. U.S. Patriot missiles and crews were sent to Israel over the weekend.