The Pentagon is calling it "environmental terrorism."

President Bush says it is irrational, desperate and sick.No one seems to know the extent of the damage, environmental and miltary, from an oil spill in the Persian Gulf that the Pentagon says is likely to amount to "more than a dozen times" the 11 million gallons that the Exxon Valdez tanker leaked into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

"I admit (Saddam Hussein) does irrational things. . . . It looks desperate. It looks last gasp. It doesn't measure up to any military doctrine of any kind. It's kind of sick," Bush said.

Iraq has sabotaged Kuwait's main supertanker loading pier, dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf, officials said Friday.

Bush compared the sabotage to Saddam's use of Scud missiles and allied prisoners of war - destructive action that has no value to the Iraqi military effort.

Any amphibious landing by the Marines might have to contend with the oil, but "planning takes things like that into account," Marine Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston, the U.S. Central Command's chief of staff, told reporters.

The spill was first detected three days ago and an oil slick has spread almost 10 miles toward Saudi waters, a Saudi military spokesman said. The oil could threaten several desalination plants that provide drinking water.

The Iraqis might also be dumping oil from tankers anchored off Kuwait to increase the spread of oil, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said.

In a letter released Friday at the United Nations, Iraq accused the United States of causing a vast oil spill in the gulf by its bombing of two Iraqi tankers earlier this week.

Some gulf-based oil industry officials raised the possibility that the spill, already serious, could become disastrous if Saddam set the slick on fire. But experts noted that crude oil - unlike refined products such as gasoline - does not burn easily.

Lt. Col. Ahmed Robayan, the Saudi military spokesman, said the oil was flowing steadily from pumps at the Sea Island terminal, 10 miles offshore from Kuwait's main petroleum refinery and loading complex at Al-Ahmadi, just south of Kuwait City.

The Iraqis apparently turned on the pumps and let them run, Ro-bayan said.

The pumps can move as much as 40 million gallons of oil per day, but there was no immediate estimate about how much was flowing into the gulf.

Johnston noted the oil spill was in enemy territory, adding, "We can't just go in and shut it off."

White House presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the Defense and Energy departments were monitoring the oil dumping and "examining contingencies for dealing with it."

"We don't have any plan at this point," he said.

Saudi officers said gulf currents appeared to be keeping the slick away from the coast as it drifted south, and any immediate threat to land appeared minimal.

Chris Squires, an Independent Television News cameraman holed up in an evacuated hotel in Khafji, a Saudi port city on Kuwaiti coast, said the air was thick with the smell of oil for the past three days. The slick came within view of shore Thursday, he said.

"It as far as the eye can see," Squires said. "The oil is so thick the water can hardly build up a wave. It's a gurgling noise. It's like mud."

It would be the second act of major sabotage at a Kuwaiti oil facility since the war broke out eight days ago. On Tuesday, U.S. and Saudi officials reported that oil wells and storage tanks had been set afire at the Al-Wafrah field in southern Kuwait near the Saudi border and at the Shueiba industrial complex just south of Al-Ahmadi.

U.S. officers said they had "clear evidence" the Iraqis had sabotaged the oil field but declined for security reasons to disclose it.

Smoke from those fires was seen as a possible hindrance to the conduct of air attacks by U.S. and allied warplanes against targets in Kuwait, but U.S. officers said they would not pose a major problem.

On Thursday, U.S. Central Command officials said no air strikes had been flown against the Al-Ahmadi terminal. "It's not the sort of thing that you'd choose as a military target," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Scott, a command spokesman.


Desert Notebook

Number of days since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait: 177

Allied Aircraft lost: United States - 11

Allies - 11

Oil price per barrel: Aug 2 - $20

Today - $24.85


Approximate number