Iran's deputy Parliament speaker warned Friday that Iran would abandon its neutrality and fight alongside Iraq if Israel joined the gulf war.
As a high-ranking Iraqi official visited for talks with the government, Tehran Radio reported that Iran also sent a shipment of medicine and milk to Baghdad and opened a bank account for donations to Iraq."If Israel is stupid enough to respond to Iraqi missile attacks, then (Iran's leaders) . . . will undoubtedly take a position quite different from their present one," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted deputy speaker Assadollah Bayat as saying.
Meanwhile, in the United States President Bush spent the day on a morale-boosting tour at Marine, Army and Air Force bases in North Carolina and Georgia, praising the valor of American forces and the sacrifices of families waiting for their loved ones.
In other gulf developments:
- Heavy winds held back a huge oil spill in the Persian Gulf Friday, giving emergency crews a few days' time to deploy protective equipment aimed at saving key installations along Saudia Arabia's coast.
However, the officials noted that protective equipment such as booms and skimmers - huge pumps that remove the oil and leave it on a barge - is in such scarce supply that there would be none available to protect wilderness areas or wildlife after strategic installations are guarded.
- Allied military officials said Friday that Saddam Hussein sacrificed hundreds of soldiers in his short-lived campaign to capture and hold the border town of Khafji.
Official casualty and POW figures varied but were approximately 30 Iraqis dead, 33 wounded and 400-500 captured. Saudi and Qatari troops who retook Khafji also seized "enough equipment to equip an entire armored battalion and an infantry battalion."
- British officials say their warplanes have destroyed a cache of Iraqi Scud missiles, the terrifying rockets that Baghdad has fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia.
"It was a monster hit on a monster target," Royal Air Force Group Capt. Niall Irving told a briefing.
Tehran has stressed its neutrality during the war to drive Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. At the same time it has expressed outrage at the damage allied bombing is causing in Iraq. Bayat was not the first Iranian official to threaten to enter the war if Israel does so.
The head of the Iranian judiciary, speaking at Tehran University Friday, slammed Bush for alleged allied attacks on civilian targets in Iraq. "Bush says he does not want to destroy Iraq, but these are empty words," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said.
Iranian officials also have said they were unhappy Iraqi planes had flown into Iran without prior permission. Tehran says 16 Iraqi fighter jets have flown into its airspace and 11 landed safely. U.S. military officials say about 90 Iraqi aircraft have sought shelter in Iran.
There has been no official explanation for the development.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati met with Saadoun Hamadi, a senior aide to Saddam, late Thursday and said the planes and their crews would be impounded for the war's duration.
Bush's morale-boosting tour
Bush consoled the wives and children of airmen downed by Iraq and promised families of front-line infantry troops that a ground war will "only begin if necessary and when we decide the time is right."
"We will conduct this conflict on our terms, on our timetable, not on Saddam Hussein's timetable," Bush said before a flag-waving audience composed mostly of families of members of the 24th Infantry Brigade Mechanized, now on duty in the Persian Gulf.
With more than 500,000 Americans deployed overseas, Bush told the families at home, "I know it's been tough, it may get tougher." He cited two families at Fort Stewart - one with three children, the other with two - in which both the father and mother were serving in the Persian Gulf.
"When we win - and we will - we will have taught a dangerous dictator and any tyrant tempted to follow in his footsteps that the U.S. has a new credibility and that what we say goes," Bush said, prompting loud cheers.
Sixteen days into Operation Desert Storm, Bush said Iraq's ability to wage war "is being systematically destroyed" and declared, "We are on course, we are on schedule and things go well."
Bush saved some of his toughest rhetoric for his last stop, at Ft. Stewart. He denounced Saddam Hussein for his terrorist bombings of Israel and Saudi Arabia, his mistreatment of POWs and the intentional spillage of millions of gallons of oil into the gulf.
Bush said Saddam had an "endless appetite for evil."
Iraqi and U.S.-led forces probed and parried anew Friday in Saudi Arabia's battle-hot Khafji corner, the winddown of skirmishes in which Marines and Iraqi intruders battled just yards apart in the chilly desert.
Iraqi mechanized units were on the move inside Kuwait, U.S. and Saudi military sources reported, raising the prospect of a major new assault. But a senior U.S. military official said the Iraqis were not believed headed south.
Iraqi border positions were being hit again and again in hundreds of sorties by Desert Storm bombers, the U.S. command said. Giant B-52s joined in pounding the Iraqi troops.
As the Desert Storm air war went on without letup, Iraqi radio claimed U.S. and allied warplanes were machine-gunning pedestrians in Iraq. Captured pilots should be treated as "war criminals," the radio declared.
In other gulf-related developments:
- Iraqi troops dug in along the Kuwait border are under barrage by more than allied bombs. The enemy is being hit daily by U.S. leaflets promising good treatment for surrender and death if they resist.
U.S. officials say at least 4 million leaflets have been dropped over Iraqi positions in Kuwait.
- Forty-four U.S. journalists and news executives appealed Friday to Iraq and four other Middle East nations for help in finding four CBS newsmen who disappeared Jan. 21 while covering the gulf war.
- Iraq's claims of battlefield victory have boosted the morale of its citizens and soldiers, and many are eager for a major ground showdown, refugees arriving from Iraq said.
But, the refugees added, the bodies of fallen soldiers were beginning to return home and might have an impact on Iraqis.
- Former President Jimmy Carter, in his first public comments on the Persian Gulf war, criticized the Bush administration Thursday for not allowing for a negotiated settlement. But he also said, "I'm not intending to criticize President Bush. My heart goes out to him."