The New York Times

The New York Times
May 19, 1987, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition
BYLINE: By STEVEN V. ROBERTS, Special to the New York Times
SECTION: Section A; Page 1, Column 6; Foreign Desk
LENGTH: 1288 words
The Pentagon said today that 28 sailors were killed in the Iraqi missile attack Sunday
night on a United States Navy frigate in the Persian Gulf.
President Reagan, after meeting with his top advisers, put American military vessels
in the gulf region on a heightened state of alert and protested the attack on the
guided-missile frigate Stark in the ''strongest terms.''
American officials said the Iraqi attack seemed to be inadvertent. But the White
House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said that from now on any Iraqi or Iranian
aircraft ''flying in a pattern which indicates hostile intent will be fired upon, unless
they provide adequate notification of their intentions.''
'Unintentional Accident'
In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq admitted that Iraqi planes were
responsible for the missile attack. Mr. Hussein sent a message to Mr. Reagan in
which he said, ''I hope this unintentional accident will not affect relations between
Iraq and the United States of America.''
Mr. Fitzwater said, ''We feel this does represent an apology.''
Since 1984, when the war between Iran and Iraq expanded to include attacks on
naval targets of other countries, about 230 ships, primarily oil tankers, have been hit
by Iraqi and Iranian attacks. The attack on the Stark was the deadliest single strike.
Questions About Ship's Reaction
There were many unanswered questions today about why the American frigate did
not defend herself against a French-made Exocet missile fired by one of two Iraqi
planes that tracked the vessel. The Stark was equipped with a highly advanced
antimissile defense that is supposed to be able to shoot down an Exocet.
Pentagon officials said that the Stark knew she was being tracked by the Iraqi planes
and that she knew of the launching of the missiles at least one minute before impact.
The Stark apparently failed to take any defensive or retaliatory action, even after she
spotted Iraqi warplanes on her radar and detected the missiles. Apparently one of
two sea-skimming missiles hit the frigate on the port side of her bow.
Ship Limping Toward Bahrain
The Stark was limping toward the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain, 85 miles
southwest of the site of the attack. The Pentagon said this afternoon that the Stark
was about 60 miles from port.
The decision to increase the alert status in the Persian Gulf was made this afternoon
at a meeting of the National Security Planning Group, a panel of the President's top
national security advisers. Mr. Reagan presided over the meeting in the Situation
Room of the White House, according to Mr. Fitzwater.
Mr. Fitzwater said Iran and Iraq, which have been at war for seven years, would be
notified of the change in alert status.
Under the new rules, an American vessel caught in a similar position in the future
would presumably be freer to defend itself more promptly. But it was unclear why
the Stark was not on a higher state of alert while she was in the Persian Gulf, which
has been the scene of repeated air attacks in recent years.
Mr. Reagan said the attack would not deter American naval vessels from continuing
their patrols in shipping lanes heavily traveled by oil tankers; the shipping lanes are
considered vital to Western security interests.
''We remain deeply committed to supporting the self-defense of our friends in the
gulf and to insuring the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz,'' the President
said at a ceremony in the Rose Garden honoring leading American exporters.
'Concern and Anger'
''I know and I share the sense of concern and anger that Americans feel over
yesterday's tragedy in the Persian Gulf,'' he said.
In his statement, Mr. Fitzwater said the United States expected ''an apology and
compensation for the men who died in this tragic incident,'' adding, ''We also seek
compensation for the ship.''
Pentagon officials said they remained puzzled today about the reason for the attack,
how it was executed and why the Stark failed to defend herself. The immediate
problems of extinguishing fires on board and of evacuating the dead and wounded
continued to hamper communication with the vessel.
Mr. Fitzwater repeated statements made Sunday that in the Administration's view,
the missile attack ''was an inadvertent strike'' and perhaps a case of mistaken identity.
''We know of no motive for this kind of action,'' he said.
Before Mr. Hussein's apology, the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Nizar
Hamdoon, said in an interview with the Cable News Network that Iraq ''has no
intentions whatsoever to attack an American ship.''
Several Recent Attacks
The attack on the Stark highlighted the explosive nature of the war between Iraq and
Iran. In the latest attack in the so-called tanker war, a Norwegian-owned supertanker,
the Golar Robin, was set ablaze in an attack by Iranian boats off Saudi Arabia in the
northern gulf today, shipping sources in Bahrain told Reuters.
The United States has been discussing ways of protecting ships traveling to and from
Kuwait, an Iraqi ally at the head of the gulf, that have been the major target of
Iranian attacks. The Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian
Affairs, Richard W. Murphy, has just completed a visit to Iraq to stress American
commitment to free passage in the gulf.
Although the United States is officially neutral in the war, a position that Mr.
Fitzwater reaffirmed today, its discussions with Kuwait clearly indicate a sympathy
for the Iraqis. That is why the Iraqi attack was particularly confusing and upsetting.
In his Rose Garden comments today, Mr. Reagan said the assault on the Stark
underscored the need to end the war between Iran and Iraq. Ambassador Hamdoon
agreed with the President's comments and added, ''We are trying to tell people in the
last few years that, 'Look, this war could lead to very bad byproducts and could
escalate at any point.' ''
U.S. Plane Watched Attack
In trying to sort out the events of Sunday night, Pentagon officials said an American
surveillance aircraft, patrolling the Persian Gulf from its base in Saudi Arabia, had
watched an Iraqi Mirage jet fly south through the darkness toward Bahrain, execute
the attack and return home.
The officials, lacking many essential details, said the Stark had twice tried to warn
off the Iraqi jet as it closed in. But they said they did not know if the pilot heard or
understood the warning that he was about to attack an American warship.
Officers aboard the Stark reported that they had been hit by two missiles, fired by
separate planes. But information provided by the surveillance aircraft indicated that
the vessel was hit by a single missile.
The original casualty report said three crewmen had been killed; the other 25
casualties were discovered today in a part of the ship that had been badly burned and
could not be explored earlier. The Pentagon has not yet made public a list of the
dead and wounded.
A C-141 hospital plane, carrying 20 specialists in war wounds, flew today from
West Germany to Bahrain, where two seriously wounded crewmen were being
WASHINGTON, May 18 - Following is a partial listing, provided by the Navy, of
crewmen killed in the Iraqi attack on the U.S.S. Stark:
DeANGELIS, Christopher Werner, electronics technician second class, Dumont, N.J.
KISER, Stephen Greg, senior chief electrician's mate, Elkhart, Ind.
MacMULLEN, Thomas Joseph, gunner's mate first class, Darby, Pa.
PHELPS, Jeffrey Lee, seaman, Locust Grove, Va.
SHIPPEE, Robert Laurence, senior chief fire controlman, Adams Center, N.Y.