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IRAN BEGINS WEEK OF GULF NAVAL MANEUVERS

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Iran began a week of naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf Saturday, and one senior Iranian official said the war games were the most extensive since the Islamic revolution 10 years ago.

Iran's state-run radio, monitored in Nicosia, said the air force and army also would take part in the maneuvers over a "wide area" of the gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the strategic Hormuz Strait.It said navy destroyers, missile ships, troop carriers, Hovercraft, air force fighter jets, mine-detecting helicopters and Revolutionary Guards naval units were participating.

A senior Iranian official identified only as Izadi said, "These naval maneuvers are the biggest since the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979," the radio reported.

The report said Izadi was speaking from a ship participating in the exercises.

The maneuvers are code-named Zulfiqar-5 after the legendary double-edged sword of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Ali is revered by Shiite Moslems as a spiritual leader.

Zulfiqar-5 is "aimed at coordinating the forces of the Iranian navy and the Revolutionary Guards, and at upgrading the expert defense capabilities of the forces in Iranian and international waters," the radio said.

President Hashemi Rafsanjani said last month the navy had acquired "vital equipment" that would improve its capability.

He did not elaborate. But Western military analysts believe he may have been indicating that Chinese-made Silkworm anti-ship missiles have been deployed on Iranian warships for the first time.

The analysts said the Iranian navy has been seeking a new seaborne missile system.

The Iranians are believed to have test-fired a ship-borne Silkworm in the Persian Gulf three months ago.

The maneuvers are the second major naval exercise since last year's cease-fire in Iran's eight-year war with Iraq. They are the first since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader and chief of the armed forces, dropped Rear Adm. Mohammad-Hussein Malekzadegan as naval commander last month.