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Iraq Says US, British Jets Hit Civilian Areas
15 June 2002
US and British warplanes staged an attack on southern Iraq on Friday that Baghdad said struck civilian targets and Washington called a response to threats against western aircraft patrolling a "no-fly" zone.
The U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa, Florida, said in a statement that warplanes attacked a military air defense radar facility in response to attempts to shoot down U.S. and British warplanes on Thursday.
Damage to the radar command and control target at Al Amarah, about 165 miles southeast of Baghdad, was still being determined, the command said.
An Iraqi military spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) that the planes carried out 42 sorties from bases in Kuwait at 11:20 a.m. on Friday and flew over the provinces of Basra, Nassiriya, Samawa, Amarah and other areas in the south of the country.
"The enemy attacked our civilian and service installations in Amarah," the spokesman said.
The U.S. military had said the attack took place at 1:20 p.m. Iraq time.
No casualties were reported.
The spokesman said Iraq's ground air defenses fired at the planes and forced them to return to their bases.
The attack was the latest in a long series of tit-for-tat exchanges in policing by western warplanes of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War came.
Baghdad last reported firing by U.S. and British aircraft on the south of the country was on May 31, when it said three people were wounded.
Such exchanges have become more frequent in recent months amid speculation that the United States might be preparing to invade Iraq to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, accused by Washington of developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorism.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said in Brussels last week that Iraq, which does not recognize the no-fly zones, had become more aggressive in threatening U.S. and British jets. He also stressed after talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he was specifically referring to action related to the no-fly zones and not any broader attack.
Iraq's al-Thawra newspaper on Friday ratcheted up rhetoric against the no-fly zones, saying Iraq had the right to develop its means to confront the western aircraft.
"What the American and British planes do is not an 'international mission' but a hostile act against Iraq in violation of U.N. charter and rules of the international law," al-Thawra, the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath Party, said in a front page editorial.
"Iraq has the right to confront this aggression according to the U.N. charter and international law and develop all its means to confront it regardless of what would happen to the American and British pilots who violate its air space and perpetrate crimes of killing and destruction," it added.
"This is what every independent state does toward those who threaten its sovereignty," the paper added.
Reuters, Baghdad (c) 2002 Reuters Ltd