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Iraq scoffs at US claims it uses "concrete bombs" in Iraq

Agence France Presse

BAGHDAD, Oct 7 (AFP) - Iraq on Thursday scoffed at US remarks that its fighter jets are dropping bombs with concrete instead of explosives on targets in northern Iraq to keep civilian casualties at a minimum.

"The deaths of dozens of civilians during the criminal bombardments is blatant proof of the lies and allegations of the United States, who claim to be using concrete bombs to limit casualties," a military spokesman said.

"US officials, who have suffered a stinging defeat, are vainly trying to contain international anger in the face of their odious crimes against our country and people," he said on state television.

Iraq says that US and British air raids since their four-day December air war have killed 187 people and injured 494, including civilians.

But the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton said earlier Thursday that Washington had been using the concrete bombs "for a long time."

Shelton declined to go into further detail about the use of the bombs in Iraq, except to say that they were meant for use against targets where there is the risk of civilian casualties.

"If we have a specific target that we are very concerned about collateral damage, but it's important that we hit that, that is a technique that we have of going after it in some cases."

The concrete bombs have been used against military targets near residential neighborhoods in northern Iraq, the officials said.

The use of the concrete bombs was first reported by the New York Times. The bombs destroy the target but lack "the explosive arc" of regular munitions, keeping civilian casualties at a minimum, US military officials told the daily.

The innovative ordnance has been used in northern Iraq, but not in the south, which is covered by a separate US military command, the officials said.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has responded to US and British patrols enforcing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq by placing elements of his air defense systems near civilian populations, coalition officials say.

US officials say the strategy is designed to invite attacks that will foment international sympathy for Iraq.

Aware of this strategy, US and British pilots are told to avoid playing into Hussein's hand, the officials said.

"It's between none and minimal collateral damage that we'll accept," Major Hugh Hanlon, a US Air Force pilot stationed at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, told the Times.

But the military officials refused to say how the bombs work or how long the have been in use, the daily said.

Since December, US and British aircraft have made nearly 16,000 sorties over southern Iraq dropping 550 bombs over 135 targets and more than 11,000 sorties over northern Iraq, with more than 1,100 bombs against more than 250 targets.

Military commanders in Europe and the United States said the air strikes in Iraq will stop when Iraq stops firing on the patrols, but acknowledged the Iraqis have the ability to continue resisting for some time to come.

"It's reached a stalemate," said British Group Captain Graham Dixon. "I'm not sure there can be a way around this as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.

"I personally see this as a long-term proposition, not a short-term one," he added.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

Link to Iraq index for more information on the sanctions and bomb attacks.

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