Allies end air war after four days

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THE US and Britain called an end to Operation Desert Fox last night after four days of bombing Iraq, but warned that they could resume it at any moment."That operation is now complete," said Bill Clinton. Tony Blair warned that Saddam Hussein "should be in no doubt that we remain ready to act again".

Both the US President and the Prime Minister, in closely co-ordinated statements at 11pm London time, said that the only durable way that Iraq could live with the rest of the world was if President Saddam was removed. Military officials in London and Washington have said that undermining the current regime was a key aim of the air raids. "It is without any doubt at all our desire to see the end of Saddam Hussein," the Prime Minister said earlier. "And if that could be assisted in any way by the campaign we have fought over these past few days then we would welcome that."

London and Washington spoke as the last aircraft returned from a final wave of air strikes over Iraq. American and British warplanes went into action for the fourth night running last night. Cruise missiles were also reported to have exploded in Baghdad and anti-aircraft fire lit up the sky. There were no allied casualties.

Iraq responded defiantly. Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan said: "I tell you all that Iraq will continue to defend its land, policy and dignity. We will fight until the last citizen." United Nations weapons inspections, he added, were a thing of the past. Iraqi civilian fatalities have been estimated at between 50 and 100, with up to 200 wounded.

The extensive air strikes had achieved their objectives, the allies said. "I'm confident we have achieved our mission," said Mr Clinton.

"We set out to diminish and degrade Saddam's military capability, and we have done so," said Mr Blair. "Tonight significant parts of Saddam's military infrastructure are in ruins.'' US officials said that the Iraqi missile programme had been set back a year. More than 90 targets have been hit, the Pentagon said.

In Washington and London, officials said key divisions of the Republican Guard, President Saddam's elite vanguard military units, had been targeted in last week's air strikes, in an attempt to kill thousands of them and encourage a revolt.

"We have done serious damage to Saddam's military machine, his command and control systems, his missile production capability and particularly serious damage to the Republican Guard organisation,'' Mr Blair said earlier. George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, said: "The Republican Guard are the lynchpin of Saddam's regime. If the Republican Guard ceased to support Saddam, his whole brutal regime would be under immediate threat."

Ministry of Defence figures show that of the total of 130 attacks carried out over the first two nights of bombing in Operation Desert Fox, 80 were aimed at Republican Guard or Special Republican Guard targets.

Today, Britain and America will set out a strategy to go beyond arms inspections, with no expectation that Unscom weapons inspectors will be able to return. Mr Clinton said that this would involve maintaining a military presence in the region, and being ready to strike again.

Focus, pages 14-17