American planes free to attack Iraqi radar sites

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THE UNITED STATES has widened the rules of engagement for aircraft flying over Iraq, allowing them to fire on Iraqi air defence sites before they are targeted by them.

The decision represents another escalation in the conflict, with signs growing that a fresh outbreak of violence is likely. Iraq continues to criticise its neighbours for the backing it says they have given to Washington and London, while American officials hint broadly that they believe the regime is on its last legs.

The US Defense Department said yesterday that planes would be allowed to fire at radar sites even if they were not locking on to allied aircraft. To demonstrate the new tactics, a US aircraft fired a missile at an Iraqi radar site in the no-fly zone over northern Iraq yesterday, the fifth such episode in the past few weeks. The Pentagon said that, unlike previous such attacks, this was on an early-warning radar site, part of Iraq's integrated air defences. In the other cases, the US and Britain have said that their aircraft were targeted by surface-to-air missiles, and fired back.

"The radar was seen as posing a threat to coalition forces in the area," said a Pentagon spokesman. Previously, early-warning radars were not attacked, though American and British pilots were allowed to fire at them if they felt they posed a threat.

The war of words between Iraq and its neighbours spread yesterday as the Iraqi parliament accused Kuwait of backing insurgents against the regime.

"The Iraqi National Assembly stressed that the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are influential partners to the United States and Britain through presenting facilities for aggression on Iraq," said the official Iraqi News Agency.

In particular, Kuwait was accused of "financing and supporting acts of killing and terrorism against the Iraqi people and its institutions through receiving agents and betrayers and publishing leaflets that incite conspiracies on Iraq."

The US Defense Secretary, William Cohen, said that Saddam "is lashing out verbally, rhetorically, against the Saudis, against the Egyptians, against the Kuwaitis". He said this "would seem to indicate that he is certainly more agitated and frantic".