Border raids by Iraq fuel anger in US

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TENSIONS between Iraq and the United States were rising to crisis levels once again yesterday as Iraqi personnel made a second illegal incursion in as many days into a United Nations compound just inside Kuwaiti territory.

Meanwhile, Robert Gates, the CIA director, said Iraq was moving anti-aircraft missiles inside both its northern and southern no fly-zones, but that it was too early to say whether they threatened allied aircraft.

The UN Security Council last night condemned the first raid, and demanded Baghdad return the seized missiles. But the 15-nation council warned only vaguely of the 'serious consequences' of Iraq's defiance. The council president, Ambassador Yoshio Hatano of Japan, did not 'foresee a use of force by the UN immediately'.

Reacting angrily to what it sees as another in a string of challenges by Saddam Hussein to the authority of the UN and the Gulf war alliance, the White House denounced the border crossings and warned they may be met with military retaliation.

President George Bush's spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said that while the earlier ultimatum on removing missiles from the no-fly zone had been answered, further violations of UN resolutions could be met by force, without warning. 'It's clear from this raid into Kuwait that Saddam Hussein is continuing his pattern of trying to cheat wherever possible. We'll demand compliance. Further incursions would not be treated with a warning of any kind.'

His statement did not make clear whether the US considers that the latest flurry over the Kuwaiti border justifies retaliation. Options include air strikes on missiles, and further restrictions on Iraq, by extending the southern no-fly zone.

In New York, the Iraqi envoy to the UN, Nizar Hamdoon, told reporters that Iraq had received permission from UN officials in charge of monitoring the demilitarised zone either side of the Iraq-Kuwait border to retrieve the equipment, lost by Iraq at the conclusion of the Gulf war. But Mr Fitzwater retorted: 'As far as we're concerned, it's a violation of the ceasefire.'

Iraq has argued that it had been empowered by the UN to pick up its material from its old warehouses, and that no UN resolution forbids it from taking with it arms, including Silkworm missiles. Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution 687, the Gulf war ceasefire resolution, rules out only weapons of mass destruction.

The confrontation comes two days after Washington said Iraq had satisfied an ultimatum delivered last Wednesday that it remove anti-aircraft missiles from the no-fly zone. US and allied forces in the Gulf put on alert for a strike against Iraq during that crisis remained ready for action yesterday, US officials confirmed.

UN officials in Kuwait said a second band of 120 Iraqis returned to the compound near the UMM Qasr border post yesterday, taking more equipment and beginning to dismantle warehouses.