British and US planes hit Iraqi targets

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The Independent Online
BRITISH AND United States warplanes were involved in incidents over Iraq yesterday, with Royal Air Force Tornados using their firepower for only the second time since the joint Operation Desert Fox before Christmas.

According to British and US officials, a total of six military objectives in the northern and southern no-fly zones were hit. Iraqi forces were said to have launched ground-to-air missiles and fired anti-aircraft shells, but none of the planes was hit and they all returned safely to base.

British jets had fired earlier in the week at an Iraqi aircraft sighted during a routine patrol of the southern no-fly zone.

The Pentagon also confirmed a third operation off the coast of Iraq, when US warplanes attacked - and apparently destroyed - Iraqi anti-ship missile launchers deployed along the Gulf. Two US aircraft dropped four laser-guided bombs on the site. US officials said that Baghdad had moved the weapons to their positions recently and speculated that they had been deployed as a threat to US warships or commercial shipping in the region.

The Iraqi Defence Ministry subsequently issued a statement saying that it had confronted Western aircraft which attacked its air defences in the north and south of the country, and had forced many of them to flee. It claimed that hostile aircraft had also attacked a food ration centre in the south and that Saudi pilots were involved in the attacks. Both claims were denied by the Pentagon, and Saudi state television said that the report was "fabricated".

The attack on the coastal anti-ship missile site was reported by the Pentagon as a new departure in what have become almost daily confrontations over Iraq. Previous attacks have targeted land-based missile launchers and radar, not coastal installations.

The current escalation of tension dates from the announcement by Baghdad after the Desert Fox operation that it would no longer recognise the no- fly zones set up after the Gulf War in 1991.