Clinton acclaims Iraq strike: - US moves aircraft carrier closer to Iraq - Kurds most likely target for retaliation - 10,000 call for revenge at funeral for the dead

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton hailed the US missile attack on Iraq's military intelligence headquarters as a success yesterday, but officials doubt privately if the action will do much to change Saddam Hussein's behaviour. The strike on Baghdad was in retaliation for an Iraqi attempt to assassinate George Bush, the former US president.

The intelligence headquarters was hit by 16 out of 23 missiles fired by US ships on Saturday evening, according to Pentagon officials. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: 'The Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters has pretty much been destroyed and that was our intention.' The Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired 800 miles away from Baghdad by two cruisers, the USS Peterson in the Red Sea and the USS Chancellorsville in the Gulf.

In Baghdad, hospital doctors said at least eight people were killed by three missiles which went astray, leaving craters 30ft deep. Layla al-Attar, an Iraqi artist, and her husband died when a missile struck their house. A photographer with AFP, the news agency, said the Venezuelan embassy was damaged.

President Clinton, on his way to church yesterday, said: 'It was clear it was a success. I feel quite good about what transpired. I think the American people should feel good.' Asked about civilian loss of life, he said he regretted the casualties but they had been kept to a minimum.

The missile attack on Baghdad received general support from US political leaders but some expressed private concerns that once again military success against Iraq would not produce political dividends. One US commentator said: 'Saddam Hussein is like a kewpie doll. Knock him down and he pops right back up.' Although the attack was launched unilaterally by the US and not, as with Desert Storm, as the result of a UN Security Council decision, the US action received general support from its allies.

Russia, which had misgivings about earlier raids on Iraq in January, expressed strong agreement with US retaliation.

President Clinton decided to act after receiving confirmation from the FBI and CIA last week that the Iraqi government had organised a plot to kill Mr Bush when he was visiting Kuwait between 14 and 16 April. Some 16 suspects were arrested then, including two Iraqi nationals who said they had been recruited and briefed to make a car bomb attack by Iraqi intelligence agents in Basra on 12 April.

US intelligence also found that the explosives wired to the car were of the same type as those used in the past by Iraqi intelligence. 'We could not and have not let such action against our nation go unanswered,' Mr Clinton said in his television address on Saturday night announcing the attack, early on Sunday morning in Baghdad. 'From the first days of our revolution, America's security has depended on the clarity of this message: Don't tread on us.'

This is a harsher message than Mr Clinton has been accustomed to produce during the presidential campaign and his first months in office. But it is in keeping with the more assertive image he has been cultivating in recent weeks.

The attack on Baghdad comes a fortnight after he ordered US gunships to take action in Somalia; both moves are in contrast to Mr Clinton's indecisive behaviour over Bosnia.

The military intelligence headquarters is a large building behind a compound wall in the properous al-Mansour district of Baghdad.

Houses there are spaced well apart, limiting the risk of civilian casualties, but at least a dozen were destroyed or badly damaged. Journalists saw two bodies in a street where three houses were destroyed. An angry crowd of 10,000 Iraqis, shouting Allah Akbar and demanding revenge, joined a funeral procession yesterday for some of those killed. As indignant demonstrators yelled 'Vengeance, Vengeance Saddam', a few old women lining the street wept. Black placards carried by demonstrators said: 'Martyrs' souls call for vengeance. Glory to the martyrs of Iraq. Shame on America.' The crowd shouted the first anti-Clinton slogans heard in the streets of Baghdad. 'Clinton pay attention, we are the people who toppled Bush,' they chanted.

After the attack, President Saddam Hussein met with his Revolution Command Council and with the regional command of his ruling Baath Party, according to the state news agency. It said urgent action was being taken to take care of those injured by 'the US criminal and terrorist aggression against Iraq'.

The main US concern now is to see what action, if any, Iraq will take in response to the US action. General Powell said Iraqi airpower was no longer significant and its air defence system was not in good shape. But he added that the US is moving the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt from the eastern Mediterranean closer to Iraq. Moving the Roosevelt underlines the intention of the US not to play a significant role in Bosnia, where Mr Clinton contemplated using force earlier this year.

In a caustic comment, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, said: 'I hope the US policy positions will be as firm towards the crimes the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina are committing in violation of legitimacy and all international charters.'

The Iraqi response which would cause Washington most concern would be a ground attack into Kurdistan. For almost two years the three northern Kurdish provinces have enjoyed de facto independence but the Iraqi army, which still has 2,500 tanks, could recapture the enclave, possibly even in the face of allied air attack. Such a move has been dreaded by the US and its allies because it could not be dealt with by Tomahawk missiles and might require ground troops.

Last night at a Security Council meeting, the US displayed photographs of a car bomb and other explosives which, it said, proved the Iraqi government had directed a plot to kill Mr Bush.

A SENIOR Foreign Office official yesterday left London for Iraq just hours after the attack to see the three British men jailed for illegally entering the country. The visit by Stephen Howarth, head of the Foreign Office's consular department in London, had been planned since May. But relatives of Simon Dunn, 23, Paul Ride, 33, and Michael Wainwright, 42, all being held near Baghdad, said the missile strikes had destroyed any hope of the men being freed.

(Photograph omitted)

Raid on Baghdad, page 8

Leading article, page 17

Stripping the emperor, page 19