The incidents follow two attacks by US aircraft on Iraqi missile batteries after surface-to-air missiles were launched at them, and is part of a pattern of rapidly increasing military tensions. Weeks after the US and British air campaign against Iraqi military targets, Baghdad is showing that it is capable of challenging the allied forces in the air.
US F-15 aircraft were patrolling the southern no-fly zone south-west of Baghdad at about 10am local time when they were targeted with radar by Iraqi fighters. The allied aircraft fired missiles but were not sure whether any hit their targets. Fifteen minutes later and 80 miles away, two F-14s detected Iraqi aircraft entering the no-fly zone south-east of Baghdad, and fired at them. About six missiles were fired. One Iraqi fighter was later seen to crash but it was thought that it had run out of fuel. The US F-14s returned safely to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and the F-15s flew back to their ground base in Saudi Arabia.
Iraqi missiles have been fired at allied aircraft in the northern and southern no-fly zones in the past two weeks, triggering attacks by American aircraft. Since 1996 Iraq has said that it considers the no-fly zones illegitimate. It said yesterday that US and British planes "violated our national airspace at 8.56 this morning, coming from Saudi and Kuwaiti airspace".
This growing state of tension is unnerving states in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where US fighters are based to patrol the no- fly zones. It also shows that despite intensive air strikes, the US and Britain did not eliminate Iraq's ability to hit back at British and American forces.
Underlining Baghdad's defiance, Saddam Hussein yesterday called upon Arabs to overthrow regimes aligned with the US. "Revolt against those who boast of friendship with the United States, those who are guided by [US Defence Secretary] William Cohen," he said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Iraqi army.
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