Iraq fires missiles at US jets

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The Independent Online
JUST 10 days after the United States and Britain halted air strikes against Iraq, Baghdad fired missiles at US aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq yesterday. The Americans fired back, killing four Iraqis.

The attack came despite the four-night air offensive this month, intended to diminish Iraq's ability to hit back at Allied forces. President Bill Clinton said America would carry on patrolling the skies over Iraq, despite the threat to its aircraft. "Our pilots have the authority to protect themselves if they are attacked. They took appropriate action today in responding to Iraq's actions," he said. "We will continue to enforce the no-fly zones."

According to the US Department of Defense, Iraqi air defence forces fired three surface-to-air missiles at US F-16s over northern Iraq. "There was an aggressive Iraqi action against US fighter aircraft in support of Operation Northern Watch," a spokesman said.

"Our aircraft responded within normal rules of engagement." They took evasive action and then fired anti-radar missiles and precision-guided bombs at the Iraqi sites. US F-15s and electronic warfare aircraft were also involved.

"Many hostile formations violated Iraqi airspace coming from Turkey," an Iraqi military communique said. "They approached our air defences, which bravely and capably intercepted and forced [the planes] to flee, returning to the bases of evil and aggression in Turkey." The aircraft returned and "fired their criminal missiles towards one of our positions", it said. "Our air defences forced them to flee... These aggressive acts led to the martyrdom of four of our brave fighters and injuries [to another] seven."

Iraq later claimed that it may have shot down a US aircraft, though America said all of its pilots returned safely to base.

The US aircraft, based at Incirlik in Turkey, were patrolling the no- fly zone established over northern Iraq in 1991 after the end of the Gulf War to protect the Kurds. The zone also covers Mosul, which was a target of the Allied attacks.