Turkey asks Pentagon for Patriot missiles

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The Independent Online
TURKEY HAS requested Patriot missiles from the United States, apparently expressing fears that it may be the target of Scud missile attacks from Iraq.

The request comes as the US again hit air defence targets in northern Iraq, the eighth such incident in the past few weeks. US and British aircraft are based at Incirlik in south-east Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the south of Iraq. Patriot missiles - already deployed in Israel and the Gulf - are used to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.

"It is felt that Patriot missiles could have a useful role to play and the United States has been asked whether such missiles could be brought to Turkey," the Turkish government said. The US Defense Department said that it was considering the idea.

Iraq has launched surface-to-air missiles against allied aircraft in the past few weeks, triggering US retaliation, and its aircraft have also frequently entered the no-fly zones. But in the past few days, American aircraft have taken a more active approach, attacking radar and missile sites before they were attacked. US fighters attacked Iraqi air defences for the fourth day running yesterday. Two sites in the north were hit.

The US is also dropping ever-heavier hints that it might provide air cover for an insurrection against President Saddam Hussein. Asked whether it would, William Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, said: "We have indicated that we will work with opposition groups, but with no such commitment as such at this point." The US State Department is expected to name a co-ordinator to work with Iraqi opposition groups in the next few days.

In an effort to maintain international support for its campaign against Baghdad, the US yesterday proposed allowing Iraq to sell more oil to buy food, while maintaining sanctions. The idea, submitted to the United Nations Security Council, is a way of sidestepping French ideas for dismantling sanctions altogether and easing the weapons inspections effort.

The US is trying to show that it is not averse to helping the Iraqi people, but the idea seems unlikely to make much headway, and was immediately rejected by Iraq as "meaningless".

Iraq wants a complete lifting of sanctions, compensation from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for "aggression" and an end to weapons monitoring. "What has been achieved until now regarding the so-called issue of weapons of mass destruction should be considered enough and in complete compliance with the conditions imposed," a spokesman in Baghdad said yesterday.

The US yesterday issued "Wanted" posters for Osama bin Laden, the former Saudi citizen whom it blames for bomb attacks on its embassies in Africa last year. There is a $5m (pounds 3m) reward for Mr bin Laden.

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