Britain backs `hidden war' against Iraq

Click to follow
THE GOVERNMENT last night defended renewed air strikes on Iraq to protect Shia Arabs and Kurds in the north from atrocities by Saddam Hussein's forces. Protests at the attacks were made by Iraq's UN ambassador, Sayed Hassan who said Saddam Hussein's forces were defending their sovereignty, and he renewed calls to end the sanctions on Iraq.

British sources said President Saddam may have ordered his forces to target allied aircraft in the no-fly zones to foment unease in the Security Council, led by France, at the continuing attacks, and cause a split to defeat a new Anglo-American effort to reintroduce a UN inspection team into Iraq.

"They are looking for sympathy," said a source in London. John Spellar, the Minister of State for Defence, strongly defended the RAF operations, including unsubstantiated reports that aircraft bombed a monastery, believed to be the tomb of St Matthew, 20 miles from Mosul in northern Iraq.

Mr Spellar said Saddam had been "steadily testing us", including 200 flights in violation of the no-fly zone over Iraq, an area the Iraqis insist is illegal. But he said the operations were being carried out to prevent human rights violations against Saddam's own people.

"These are international zones designed by the international community to protect these people," said Mr Spellar. "He is testing them with planes. He is targeting our planes and firing at them. So our success is constraining his regime from those attacks because he is, as we all know, a threat both to his own people and also the rest of the region."

Leading article, Review, Page 3