Iraq attacks Washington `missile lies'

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The Independent Online
The United States confirmed yesterday that the pilot of an F-16 fighter jet fired a missile at a radar site in southern Iraq, while Baghdad accused Washington of inventing details of the incident to boost President Bill Clinton's standing before Tuesday's presidential election.

The White House said the pilot, who was patrolling the southern no-fly- zone imposed on Iraq, took the action on Saturday after his aircraft was apparently "illuminated" by the radar. Illuminations are often a precursor to attack by ground-based missiles.

"Such American allegations are baseless," an Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman said. "No incident has occurred in Iraqi's airspace." He added: "Fabricating this false news is part of the US election campaign, the US style."

There indeed seemed to be some confusion on the US side. It took several hours for the administration to own up to the latest action over Iraq and it did so only after reports were published in Sunday's Washington Times. Nor was it clear that the jet had been illuminated.

Tensions with Iraq last flared up in September when Mr Clinton fired 44 cruise missiles into Iraq in response to an intervention by Saddam Hussein on behalf of one Kurdish faction in the north of the country. Iraqi forces confronted US aircraft twice after Mr Clinton took the further step of extending the southern no-fly zone 60 miles north to the 33rd parallel.

Iraq then undertook no longer to threaten allied planes patrolling the no-fly zones, imposed to protect minorities.