Iraq says US-British bombing kills 14 civilians, injures 19

Click to follow
The Independent Online

U.S. and British warplanes attacked residential areas in southern Iraq on Thursday, killing 14 civilians and injuring 19, the Iraqi military said in reporting the highest casualty figure since August.

The official Iraqi News Agency, quoting an unidentified Air Defense spokesman, said 18 waves of planes carried out 24 combat missions.

"The American and British criminals added another crime to their barbaric acts ... when their ravens bombed residential areas and civil installations," the agency said.

The number of deaths reported Thursday was the highest since Aug. 17, when Iraq said 19 civilians were killed and 11 were injured during attacks in northern and southern Iraq. On Tuesday, authorities reported that strikes had killed two people and injured two in the south.

The agency's report did not specify the nature of targets hit Thursday or their exact location, but said the jets flew over six provinces in the southern no-fly zone.

In the United States, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, confirmed U.S. planes carried out strikes Thursday in southern Iraq. Lt. Col. Rick Thomas said the strikes followed attacks by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery.

"They fired at us today. We struck in response to that," Thomas said. The U.S. strikes were aimed at Iraqi military targets, he said, and U.S. pilots as a matter of course attempt to minimize the risk of civilian casualties.

Thomas said there was no immediate indication of Iraqi casualties but that battle damage was still being assessed.

Iraq does not recognize the no-fly zones set up after the 1991 Gulf War to provide aerial protection from government forces for Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north. It began challenging the patrols in December 1998, and allied forces often have responded by firing on Iraqi anti-aircraft and radar installations.

Chief Lt. Gen. Shaheen Yassin, at a news conference earlier Thursday, vowed there will be no let up to Iraq's defiance of the U.S. and British jets policing the zones.

"Iraq is determined to confront the U.S. and British planes flying over its territory. We shall use our (air) defenses, our weapons and whatever means we have until they give up," Shaheen said.

The Iraqi News Agency also said 10 more waves of allied warplanes violated Iraqi airspace in the north, but reported no incidents or casualties. INA said Iraqi air defense units fired guns and missiles to intercept the planes and force them to flee.