US, British planes bomb Iraq

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The Independent Online

US and British warplanes bombed three sites in southern Iraq today in the largest allied strike against Iraq since February.

Friday's strike was carried out at 9.30 GMT by about 20 US and British attack planes plus about 30 support aircraft, said a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Steve Campbell.

The US planes were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Gulf, another official said, and from land bases in the region which the official would not describe in detail. Some of the support aircraft apparently flew from bases in Saudi Arabia.

The planes struck a military communications centre, a surface–to–air missile launching site and a long–range radar – all elements of Iraq's integrated air defense network, Campbell said.

"All of these targets were contributing to the effectiveness of the Iraqi air defense system," Col Campbell said.

The spokesman said he could not immediately provide other details.

A White House spokesman said President George W. Bush, who repeatedly called Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a menace in recent days, was notified last night of the impending attack, which the White House described as a routine but somewhat heavier than customary.

A Ministry of Defence official said British Tornado GR4 aircraft were involved in attacking one of the targets.

All three targets were in southern Iraq, where U.S. and British planes have been enforcing a "no fly" zone since shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War to protect Shi–ite rebels against attacks by government forces.

Iraq in recent months has stepped up efforts to shoot down the allied planes patrolling "no fly" zones in both southern and northern Iraq.

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