US warplanes strike again as Iraqi air defences open fire

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The Independent Online

American warplanes attacked air defences in Iraq's northern "no-fly" zone yesterday, the American military said.

American warplanes attacked air defences in Iraq's northern "no-fly" zone yesterday, the American military said.

British planes were not involved in yesterday's attacks, the first since last Friday's raids by British and US bombers on radar and communications sites near Baghdad. Military sources said Britain's role in the northern no-fly zone was reconnaissance, checking possible targets and gathering information following a strike.

The US European Command said the raids were launched in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and radar targeting near the city of Mosul. But Washington and London admitted that fewer than half of the US "smart" bombs launched from afar struck their targets in last Friday's sorties.

Early assessments indicate a new satellite-guided missile fired by Navy planes was mainly to blame. Most of the misses were by a margin of 100 to 150 feet, a Pentagon official said, and the US defence department had detected damage on only 38 to 40 per cent of the radars so far.

European Command said the Iraqi fire yesterday came from air defence sites north of Mosul while allied planes were on "routine enforcement" of the northern zone.

One British source said the US aircraft had been "illuminated by air defence radar and one missile was fired". He said the Iraqi aggression was an "own-goal", because it allowed coalition aircraft to respond by sending firepower back down the path along which the Iraqi missiles travel.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman described the attack as routine. "This attack has been highlighted by what happened last week," she said. "They are fired on a lot. This happens every two or three weeks. No British planes were flying with the Americans at the time."

Britain and the US have been conducting regular bombing raids against Iraq for the past two years as they enforce the "no-fly zones" set up by the allies after the 1991 Gulf War.

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