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World - Middle East

Iraq says it will fire at planes in no-fly zones


December 26, 1998
Web posted at: 6:56 p.m. EST (2356 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan said on Saturday that Iraqi forces would shoot at warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.

In a Baghdad interview for Qatar's Al-Jazeera television, Ramadan was asked if Iraq would accept the overflights of U.S. and British aircraft maintaining no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

"We say frankly now that any violation of Iraqi airspace will be met by Iraqi fire," Ramadan said.

The United States, Britain and France set up the no-fly zones in the years after the 1991 Gulf War in order to halt Iraqi air attacks against Kurds in the north and against Shiite Muslims in the south.

Ramadan's statement came only a few hours after Iraq said its anti-aircraft guns had driven off attacking "enemy" warplanes -- an apparent reference to U.S. and British aircraft -- that had flown into Iraqi airspace from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

State-controlled Iraqi media have reported almost daily violations of the country's airspace since the United States and Britain ended four days of airstrikes against Iraq seven days ago.

As with the previous Iraqi claims, both Washington and London immediately rejected any involvement.

"There was no attack," a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, P.J. Crowley, said in Washington. "We had planes up enforcing the no-fly zone," part of normal operations.

A Pentagon spokesman said that at about 3:15 a.m. EST (8:15 GMT) the pilots of two British Tornados patrolling the southern no-fly zone reported seeing bursts of anti-aircraft fire about five miles (eight kilometers) to their rear.

"They exited the no-fly zone," said the spokesman, U.S. Army Major Paul Phillips.

A Ministry of Defence official in London said a British pilot reported fire at a considerable distance but said it was not hostile.

"We checked with our forces, and no one was fired on, or fired at anyone," he said.

Military experts told CNN that the latest Iraqi threat to fire on Western aircraft is for the most part meaningless, mainly because Iraqi anti-aircraft fire reaches an altitude of about 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), while U.S. and British jets patrolling the no-fly zone fly at about 10,000 meters (30,000 feet).

However, the patrolling aircraft are said to be carefully watching for any Iraqi attempts to target their aircraft with missiles.

In the Baghdad interview, Ramadan also repeated that inspectors of the U.N. special commission charged with eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would never be allowed back after the U.S. and British air raids.

Iraq says that 62 soldiers and more than 40 civilians were killed in the bombardment.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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