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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 03:35 GMT


Warplanes strike near Baghdad

A Hornet fighter plane launch from the deck of the USS Enterprise

The United States has carried out its closest military action to Baghdad since the end of Operation Desert Fox - the American and British air attacks on Iraq last December.


The BBC's Jeremy Cooke: This raid has angered the Iraqis
Iraq said several people were wounded or killed after a civilian site was hit.

It also accused the US warplanes of flying 20 kilometres beyond the southern "no-fly" zone, which the western allies patrol.


[ image:  ]
Air raid sirens sounded in the city in the early evening - the first time since 24 December.

Iraq's information ministry said its air-defence batteries shot down one missile.

A BBC correspondent in Baghdad, Jeremy Cooke, reported hearing brief volleys of anti-aircraft fire, loud enough to bring many people on to the streets, peering into the night skies.

But he said the incident did not seem a major attack, and an all-clear was later sounded in the city.

'Baghdad not a target'

American military officials said US Air Force and Navy aircraft attacked two Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites near al-Iskandariyah, a small town about 50 kilometres south of Baghdad.

This was in response to anti-aircraft fire directed at allied planes and an Iraqi aircraft violation of the southern exclusion zone.

Officials said Baghdad itself was not a target.

'Evil and aggression'

An Iraqi military statement said 23 "enemy formations" of aircraft carried out 48 sorties "towards the city of Baghdad".

"These black ravens hit some targets on the outskirts of the city of Baghdad''' it added.

"The planes bombed a civilian site with sophisticated rockets which led to the martyrdom and wounding of a number of people.''

The Iraqi military said the aircraft returned to ''their bases of evil and aggression in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia'' at 1920pm (1620 GMT).

War of attrition

There have been almost daily attacks on Iraqi air defences in northern and southern no-fly zones in the last two months.

Iraq has allegedly responded to the repeated air strikes since Operation Desert Fox by withdrawing its remaining surface-to-air missile systems out of the no-fly zones and replacing them with less effective anti-aircraft artillery and even multiple rocket launchers.

The Pentagon says that US and British planes have destroyed about a fifth of Iraq's anti-aircraft or surface-to-air missile systems since December.

The flight exclusion zones were set up after the 1990-1991 Gulf War to protect Iraq's Kurdish and Shi'ite minorities.



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