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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK

World: Middle East

Iraq condemns 'US aggression'

A US Air Force F-16CJ refuels over Iraq (USAF Photo)

The authorities in Iraq have said that a missile fired by a United States jet at an Iraqi missile battery was an act of unjustified aggression.

Gunnery Sgt Frank Leyhew of US Central Command, Florida: "The correct response is to fire."
Iraq has denied allegations by the Americans that their radar locked onto British Tornado jets in southern Iraq. The US said its F-16 fighter plane fired the missile after the Tornados were tracked by Iraqi radar.

The US Government has sought to play down fears of an escalation. It said the attack was an isolated incident and there was no reason for it to increase the American military presence in the region.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen: "It's too early to tell what their motivation was."
The US Defence Secretary, William Cohen, said there was no evidence that the Iraqis were adopting a more aggressive posture overall.

A BBC correspondent says that behind the scenes American officials are anticipating the swift resumption of business as usual.

US Vice President Al Gore: "We will continue to respond decisively."
US Vice President Al Gore said at a press conference that the US would continue to patrol the no fly zone.

Radar tracked

[ image: Tornado jets were illuminated by Iraqi radar]
Tornado jets were illuminated by Iraqi radar
A US Defence Department official said the US plane fired one missile after four British Tornado military jets on patrol near Basra in southern Iraq - within the air exclusion zone which the Allies enforce - were illuminated by Iraqi radar.

The Tornados took evasive action and a specially equipped American fighter, an F-16 CJ, was called in.

This carries a high-speed missile known by the acronym Harm (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile), which homes in on the radar signal and follows it back to the transmitter.

One Harm missile was fired at an Iraqi anti-aircraft battery. Iraq has said that the missile hit a reservoir unconnected to the military.

All the aircraft returned safely to base.

Continuing tension

[ image:  ]
A BBC correspondent says the incident illustrates the continuing tension arising from the UN mandated no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, in which Iraqi aircraft are forbidden to fly.

There is constant patrolling by Western aircraft, with the constant potential for a clash.

BBC Foreign Affairs correspondent Fergus Nichol explains the history of Iraq's no-fly zone
There are two air exclusion zones over Iraq which were established in the wake of the Gulf War to prevent Iraq from using its air power against its opponents among the Kurdish population in the north and the Shi'ites in the south.

There have been several similar episodes where US aircraft have fired on Iraqi air defences, believing they were threatened, but this is the first incident since 1996, raising questions about its significance.

BBC Correspondent Nick Childs: "Iraq has been recently complaining about the no-fly zone."
The attack comes amid renewed pressure by Iraq for the lifting of international sanctions.

The US has been resisting any relaxation, saying Baghdad has still not made a full disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction.

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