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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
US hits back at Iraq
Iraqi TV pictures of wreckage
Iraqi TV showed what it said was wreckage of the craft
The United States says its fighter planes have struck two military targets in southern Iraq.

Tuesday night's attack was part of continuing efforts to degrade Iraq's recently improved air defences, the Pentagon said.

We have always said that we retain the right to respond to continuing attacks... at a time and place of our choosing

Pentagon spokesman
A spokesman denied that the raid was in direct retaliation for Baghdad's claim on Monday that Iraqi forces had shot down an unmanned US reconnaissance aircraft.

Pentagon sources have, meanwhile, confirmed that charred wreckage found near the southern city of Basra is almost certainly that of the Air Force Predator drone which went missing.

US nameplate from Iraqi TV video
The TV pictures showed an American nameplate
But they say that it remains unclear whether the aircraft was attacked or went down on its own.

"Hitting one of those drones is not a lot to boast about. If it was shot down, the Iraqis probably did it with anti-aircraft guns and not a missile," said one official, who asked not to be identified.

Iraq, however, is in no doubt about what happened and has been celebrating the shooting down of the plane.

'Death zone'

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the incident proved Iraqi air defences had become more advanced in spite of sanctions, something Washington says it is worried about.

Predator on exercise over the Persian Gulf
US Predator drones are often used for missions in the region
The government press was also in jubilant mood.

"Iraqi skies are a death zone for the enemy," said Al-Jumhuriya newspaper.

State television had earlier broadcast pictures of what it said was the mangled wreckage of the plane with American markings.

If confirmed, it would be the first aircraft the Iraqis have shot down in the 10 years since Western planes began enforcing the two "no-fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq.

Iraq, which does not recognise the zones, says hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in raids which are routinely carried out by the US and Britain.

The BBC's Tom Carver
"There are no plans to recover the aircraft"
See also:

27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'shoots down' US spy plane
26 Jul 01 | Middle East
Bush to counter Iraq 'menace'
26 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'nearly downs' US spy plane
03 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iraq escapes 'smart sanctions'
02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iraq wins sanctions battle
17 Feb 01 | Middle East
Iraq defiant over missile attack
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