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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 22:03 GMT
'Six Iraqis die' in US-UK raids
RAF Tornado
The no-fly zones are not sanctioned by the United Nations
Six Iraqis have been reported killed and 15 wounded in an overnight US-UK air strike that is being described as part of an aggressive shift in policy.

The raid took place late on Sunday in the southern province of Basra, an Iraqi spokesman said.

However, the UK Ministry of Defence said late on Monday there was no evidence anyone had been killed or injured in the attack.

The US Defence Department says it has expanded the number of military targets which can be attacked by US and UK planes patrolling the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.

US officials say the strikes have focused on rocket launchers and other weapons which could be used against Allied troops or neighbouring countries if an invasion were to take place.

Baghdad routinely describes the targets of the air raids as civilian, while US and UK authorities say they attack only military targets and make every effort to avoid causing civilian casualties.

The Ministry of Defence in London said the planes attacked air defence targets in response to anti-aircraft fire, adding that Baghdad has a history of "unreliable" claims about casualties.

NO-FLY ZONES
Established 1991 by US, UK, France
France no longer participates
No explicit UN backing
Baghdad says hundreds of civilians have died in attacks

The no-fly zones - which have never been sanctioned by the United Nations - were imposed by the US, Britain and France, in what was described as a humanitarian effort to protect Shia Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north.

The US says its aircraft are responding only to Iraqi provocations. And the UK Government has issued a statement denying that the new targets represent a more aggressive role for its aircraft in Iraq.

Missiles

Iraq on Monday destroyed six more banned al-Samoud II missiles, bringing the total in three days to 16.

It also destroyed two empty warheads, the UN said.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Iraq's destruction of the missiles was proof that President Saddam Hussein had continually lied.

The Iraqi leader was "finding things that he said he never had and apparently destroying small amounts of things that he said he never possessed," Mr Fleischer said.

"How do you know this is not the mother of all distractions, diversions, so the world looks in one place, while he buries them in another?" he said.

Iraq has about 120 al-Samoud II missiles, which the UN says breach range limits imposed after the Gulf War.

Baghdad has pledged to submit a detailed report before 10 March on what happened to its stocks of anthrax and VX agent, UN officials said.

In other developments

  • French President Jacques Chirac, in Algiers, says France opposes any new UN resolution authorising force against Iraq

  • Turkey's failure to agree to US troop deployment means a top-level rethink about war plans, says Washington's top general in Europe

  • A team of Russian officials fly to New York to present the UN Security Council with an offer to provide assistance to weapons inspectors in Iraq

  • Gulf ministers fail to endorse a proposal by the United Arab Emirates calling for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down to avoid war.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"Officials in Britain say they are not breaking the rules governing no-fly zones"



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