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Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
"(The attacks) were in legitimate self-defence"
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Donald Anderson, Foreign Affairs Select Committee
"It will... run the danger of isolating us in the middle east"
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The BBC's Judith Moloney
"There were reports of loud explosions"
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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 22:54 GMT
Baghdad raids 'legitimate': Hoon

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has described as "legitimate self-defence" the UK/US bombings on targets near Baghdad.

Twenty-four British and American aircraft, including four RAF Tornado fighter-bombers, were involved in the two-hour attack on Friday evening.

Iraqi television has reported that at least one civilian, a woman, was killed and nine other people were injured, some seriously.

Five Iraqi military installations within five and 20 miles of Baghdad were targeted, including some north of the 33rd parallel which marks the limit of the southern Iraqi no-fly zone.

We want to ensure that people on the ground ... are protected from the kind of atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's regime in the past

Geoff Hoon
Defence Secretary
The strike was the first against targets outside the area since December 1998, when British and US planes staged a four-day air campaign against Iraq for failing to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors.

Speaking on BBC News 24, Mr Hoon said the raids were in response to an increased threat to allied aircraft from Iraq's missile defences in recent weeks.

"We were concerned that the scale of attacks on coalition aircraft recently had increased very significantly.

"We decided it was necessary to protect the air crew."

Geoff Hoon
Geoff Hoon: "Minimal effect on civilians"
He said there was "always a risk" of civilian casualties but added that missions were conducted "to ensure a minimal effect" on civilians.

The minister denied the strike marked a change in policy over Iraq, saying: "This is entirely consistent with the way in which we have conducted the protection of the no-fly zones.

"We want to ensure that people on the ground under the no-fly zones are protected from the kind of atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's regime in the past.

"But obviously if our air crew come under attack we allow them to protect themselves as they are allowed to do legitimately in international law."

Raid on Iraq
1620GMT: 24 planes start mission
1730GMT: Attack targets
1840GMT: Planes clear Iraqi airspace
Shortly after the attack on Friday, Iraqi television announced "Baghdad had come under attack by American aggressors" and military installations launched anti-aircraft fire and some surface to air missiles.

An MoD spokesman said the number of missiles fired at allied aircraft in January was more than during the whole of last year.

Downing Street said the raids had been authorised by Mr Hoon earlier this week following discussions with the Americans.

'Isolation danger'

The RAF has Tornado and Jaguar aircraft based in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. All the British and American aircraft returned to their bases safely.

The types of weapon used have not been revealed except that the aircraft were from land bases and aircraft carriers in the region and fired long-range precision-guided weapons.

Donald Anderson MP, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told BBC News 24 the attack would "run the danger of isolating us in the Middle East".

Tony Benn
Tony Benn: Wants parliament recalled
He added: "We need to know the justification, the facts of it very clearly indeed."

Labour MP Tony Benn called for the immediate recall of parliament.

Mr Benn said: "These attacks cannot be justified in international law and will certainly increase tension in the area at a time when the Palestinian Israeli situation is worsening."

The strikes came as the Prince of Wales flew into Saudi Arabia on an official state visit to the Al-Faisaliah Centre in the capital Riyadh.

Exclusion zones

The last time Baghdad's sirens sounded was 24 February 1999 when US aircraft attacked targets on the outskirts of the capital, killing and wounding several people.

The southern no-fly zones are patrolled by the US and UK to protect Kurds from attacks by the Iraqi Government. The air exclusion zones were imposed after the Gulf War in 1991.

There have been regular clashes between US and British planes and Iraqi defences ever since.

Bruce George, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, told BBC News 24: "I just hope an attack on military installation or two is not going to exacerbate an already tense situation in the Middle East."

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See also:

08 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Iraq 'steps up attacks on UK pilots'
07 Apr 00 | Middle East
France condemns raids on Iraq
06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Air strikes follow pattern of clashes
12 Sep 99 | Middle East
Iraq strikes 'not working'
07 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Iraq
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