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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 08:00 GMT
'Economic damage' risk from Iraq raids
Iraqi boy in hospital
Iraq claims children were among the casualties
Air strikes on targets near Baghdad will make Britain deeply unpopular in the Middle East and could cause economic damage, a former Nato deputy commander has warned.

The strikes on Friday evening - involving eight British and 16 American aircraft - were described by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon as "legitimate self-defence".

He said they were in response to an increased threat to allied aircraft from Iraq's missile defences.

I'm sorry that Britain... should be associated with this and I think it may do serious economic damage

General Sir John Akehurst
But General Sir John Akehurst said Britain and the US would find it difficult to justify the intervention on the grounds of retaliating to Iraqi threats.

He said: "It seems to me to be a serious public relations blunder because it will stimulate great antipathy throughout the Middle East.

"I'm sorry that Britain, who were not all that unpopular and very popular in some countries, should be associated with this and I think it may do serious economic damage."

Casualty claims

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

It was the first action 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.

Meeting of Revolutionary Command Council and Baath Party leadership
Saddam Hussein chaired a meeting of advisors after the air strikes
Iraqi television reported that at least one civilian, a woman, was killed and nine others were injured, some seriously.

Mr Hoon told BBC News 24: "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."

The MoD said more missiles were fired at allied aircraft in January than during all of last year.

No policy change

Mr Hoon said civilian casualties were "always a risk", but insisted that missions were conducted "to ensure a minimal effect".

He said there was no change in policy over Iraq. "This is entirely consistent with the way in which we have conducted the protection of the no-fly zones.

"But obviously if our air crew come under attack we allow them to protect themselves."

President George W Bush
President Bush says he will be watching Saddam Hussein closely
Downing Street said Mr Hoon authorised the raids earlier this week following discussions with the Americans.

Labour MP Tony Benn wants an immediate recall of parliament in the light of the bombings.

He 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."

Shortly after the attack, Iraqi television announced that Baghdad had come under attack "by American aggressors". Military installations launched anti-aircraft fire and some surface to air missiles.

All the British and US aircraft returned to their bases safely.

Raid on Iraq
1620GMT: 24 planes start mission
1730GMT: Attack targets
1840GMT: Planes clear Iraqi airspace
The aircraft used 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".

"We need to know the justification, the facts of it very clearly indeed," he added.

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.

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.

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17 Feb 01 | Middle East
Iraq defiant as allies strike
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