Washington, 30 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - A U.S. military spokesman says Iraq fired six-to-eight anti-aircraft missiles at British and U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq today. Major Joe LaMarca, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said U.S. F-16 fighter jets responded by firing two HARM missiles and dropping several laser-guided 250 kilogram bombs on the missile site.
LaMarca said U.S. defense officials are still assessing the damage caused by their missiles and bombs. He said the British and U.S. planes all returned to their bases without damage or casualties.
Officials in London confirmed that several British Tornado warplanes were attacked and that U.S. planes responded. Baghdad has not offered immediate comment.
It was the second clash this week between U.S. planes and Iraqi air defenses. Earlier this week, Iraqi batteries and U.S. planes exchanged fire within the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
Baghdad says the exclusion zones violate its air space and national sovereignty. The no-fly zones were set up after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south from attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces.
Washington and Britain say the exclusion zones comply with UN resolutions. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said yesterday there is no UN resolution that mandates the no-fly zones.
Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin today sent a New Year's message to U.S. President Bill Clinton in which he criticized the recent U.S.-led air strikes on Iraq. A Kremlin spokesman says Yeltsin told Clinton that using force to solve international crises is "unacceptable." Yeltsin also called for more diplomatic and political cooperation between Russia and the U.S.
Russian officials responded angrily to four days of U.S. and British air strikes against some 100 military targets in Iraq in the middle of this month. The strikes came after UN inspectors said Iraqi officials were interfering with efforts to discover whether Baghdad had abandoned any effort to build weapons of mass destruction.
To protest the air strikes, Russia briefly recalled its ambassadors from Washington and London.
Yeltsin and Clinton are also scheduled to talk by telephone later today. It will be their first conversation since the airstrikes.