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Iraq: U.S. Plane Fires At SAM Missile Site In Northern Iraq

Washington/Baghdad; 7 January, 1999 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Defense Ministry officials say an American warplane patrolling the no-fly zone over northern Iraq today fired at an Iraqi missile site that had targeted the fighter jet with its radar system. A statement by the U.S. European Command said the F-16 pilot fired a type of missile that is guided to its target by locking onto radar signals. Cloud cover prevented the pilot from immediately determining if the missile hit its intended target. The White House says the pilot fired in "legitimate self-defense." The U.S. officials say the F-16 was not fired on and returned safely to the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey.

The confrontation is the fourth in 10 days between Iraqi and U.S. forces in the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. In two earlier incidents, U.S. pilots fired at Iraqi surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) that reportedly had fired first at them. Today's confrontation was the first time in the past few days that Iraq attempted to use radar to target a U.S. patrol plane.

On Tuesday, U.S. fighters also fired at a group of Iraqi planes that had crossed into the southern no-fly zone. The exclusion zones were established by Washington and Britain in 1991 in support of UN resolutions aimed at protecting Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite minorities from attacks by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath regime. But Baghdad no longer recognizes the no-fly zones, arguing that there is nothing in any UN Security Council resolution that specifically mandates air exclusion zones.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials reacted again today to reports that U.N. weapons inspectors helped the United States eavesdrop on Iraqi military intelligence. In Baghdad, senior Iraqi diplomat Sal al-Mokhtar called for a thorough investigation and asked all Security Council members to take a public stand on the allegations. The chairman of the Iraqi parliament, Khalid al-Saeedi, echoed earlier remarks by Iraq's UN ambassador, who said the allegations proved Baghdad's claim that British and American weapons inspectors were actually spies.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and chief UN weapons inspector Richard Butler both denied the reports. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said earlier the U.S. had engaged in "intelligence sharing" with UN arms inspectors. But he said this was an established procedure and that American monitors had acted in accordance with UN resolutions.