Baghdad, 17 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The United States and Britain launched military air strikes against Iraq early today, saying the attacks are in retaliation for its lack of cooperation with U.N. weapons inspections. Western news agencies quote U.S. defense officials as saying at least 200 cruise missiles were launched from warships and aircraft in the Gulf against military targets in Iraq. There are no official reports of the extent of the damage done by the strikes. Reports from Baghdad say the initial waves of attacks appear to have ended.
In a nationally televised address, U.S. President Bill Clinton said he has ordered a "strong, sustained series" of military strikes against Iraq. Senior U.S. defense officials say the strikes will continue until Iraq's military capabilities are degraded. Both Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they had no alternative but to act swiftly and decisively.
The U.S. says no American casualties have been reported so far in the attack, codenamed "Operation Desert Fox." In Iraq, one hospital is reporting five dead and 30 wounded. The figures cannot be verified.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is urging Iraq's armed forces and citizens to fight back. He said the attacks are an effort to test the will of the Iraqi people.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin has condemned today's air strikes against Iraq carried out by U.S. and British forces, saying they had caused "dismay and deep alarm."
In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Yeltsin said the strikes "crudely violated" the UN charter. He called for an immediate halt to the strikes.
Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the UN early today criticized the strikes at a session of the UN Security Council in New York. The debate was requested by Russia after the strikes began.
U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the start of air strikes last night, saying they were necessary because Iraq had failed to keep its promise not to impede UN weapons inspectors. The inspectors have sought to verify that Baghdad has ended efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.
Clinton said the strikes are designed to degrade Iraq's ability to develop weapons of mass destruction and its ability to threaten its neighbors.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he was saddened by the news of the strikes but did not specifically condemn them.
Japan said it supported the air strikes. Iran and Afghanistan's Taliban militia condemned them.