U.S., British planes strike south of Baghdad

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2001

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and British warplanes struck Iraqi air defenses south of Baghdad on Friday night, triggering anti-aircraft fire and sirens across the Iraqi capital that drove frightened residents from the streets.

President Bush authorized the strikes Friday morning, 10 years after a U.S.-led coalition assembled by his father drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

In Washington, the Pentagon said the mission was meant to destroy radar systems that had boosted Iraq's capability to threaten American and British aircraft -- some of them located outside the southern ''no-fly zone.''

In Baghdad, sirens started wailing at about 9 p.m., followed soon after by explosions from anti-aircraft weaponry from the southern and western outskirts of the city of more than 5 million people.

The airstrikes disturbed the quiet of Friday's Muslim Sabbath, and some residents huddled together in fear in their houses. Others, however, braved the danger to watch the sky and ensure that their buildings were not in danger.

''How many times do they destroy what they themselves said they have already destroyed?'' asked Samih Jamal, 54, a retired government worker.

Almost 50 minutes after the sirens first sounded, more sirens announced the end of the airstrikes. People began milling around the streets, shaking their heads and discussing the events of the last hour, but soon returned to their homes.

State-run TV aired its regular newscast. Another station, al-Shabab TV, began playing patriotic songs and showing footage of commandos training and marching.

The last time Baghdad's sirens wailed was Feb. 24, 1999, when U.S. aircraft attacked targets inside the no-fly zone south of the capital, killing and wounding several people.

Friday's strike was the first against targets outside the southern no-fly zone since December 1998, when U.S. and British planes staged a four-day air campaign against Iraq, the Pentagon said.

The allied warplanes struck their targets Friday without crossing outside the zone, using ''standoff'' weapons that zero in on targets from a distance, where the pilot is safer, a Pentagon official said. All planes returned safely to base, the official said.

The targeted radar and command-and-control sites had given Iraq a better capability of targeting allied planes with surface-to-air missiles, the Pentagon said.

The planes involved in the strikes came from various locations in the Persian Gulf.

Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, joint staff director of operations for the Pentagon, told reporters in Washington that 24 strike aircraft were involved in the attack and that the targets were in unoccupied areas.

He said the ''frequency and the more sophisticated command-and-control'' facilities of the Iraqis had increased the threat to allied pilots.

U.S. and British warplanes have been patrolling no-fly zones in the north and south of the Iraq since the Gulf War, which ended in February 1991 with the end of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Iraq does not recognize the no-fly zones and has been challenging allied aircraft since December 1998. The allies say their planes never target civilians, but Iraq reports that strikes have killed some 300 people and injured more than 800.

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