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  Iraq Again Vows to Fire At American, British Jets

By John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 1998; Page A16

The Iraqi government warned again yesterday that it would fire on American or British jets that fly over any part of Iraq, but the United States said it would continue enforcing the "no-fly" zones across two wide swaths of the country.

One day after U.S. jets destroyed an Iraqi anti-aircraft battery in northern Iraq and 10 days after the end of a U.S.-British air attack on Iraqi military and security facilities, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Iraqi warplanes are flying in the restricted airspace in Iraq's northern and southern sectors. U.S. officials said that was untrue.

"Iraqi planes, in effect, are flying in a normal manner in Iraqi airspace," Ramadan told Associated Press Television News. "Our resistance will continue against any penetration."

The Iraqi News Agency also repeated assertions that Iraqi missiles "almost certainly shot down an enemy plane" in the exchange of missile fire on Monday. White House spokesman David Leavy said that report was "absolute nonsense and propaganda."

"Obviously we take any threats to coalition aircraft very seriously, and our pilots would certainly respond accordingly," Leavy said. "As the president said [on Monday], the no-fly zone will be enforced, and we will prevent [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbors and repressing his people."

"U.S. aircrews will take self-defensive maneuvers, as required," said Lt. Col. Patrick Sivigny, a Pentagon spokesman.

A spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command, whose combat jets patrol southern Iraq from bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, said American pilots had not spotted any Iraqi aircraft in the restricted airspace. "We had no incursions, no problems whatsoever," said Maj. Joe LaMarca. "It was a fairly routine day."

U.S. jets patrolling northern Iraq from Incirlik air base in Turkey didn't fly yesterday because of foul weather, but U.S. officials said no Iraqi aircraft were noted in that restricted zone, either. Iraqi aircraft are not permitted to fly south of the 33rd parallel or north of the 36th parallel.

On Monday, an Iraqi SA-3 radar site fired a salvo of missiles at U.S. F-15E and F-16 jets over Mosul, 220 miles north of Baghdad. None of the U.S. jets was hit, and a second group of American combat planes fired three HARM radar-finding missiles at the site, as well as six 500-pound precision-guided bombs. The Baghdad government said four Iraqi soldiers were killed.

In the week following the four-day U.S. missile and bomb assault on Iraq that ended Dec. 19, Iraqi warplanes have tested U.S. and British aerial patrols in the southern zone, U.S. officials said. Iraqi aircraft flying from bases in Iraq's central sector, where they are allowed to operate, dip a short distance into the prohibited area below the 33rd parallel for a few seconds at a time, U.S. officials said.

"It's cage rattling, and it has no military significance whatsoever," a U.S. government official said. "They know when we're there and when we're not. It's like a little brother poking his head into his big brother's room, sticking his tongue out and saying, 'Nah nah.' "

Iraqi pilots did the same thing in 1993 and 1996 after earlier U.S. cruise missile attacks, American officials said. Since the no-fly zones were imposed in stages in 1991 and 1992, officials in Baghdad have said that they were illegal and unenforceable.

Experts on Iraq said that recent statements from Saddam Hussein's government have seemed directed at a domestic audience.

"Saddam Hussein has to demonstrate to his supporters in the Republican Guard and the security services, who took such a heavy pounding for four days, that there's a payoff for sitting around and taking it all that time," said Kenneth Pollack, a Persian Gulf specialist at the National Defense University. "He's got to show there was a tangible gain for them even though they didn't respond at the time."

Meanwhile, 15 people were arrested outside the White House yesterday while protesting American military attacks and United Nations economic sanctions on Iraq. Some chanted "Iraqi children are dying, lift the sanctions now."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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