Iraq Claims Anti-Aircraft Defenses Forced Allied Warplanes to ‘Flee Under Fire’
Iraq said Tuesday its anti-aircraft defenses had forced US and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone in the north of country to flee under fire, said AFP.
"Enemy warplanes which were raiding the provinces of Niniva, Erbil and Dohuk were forced to turn back under missile and anti-aircraft fire," a military spokesman said in a statement, quoted by the agency.
Baghdad said Monday it shot down an unmanned US reconnaissance plane which Washington acknowledged had disappeared over Iraq.
"The fact that an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Basra by our anti-aircraft defenses is proof of the improvement of Iraq's military capacities," Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said.
"Iraq is determined to inflict more losses on the American and British aggressors and to improve its (military) capacities despite the unfair embargo," he said.
But US defense officials on Tuesday downplayed the possible downing of a slow, unmanned US spy plane by Iraqi air defenses, saying the loss did not indicate Iraq was closer to shooting down an American or British warplane.
"Hitting one of those drones is not a lot to boast about. If it was shot down, the Iraqis probably did it with anti-aircraft guns and not a missile," one official told Reuters.
Monday's crash of the $3.2 million RQ-1B Predator in southern Iraq came after the Pentagon warned of the growing sophistication of Baghdad's air defenses.
It could be the first loss of a US aircraft to Iraqi fire in a decade of monitoring "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq.
Iraq showed television film of wreckage and claimed it shot down the 27-foot-long Air Force reconnaissance plane near the oil-shipping port of Basra, about 300 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Iraq's official press said Tuesday that Baghdad had dealt Washington a "slap in the face" by shooting down the plane.
Baghdad does not recognize the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.
Since December 1998 Iraq has mounted a determined effort to down the patrols with anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein declared on August 1 that the United States and Britain would suffer greater losses because their air assaults had pushed Iraq to upgrade its defense systems.
The United States, Britain, and France set up "no-fly zones" after the Gulf War. France left the coalition after the US and Britain bombed Iraq in December, 1998.
The UN has not authorized the no-fly zones, which are ostensibly there to prevent Iraqi attacks on Kurdish and Shiite Muslim minorities.
Iraq has from the beginning said the no-fly zones are illegal because no Security Council Resolution authorizes them, and because Iraq did not give up any territory in ceasefire agreements.
The US and UK maintain their warplanes at Incirlik airbase in Turkey, which in the last decade has carried out a large-scale war to maintain control over its own sizeable Kurdish minority – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)