Fire in the night sky
BRIEFING n Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, director of operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs reporters at the Pentagon Friday, on the U.S. bombing of five Iraqi military sites around Baghdad. AP photo
Feb. 17, 2001
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Anti-aircraft fire flashed in the night sky over Iraq's capital and sirens drove residents from the streets Friday as U.S. and British warplanes struck outside Baghdad. Iraqi television reported one dead and nine injured in the attack.
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.
Some residents of the capital which has not heard air raid sirens for nearly two years huddled together in fear in their houses. Others, however, braved the danger to watch the sky. There was no official Iraqi confirmation of the casualties.
How many times do they destroy what they themselves said they have already destroyed?'' asked Samih Jamal, a 54-year-old retired government worker.
In Washington, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold said the strike was aimed at stopping Iraqi attempts to make a safe haven'' for radar and command-and-control sites to conduct attacks on allied planes bombing in the northern and southern no fly zones.
Iraqi air defenses regularly target U.S. and British patrols in the zones, and the allies planes almost daily strike targets in the north and south.
In Friday's assault, two dozen warplanes fired long-range missiles at radar systems to the south and north of Baghdad. It was the first strike outside the southern no-fly zone since December 1998.
Iraq's state-run satellite TV channel reported that a civilian woman was killed.
State-run Al-Shabab TV broadcast pictures of civilians it said were injured in the attack. Eleven people, including at least three children, were treated for various injuries at al-Yarmouk Hospital, the television reported.
It is another aggression on Baghdad that resulted of the injury of many women, children and elderly,'' said Health Minister Omed Medhat Mubarak. Some of them are in critical condition.''
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. Air raid sirens last went off in Baghdad in February 1999 after strikes inside the no-fly zone.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein met with his Revolutionary Command Council and leaders of the ruling al-Baath Party. They denounced the attack, saying it showed the United States and the Zionist entity'' Iraq's term for Israel are partners in evil and aggression.''
They thought they would scare Iraq but they are wrong,'' the leadership said in a statement. The more they continue their aggression, the stronger the Iraqi people … will be in facing them. We shall fight them on ground, sky and sea and their aggression will deepen their failure.''
President Bush authorized the strikes Thursday morning, 10 years after a U.S.-led coalition assembled by his father drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said the raids had been authorized by Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon earlier this week following discussions with the United States.
Hoon called the attacks a proportionate response'' to increasing attacks on allied aircraft patrolling in the south by more and more sophisticated Iraqi defenses.
Saddam Hussein should be clear that we will not tolerate continued attempts to endanger the lives of our aircrew,'' Hoon said. But if he stops shooting at us there will be no need for the RAF to attack his air defenses.''
The allied warplanes struck their targets Friday without leaving the southern no-fly zone, using standoff'' weapons that zero in on targets from a distance, where the pilot is safer, the Pentagon said.
All planes returned safely to base, and the Pentagon said that the operation appeared to have been successful and no more strikes were needed soon.
The planes involved in the strikes came from various locations in the Persian Gulf.
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.