Coalition Planes Strike Iraqi Radar System

Published September 29, 2002

| Associated Press

Coalition aircraft patrolling Iraq's southern "no-fly" zone struck a mobile radar installation near Basra Sunday, along with a missile site in Qalat Sikur.

A spokesman for Iraq's Ministry of Transport and Communications said the attack in Basra happened at 12:45 a.m.

An official Radio Baghdad announcement did not mention casualties. It said the strike further damaged buildings at the airport 330 miles south of Baghdad.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said coalition aircraft monitoring the southern "no-fly" zone used precision-guided weapons to strike a military mobile radar near Basra and a surface-to-air missile site near Qalat Sikur in Nassirya province, 130 miles south of Baghdad.

Asked whether the missile site was near the Basra airport, Air Force Maj. Bill Harrison said he didn't know, but said coalition aircraft never target civilian populations or infrastructure.

The past week has been a heavy one for U.S. strikes on Iraq as part of routine patrols of the so-called no-fly zones, as global debate heightens over U.S. threats to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for allegedly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists.

The standoff has focused new attention on patrols by U.S. and British warplanes over swaths of southern and northern Iraq declared off-limits to the Iraqi military since shortly after the 1991 Gulf War to protect restive Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis.

Last week, allied aircraft enforcing the southern "no-fly" zone hit eight targets, including the Basra airport on Sept. 26. The United States said it targeted a mobile air defense radar system at the airport, which it says has military and civilian uses. Iraq says the airport is civilian. Officials repeatedly have charged that Saddam moves military equipment to nonmilitary sites in hopes coalition forces will not strike for fear of injuring civilians.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri met with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, and said Baghdad wanted to restore normal relations with its eastern neighbor and former foe during the 1980-88 war.

Sabri's visit comes as Iraq tries to rally international support against a possible U.S. strike to oust Saddam.

Iran has repeatedly expressed its opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraq, but said it would support any U.N.-led action against Baghdad if inspectors confirmed the Iraqi regime is still developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iran holds Saddam responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its soldiers and civilians in the devastating 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam used poison gas on Iranian troops.

In Bahrain, meanwhile, Richard Haass, the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, said he was confident that regional countries would contribute militarily if needed in Saddam's removal.

"From what I can tell is that people have no illusions in this part of the world," he said. "I think we will have various kind and degree of support to see this [regime change] happen," he told reporters.

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