WASHINGTON – Iraq fired on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone Friday, an act the United States considers a breach of a U.N. Security Council resolution, officials said.
Coalition warplanes bombed an Iraqi air defense site in retaliation for the firing, a Pentagon statement said.
It was the first coalition strike on Iraq since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government accepted the Security Council resolution demanding that he disarm and allow inspectors to search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
A "material breach" of the resolution could be reported to the Security Council for new debate — and possibly used as justification for U.S.-led military action to topple Saddam's government. The U.S. official who said the government considers the firing a material breach could not say whether or when American officials would raise the issue with the United Nations.
State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said the United States had the option of reporting the Iraqi firing to the Security Council but had not decided whether to do so.
President Bush and other U.S. officials have said they believe that Iraq's firing on coalition planes patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones would violate the latest U.N. resolution.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials, however, have been vague about whether Iraqi hostile actions in the no-fly zones would be considered a trigger for a wider U.S.-led attack.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. David Lapan said Friday evening that Iraq had fired surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at coalition planes. The shots came from Iraqi positions near the southern city of An Najaf, said Cmdr. Dan Gage, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.
Coalition planes used precision-guided weapons to attack an "air defense communications facility" near An Najaf about 85 miles southeast of Baghdad, a Pentagon statement said. The strike happened at about 2:50 p.m. EST.
There were previous strikes on Sunday against two surface-to-air missile sites near Tallil, 175 miles southeast of Baghdad.
The latest U.N. Security Council resolution, passed 15-0 on Nov. 8, prohibits Iraq from taking or threatening any hostile action against countries "taking action to uphold any council resolution." The United States and Britain say they established the no-fly zones to enforce Security Council resolutions calling on Saddam to end attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.
Iraq calls the no-fly zones a violation of its sovereignty and has repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — tried to shoot down the warplanes which patrol them.