WASHINGTON – For the second day in a row, allied warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone in northern Iraq came under fire from anti-aircraft artillery and responded by bombing near the city of Mosul, U.S. officials said.
Also, U.S. planes bombed three sites in southern Iraq after Iraqi air defense units fired multiple surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at the planes.
Separately, the U.S. Central Command said U.S. planes dropped 120,000 leaflets Sunday near the town of Ar Rumaythah, in southern Iraq. They warn the Iraqi military to stop firing on U.S. and British planes patrolling the southern no-fly zone. It was the fourth leaflet drop in the last eight weeks in the region.
One of the leaflets warned Iraqi air defense forces: "Beware: Do not track or fire on coalition aircraft." The back of the leaflet read: "The destruction experienced by your colleagues in other air defense locations is a response to your continuing aggression toward planes of the coalition forces. No tracking or firing on these aircraft will be tolerated. You could be next."
Previous leaflet drops had been near the southern cities of Tallil, Basra and As Samawah.
In another act of defiance of the no-fly zone patrols, an Iraqi fighter jet on Monday flew south across the 33rd parallel, penetrating about 50 miles into the southern zone, a senior defense official said. There were no American or British fighter jets close enough to respond before the Iraqi jet left, the official said.
Another Iraqi aircraft flew into the northern no-fly zone Monday, the official said, without provoking a U.S. response.
The U.S. airstrikes in southern Iraq on Monday targeted an air defense communications facility near Tallil and an air defense radar and communications facility near Al Kut. Both locations are southeast of Baghdad and have been frequent targets of U.S. bombs in recent months. Tallil is an air defense hub for southern Iraq.
Iraqi aircraft occasionally fly into the northern or southern zones, but more often Iraqis have fired anti-aircraft artillery or surface-to-air missiles at U.S. and British planes enforcing the zones.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday the Iraqi firing on coalition aircraft "appears to be a violation" of the United Nations resolution on Iraq. He said the U.N. resolution "does give us that option to refer this violation to the Security Council for discussion."
Asked whether the administration would do that, McClellan replied, "We have that option." He added, "Our planes will continue to respond when fired upon."
In announcing Monday's action in northern Iraq, the German-based U.S. European Command said coalition planes used precision-guided weapons to target Iraqi air defense systems, but it provided no specific location.
A similar exchange happened Sunday.
The European Command statement said all planes used in the operation returned safely to their base. The planes operate from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.
Iraq considers patrols of the northern and southern no-fly zones a violation of its sovereignty and frequently shoots at them.
The hostilities have been going on for years but are being watched more closely since Washington has vowed to force President Saddam Hussein to disarm.