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Russia criticizes Iraq No-Fly Zones

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February 17, 2001 


UNITED NATIONS (AP) The U.S. and British enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq has been increasingly criticized by key Security Council members who say the patrols have no U.N. legal backing and violate Iraq's right to control its airspace.

Russia has led the charge, saying Iraq cannot be expected to let U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country as long as U.S. and British aircraft continue to strike Iraqi targets, as they did Friday in the first military operation authorized by President Bush.

``What the American militarists are doing at the start of the new administration's activity is a challenge to international security and the entire world community,'' said Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, chief of the Russian Defense Ministry's international cooperation department.

``It is not the first time that when the issue of the Iraqi dossiers was about to be closed, the U.S. unleashes military actions and in fact ruins this process,'' the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

He appeared to be referring to upcoming talks between the United Nations and Iraq on Feb. 26-27 to try to end the stalemate over weapons inspections and 10-year-old sanctions. Iraq asked for the ``dialogue'' with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United States, Britain and France established the no-fly zones after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north from Saddam Hussein's forces. They cited U.N. resolutions calling for protection of minorities in Iraq.

In 1998, U.N. weapons inspections ground to a halt, and the United States and Britain launched a four-day airstrike campaign to punish Baghdad for failing to cooperate with U.N. arms experts seeking to make sure Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

France stopped actively patrolling the no-fly zones that year and has since increased its criticism of the air raids, calling them ``pointless and deadly.''

On Friday, the French Foreign Ministry said the air strikes ``gave rise to questions'' and added, ``We are waiting for explanations from the American administration.''

China quickly condemned the strikes. China and other critics have said no U.N. resolution explicitly authorizes military force to protect Iraqi minorities.

``We are opposed to any use of arms without authority of the Security Council at any circumstances,'' the spokeswoman at China's U.N. mission said.

France, China and others have spoken out about civilian casualties. Iraq says some 300 people have been killed and more than 800 injured since it began challenging the patrols in December 1998.

The United States, Britain, France, China and Russia are the five permanent Security Council members.

As of Friday afternoon, no country had asked for a Security Council meeting on the strikes, said Tunisian Ambassador Saiid Ben Mustapha.

Iraq's new U.N. ambassador, Mohammed al-Douri, would not comment, saying he needed the ``whole story.'' When asked if he would ask the council to take the matter up, he said: ``We will see.''

Iraq regularly protests what it calls illegal overflights, and has demanded compensation for damage.

In a letter released this week, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz urged Annan to intervene to stop the airstrikes, which he called ``unwarranted aggression against an independent, sovereign state.''

He said Baghdad rejected the ``flimsy excuses and pretexts used by these states in an attempt to justify their military aggression against our country.''

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