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Iraq to retaliate

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February 18, 2001 


BAGHDAD-- (AP) - Iraq will retaliate for the largest attack by U.S. and British warplanes in months, a state-run newspaper vowed Saturday as Iraqis returning to classes, jobs and markets a day after the deadly bombing uniformly condemned the United States.

In a front-page editorial, al-Qadissiya daily also dismissed U.S. assertions that the strikes were ordered to protect pilots patrolling Iraqi skies. Iraq, it said, merely defends its skies.

"This crime will not go without strong punishment for the aggressive Americans, to teach the American-Zionist new and old administration new lessons," it said, without being specific.

Sirens started wailing at about 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) Friday, followed soon after by explosions from anti-aircraft weaponry that flashed in the night sky from the southern and western outskirts of the capital of more than 5 million. About 50 minutes later, more sirens marked the end of the strikes.

The official Iraqi News Agency said two people had died - a woman, Ghayda Atshaan Abdullah, and a man, Khalil Hameed Alwash - and 20 were injured.

"All were innocent children, women and men who do not mean anything to America," said Tamader Jassim, a 19-year-old college student heading to class Saturday. "They expect us to hate our leader by doing this. ... They are wrong, we started to hate everything American because of these strikes."

State-run Iraqi television played patriotic songs Saturday, showed clips of President Saddam Hussein at military parades and other functions, and aired footage of Iraqis injured in the Friday night strikes and past attacks.

In the hospitals, children with bandaged legs and feet held their hands out to worried parents. Concerned family members stood by anxiously, waiting for news about their relatives.

President Saddam Hussein chaired a joint meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council and Iraq's regional command of al-Baath Party late Friday. A statement issued after the meeting said the attack was proof 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 statement said. "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."

Arab League secretary-general Esmat Abdel Meguid denounced the airstrikes as an "unwarranted aggression" that worsens the plight of the Iraqi people. The league would support Iraq, but "our stance is a political one. We don't have jets or missiles," he told The Associated Press.

Friday night's raid was the first strike since December 1998 north of the 33rd parallel, which lies about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad and marks the edge of the southern "no-fly" zone patrolled by U.S. and British planes since 1991. Air raid sirens went off in Baghdad in February 1999 after strikes inside the no-fly zone.

Two dozen warplanes fired long-range missiles targeting radar systems to the south and north of the capital, according to the U.S. Defense Department, which said Iraq had become increasingly threatening of late toward allied aircraft patrolling.

President Bush authorized the strikes Friday morning, nearly 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 Geoffrey Hoon earlier this week following discussions with the United States.

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. It said the operation appeared to have been successful and no more strikes were needed soon. The planes involved came from various locations in the Gulf.

U.S. and British warplanes have been patrolling no-fly zones in northern Iraq since April 1991, shortly after the Gulf War ended. The southern no-fly zone was set up the following year.

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, though missiles have hit residential areas and Iraq says about 300 people have been killed and more than 800 injured.

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