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"No-fly zone" flights prevented Iraqi threats

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June 18, 2000 

  

WASHINGTON, (AP) - The State Department expressed regret Friday over civilian deaths in Iraq from U.S. and British air strikes but said the flights in the "no-fly zones" have prevented Iraq from threatening citizens in these areas.

 

Spokesman Richard Boucher commented in response to a report Friday in The Washington Post that outlined the toll the air strikes have taken on the civilian populations of these regions.

 

The United States and allied countries barred Iraqi planes from flying in a large area of northern Iraq in 1991 and set up a similar zone in southern Iraq in 1992. The people in these areas had risen against the rule of President Saddam Hussein after his forces were defeated by a U.S.-led international coalition in 1991.

 

The enforcement action has taken a violent turn since December 1998, when Saddam's order that his anti-aircraft batteries fire on intruding aircraft prompted retaliatory strikes.

 

A spokesman for Iraq's air defense command told the Post that about 300 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 800 wounded in the strikes. The Post quoted a U.N. survey that documented some of the Iraqi claims and accepted Iraqi reports on others.

 

The Post said some Iraqi anti-aircraft equipment was built near towns and villages to increase the possibility of civilian casualties during retaliatory strikes. On the other hand, the newspaper said, air strikes also occurred in vast open fields with no anti-aircraft facilities in sight.

 

Boucher said the allied aircraft act was in response to Iraqi threats.

      

"They never target civilians or civilian facilities," he said. "If Iraq would stop targeting these aircraft that are carrying out a humanitarian mission of protection, there would be no need for pilots to respond in self-defense."

  


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