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Iraq Says 5 Killed, 17 Hurt in Western Attack
Fri Jul 19, 3:04 PM ET

By Hassan Hafidh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said on Friday U.S. and British planes attacked civilian targets killing five people and wounding 17 others in the south of the country on Thursday.

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Saddam Hussein Defies American Threat

"At 11:15 p.m. local time yesterday evil American and British warplanes violated our airspace coming from Saudi Arabia and carried out 34 sorties," an Iraqi military spokesman said in a statement on the official Iraqi News Agency (INA).

A statement on the Web Site for U.S. Central Command in Florida, which overseas U.S. military activity in the Gulf area, said coalition aircraft struck a military target in the southern "no-fly" zone with precision-guided weapons.

"In response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against Coalition aircraft monitoring the Southern No-Fly Zone, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH Coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons today to strike a military cable repeater station in southern Iraq..."

Britain's Ministry of Defense said it had nothing to add to the U.S. statement.

Military activity in the region has become more frequent in recent months amid speculation that the United States might invade Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein ( news - web sites), whose country has the second largest oil reserves in the world and who is accused by the United States of developing weapons of mass destruction.

British and U.S. planes patrol two "no-fly" zones set up after the 1991 Gulf War ( news - web sites) in northern and southern Iraq.

Baghdad does not recognize the zones which the United States and Britain say were imposed to protect a Kurdish enclave in the north and Shi'ite Muslims in the south from possible attacks by Iraqi government forces.

Western planes have frequently bombed targets in the "no-fly" zones since Baghdad stepped up its defiance of the restrictions in December 1998.

"The enemy attacked civilian installations in the province of Qadissiya (Diwaniya), killing five citizens and wounding 17 others," the Iraqi spokesman said.

He said a house was destroyed and another was damaged during the attack in the center of Diwaniya city, some 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad.

The U.S. Central Command said it never targets civilian populations or infrastructure and that strikes in the "no-fly" zones are executed as a self-defense measure in response to hostile Iraqi threats and acts against Coalition forces.

"The last Coalition strike in the Southern No-Fly Zone was against a mobile radar unit associated with a mobile surface-to-air missile launcher on July 14, 2002," it said.

But a senior ruling Baath Party official said that there was no Iraqi military activity in the area where Western planes dropped their guided missiles.

"The evil American administration has yet added another crime to their record which is full of crimes when it attacked a residential quarter where there is no military activity...," Muhssein al-Khafaji told Iraqi television.

Khafaji said a family, consisting of a child and her father and mother, were killed during the assault. The two other victims were from the next house, he said.

The television showed pictures of destroyed houses and rescue teams were digging to take out the victims and save the wounded. It also showed some of the wounded laying in a near-by hospital.

It said a funeral procession organized in the main street of Diwaniya on Friday where participants shouted anti-American and British slogans.

The television said that the people in the province condemned the United States and Britain and expressed support for the leadership of President Saddam Hussein to defend Iraq.

Friday's assault was the third reported by Iraq in a week. Baghdad said one civilian was killed and 13 others wounded in two raids by U.S. and British planes on civilian targets in the south of the country on Saturday and Sunday.

The U.S. military said U.S. planes bombed Iraqi air defense facilities after coalition aircraft came under fire and were threatened by Iraqi air-defense units.

Saddam said on Wednesday in a televised speech marking Iraq's July 17 revolution that Washington and its allies would not be able to topple his government.

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