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Jets raid Iraq command base

Washington, Sept. 9 (Reuters): US warplanes today attacked an air defence command target in a “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq in response to continuing attempts to shoot down patrolling American and British jets, the US military said.

The Pentagon said it was the 37th such strike against air defences in northern and southern no-fly zones of Iraq this year. The exchanges have increased sharply in the last month as speculation has mounted that the United States might invade Baghdad to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The US Central Command said from its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, that the jets launched guided weapons against a command and control facility near Al Amarah, about 273 km southeast of Baghdad at 1.30 am EDT (0530 GMT).

In Baghdad, an Iraqi military spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Iraqi news agency INA that US and British jets from bases in Kuwait today bombed civilian targets in Meisan Province, where Al Amarah is located. He reported no casualties.

The spokesman also said Iraqi air defences fired at US and British warplanes patrolling the northern no-fly zone from Turkey today and that evidence indicated one of the planes might have been hit.

Pentagon officials denied that any coalition warplanes had been damaged.

The Central Command statement did not say how many planes were involved in today’s southern raid. The Pentagon last week dismissed a British newspaper report that 100 US and British warplanes had conducted a very large raid in southern Iraq in what could be a prelude to war.

But defence officials did say last Thursday’s strike against a military airfield 390 km west of Baghdad was bigger than usual, involving a dozen warplanes using 25 guided weapons.

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