| Two workers put the last touches on an eight-metre statue of President Saddam Hussein at the Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad. The inauguration of the statue is scheduled along with the October 15 presidential referendum. (AFP)
Baghdad, Sept. 26 (Reuters): Iraq said today US warplanes had raided Basra civilian airport and damaged its radar system, in the latest attack by Western jets enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq.
The US confirmed it has attacked the airport, saying it had targeted a military radar there.
Iraq’s state-run satellite television quoted a government spokesman as saying the attack on the airport in Basra, 480 km southeast of Baghdad, took place last night.
The airport occupies a large area in the strategic Basra province, home to Iraq’s main port at the head of the Gulf and major oil installations.
“The raids destroyed the main radar system in the airport as well as damaging the main service building at the airport,” the television said.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said early damage assessments of the Basra attack showed the US jets had destroyed the military radar that was the target of the raid.
“The Basra strike did take place at a civilian airfield but it was directed at a military radar located on the civilian airfield,” Lt Colonel Dave Lapan said. “The strike was directed at the radar which has threatened coalition aircraft.”
He said US aircraft also struck a target near al Kufa, located about 130 km south of Baghdad.
US aircraft, along with British jets, police two no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq set up after the 1991 Gulf War.
The zones, which Baghdad does not recognise, were imposed to protect a Kurdish enclave in the north and Shi'ite Muslims in the south from possible attacks by the Iraqi government.
The Iraqi News Agency reported President Saddam Hussein chaired a meeting of top Iraqi officials hours after yesterday’s attack.
INA said they discussed “the current political situation”, but gave no further details. It said vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim, vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and the oil minister Amir Muhammad Rasheed attended the meeting.
Exchanges have increased sharply in recent months as speculation has grown of a possible US attack against Baghdad to remove President Saddam Hussein from power. Washington accuses Saddam of developing weapons of mass destruction, a charge Iraq has repeatedly denied.
It was the second attack on Basra airport’s radar system.
US F-16 warplanes destroyed the system last August.
US defence officials said at the time the warplanes attacked a military radar as part of a concerted strategy to destroy Iraq’s air defences, which regularly fire at Western warplanes.
Baghdad said yesterday US and British jets attacked civilian targets in the south of the country the day before and one civilian was wounded.
Iran, keen to avert war in neighbouring Iraq, said today it was to hold talks with foreign ministers from both its old enemy Baghdad and Washington’s closest ally Britain. Iran fought a bitter eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and is no friend of President Saddam Hussein, but it fears an attack on Baghdad by its arch-foe the US could dangerously destabilise West Asia.
Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri is due in Iran on Sunday in a visit seen as a bid to muster Iranian support against possible US strikes on Baghdad.
“Different foreign groups will visit Iran in the coming days, of which Sabri’s visit on Sunday is one of them,” foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said today.
Iran, keen to avert war in neighbouring Iraq, said today it was to hold talks with foreign ministers from both its old enemy Baghdad and Washington’s closest ally Britain.