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BLOOMBERG NEWS November 23, 2002

U.S., British fire on Iraq communications facility

By Paul Basken

WASHINGTON - U.S. and British aircraft fired Friday at a communications facility in Iraq, the sixth day of attacks in a "no-fly zone" in the past week, in what may be part of a stepped-up effort to degrade Iraqi air defenses.

"It's basically gone from weekly to daily," John Pike, a defense analyst with Globalsecurity.org, a research group, said of the increased pace of U.S. and British strikes in preparation for a possible conflict.

The United Nations has ordered Iraq to submit to a new round of inspections for weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences," and President Bush has said the U.S. is ready to attack if Iraq doesn't comply fully.

U.S. and British jets have been patrolling no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq since the end of the Gulf War a decade ago to enforce U.N.-ordered limits on Iraqi military activity. The recent increase in attacks by coalition planes may be the initial stage of renewed conflict, analysts said.

"They're taking apart the integrated air-defense system so that Iraq basically does not have a functioning air-defense system," Pike said.

Iraq maintains a formidable air-defense capability, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said. The Iraqis are "constantly trying to improve" their defenses through advances such as fiber optic connections, Rumsfeld told reporters in September.

The allied aircraft Friday struck unmanned communications facilities south of Al Amarah, 165 miles southeast of Baghdad, after an Iraqi military jet entered the southern zone, the Pentagon said.

Aircraft Thursday hit targets near Ash Shuaybah, about 245 miles southeast of Baghdad, and near Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of the capital, after Iraq moved radar devices into the southern zone, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon downplayed the recent increase. One spokesman said the number of responses by U.S. and British planes varies from week to week, and another suggested they may be due to stepped-up preparations for war by Iraq.


Copyright 2002 BLOOMBERG NEWS