Coalition planes hit Iraqi air defenses
Planes drop leaflets hinting at retaliation if attacks continue
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. and coalition forces monitoring the southern no-fly zone over Iraq struck two targets Monday after several days of anti-coalition activity by Iraqi military forces, military officials said.
The strikes closely followed the arrival of an advance team of weapons inspectors in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Aircraft used precision-guided weapons to target two air defense communications facilities and one air defense radar facility at about 3 p.m. ET, according to a statement from the U.S. Central Command.
One communication facility and the radar facility were near Al Kut, approximately 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the statement said. The other air defense facility was near Tallil, approximately 170 miles south southeast of Baghdad.
All coalition aircraft left the area safely, the U.S. European Command said.
Earlier Monday, coalition aircraft patrolling the northern no-fly zone were fired on by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery from sites northeast of Mosul, the statement said. The aircraft responded in self-defense by bombing elements of the Iraqi integrated air defense system, the statement said.
Iraqi air defense forces have fired at coalition aircraft four out of five days since the signing of U.N. Resolution 1441 that authorized the return of weapons inspectors, the statement said.
Pentagon officials said Iraqi forces have fired on coalition aircraft 201 times in the northern and southern no-fly zones since November 8, when the Security Council passed the resolution.
Coalition warplanes have responded with airstrikes 34 times during that period. The last coalition strikes in the southern no-fly zone were Friday against an air defense communication facility near An Najaf.
The state-run Iraqi news agency said the Friday airstrikes hit civilian facilities and that seven civilians were killed. U.S. officials said they had no way to verify those reports.
Rumsfeld: Iraqi firing 'unacceptable'
U.S. officials Monday expressed growing frustration that Iraq was still firing at U.S. and British aircraft despite warnings such actions "would constitute a material breach" of the U.N. resolution returning weapons inspectors to Iraq.
Section 8 of U.N. Resolution 1441 states: "Iraq shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed against any representative or personnel of the United Nations ... any member state taking action to uphold any council resolution."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a meeting of Southern Hemisphere defense ministers in Santiago, Chile, he found Iraq's action "unacceptable" and that he was "uncomfortable" sending U.S. aircrews into the line of fire over Iraq.
"It is the only place on the face of the Earth where our forces are being fired on and the response is measured," he said.
The no-fly zones have been a source of contention for Iraq since their establishment -- without a specific U.N. resolution -- after the Persian Gulf War, and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry rejects the U.S. interpretation of the current resolution.
"The entire international community has condemned the no-fly zone because it violates the U.N. charter and the basic rules of international law," a ministry spokesman said Monday in a statement. "It goes against the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq."
At the White House, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan said, "We do ... believe it [the Iraqi action] is a violation that would constitute a material breach. ... The resolution gives us that option to refer ... this violation to the Security Council for discussion."
McClellan would not say whether the White House intended to do that. But at the United Nations, a U.S. official acknowledged that "there's open disagreement" on the council on the U.S. interpretation suggesting Iraq had breached the resolution "by firing on our aircraft."
"It wouldn't be our strong suit if we brought it back into the council," the U.S. official said.
"I think we're going to wait to see what happens with [U.N. chief arms inspector Hans] Blix and with the [Iraqi] declaration, and then we'll decide," the U.S. official said.
The official was referring to the December 8 deadline by which Iraq must provide complete and accurate descriptions of its ballistic, nuclear, chemical and biological programs.
U.S. warning: 'You could be next'
Coalition aircraft Monday also dropped 120,000 leaflets around the town of Ar Rumaythah, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the Central Command statement said. The leaflets warned Iraqi air defense operators not to track or fire at the no-fly zone patrols.
"The destruction experienced by your colleagues in other air defense locations is a response to your continued aggression toward coalition forces," the 3-inch by 6-inch leaflets said in Arabic. "You could be next."
The leaflet drop, the fourth in eight weeks, was intended not only to protect aircrews but also to communicate the consequences of Iraqi military actions directly to the local civilian populace.