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Iraqi attacks on Allied aircraft increases tenfold

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CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports that U.S. and British aircraft have stepped up attacks on Iraqi no-fly zone targets. (November 23)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi anti-aircraft fire on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones increased tenfold this week, and Allied aircraft responded with airstrikes on four of the past five days, the Pentagon said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld commented Tuesday on the stepped-up activity. "You can be absolutely certain that we will not allow our aircraft to continue to be shot at with impunity," he said. "We intend to respond."

The increased activity on both sides comes as President Bush pledged to lead a military coalition into Iraq and forcibly disarm it of alleged weapons of mass destruction, unless Baghdad follows United Nations resolutions aimed at disarment of such weapons -- chemical, nuclear and biological. Baghdad has repeatedly denied possessing such weapons.

The United States, France and Britain set up the system of prohibiting Iraqi aircraft from flying over northern and southern regions of the country after the Persian Gulf war. The United States and Britain continue to enforce this ban.

Allied aircraft started patrolling southern Iraq in 1991 to protect Shiite Muslims from attacks by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for trying to overthrow Saddam's government and began flying over northern Iraq in 1992 to protect ethnic Kurds from Saddam's wrath.

The U.S. Central Command said that the Iraqis have fired on coalition aircraft more than 130 times so far this year.

The Defense Department said that on Monday, Iraqi gunners fired at U.S. and British planes about 50 times, as much as 10 times as many attacks than in a typical day.

Since Monday, the United States has attacked Iraqi targets four out of five days, hitting eight different targets and always describing the attacks as acts of self-defense, according to the Pentagon.

It was unknown if the increased Iraqi attacks were in defiance of 120,000 U.S. leaflets dropped by U.S. planes on Sunday warning Iraqi gunners to "back off."

The Pentagon response to the increased Iraqi attacks was to conduct more powerful strikes against more valuable Iraqi targets. Twelve allied planes dropped 20 bombs on three separate communications facilities used by the Iraqi Integrated Air Defense network.

In addition, on Friday, an Iraqi MIG fighter-jet crossed into the southern no-fly zone below the 33rd parallel, in violation of U.S.-imposed rules.

The Pentagon has said that Iraqi attacks on allied aircraft violate a United Nations referendum unanimously passed by the Security Council on November 8. But Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the attacks do not constitute a violation.

U.N. resolution 1441 states in part that "Iraq shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed against any representative or personnel of the United Nations ... or of any member state taking action to uphold any Council resolution."

Although the U.S. has threatened military action against Iraq if it fails to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction it allegedly has in its possession, the Pentagon has said the United States is still operating under the same rules of engagement as always: Anytime Iraq threatens coalition planes, the United States will respond at a time and manner of its choosing.

Under the U.N. resolution, Baghdad must provide weapons inspectors with a list of all such weapons and weapons-making facilities allegedly in its possession by December 8.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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