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US Criticizes Iraq for Firing on No-Fly Zone Patrols - 2002-09-30

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraq's defiance of the international community is symbolized by its forces continuing to fire on U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and the south of the country.

The Pentagon says Iraqi forces have fired on coalition aircraft in the no-fly zones 67 times since Baghdad promised two weeks ago to allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country.

Mr. Rumsfeld says that is clear evidence of Iraq's contempt for U.N. resolutions.

"With each missile launched at our aircrews, Iraq expresses its contempt for the U.N. resolutions, a fact that must be kept in mind as their latest inspection offers are evaluated," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld was joined at a special Pentagon briefing by General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. armed forces. The general says over the past three years, Iraqi forces have used anti-aircraft artillery to fire at coalition planes over 1,000 times. He says they have launched over 600 rockets and fired over 60 surface-to-air missiles over the same three-year period.

General Myers showed video clips from fighter jets and unmanned reconnaissance drones showing the muzzle flashes of Iraqi anti-aircraft guns as well as Iraqi missiles launched aimed at coalition planes.

Mr. Rumsfeld says Iraq has spent billions of dollars to improve its air defenses, often circumventing U.N. sanctions. He says it is a matter of skill and luck that coalition pilots have escaped unscathed from their no-fly zone patrols.

"We have just been enormously fortunate that no plane has been shot down, that no manned aircraft has been shot down," he said. "To go day after day and have these aircrews subjected to that kind of firing the numbers of times General Myers pointed out, it is clearly skill on their part but it's also good fortune."

Mr. Rumsfeld says it bothers him that coalition pilots risk their lives, yet the firing by Iraqi forces continues. He says that equally annoying, for him, is that at the same time, Iraqi officials are telling the world they are open to unconditional weapons inspections.

Mr. Rumsfeld says that Iraqi claim, in his words, is "patently false."