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US Warns Iraq to Keep its Air Force Grounded - 2003-03-31

A senior U.S. commander at coalition headquarters in Qatar has issued a stern warning to the Iraqi air force, saying if it tries to dispute U.S. dominance of the skies, it will be destroyed. The Iraqi air force has stayed on the ground since the war in Iraq began 12 days ago.

Iraq has kept its air force grounded since the U.S.-led coalition launched its war against the Saddam Hussein regime. Asked why the Iraqi Air Force has not flown, General Vincent Brooks, the deputy head of operations for the Central Command, told reporters in Qatar that the reason is simple.

"If they fly, they die. It is as simple as that. If they come up, we will destroy them, and if we find them, we will destroy them," General Brooks said.

General Brooks made the remark after showing reporters a videotape of the destruction of what looked like two Iraqi fighter aircraft parked on airfield ramps. But Paul Beaver, a London-based defense expert, said he thinks the destroyed aircraft were old and were being used as decoys.

Earlier, a spokesman in Kuwait for Britain's Royal Air Force, Group Captain Jon Fynes, told reporters the Iraqi air force has been unable to get airborne. But he said the Iraqis had directed lots of anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles at coalition aircraft.