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US Planes Bomb Iraqi Air Defenses - 2001-08-07

U.S. planes have bombed Iraqi air defenses after the jets came under fire.

The Pentagon's European Command, whose pilots patrol the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, says this latest exchange took place north of the city of Mosul. U.S. officials say the Iraqis fired both anti-aircraft guns and missiles. In return, allied planes dropped bombs on an unspecified target.

President Bush, who was briefed about the incident while vacationing in Texas, tells reporters the response was correct. "Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a menace," Mr. Bush said. "He's still a menace. And we need to keep him in check and we will."

Allied fighters have flown over northern and southern Iraq since shortly after the Gulf War, frequently trading fire with Iraqi forces.

Mr. Bush and other officials downplay suggestions that the long-running conflict is escalating. But a Pentagon spokesman, Admiral Craig Quigley, says the Iraqis have become more aggressive this year. "There has been a much more concerted effort," he said, "on the part of the Iraqis, both in northern and southern watch [northern and southern Iraq] to try to down a coalition aircraft."

Iraq recently came close to shooting down an American U2 spy plane. The allies have not yet retaliated for that attack.