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Pentagon Rejects Russian Criticism of US Airstrikes in Iraqi No-Fly Zones - 2002-09-30

The Pentagon has rejected Russian criticism of the latest U.S. and British coalition airstrikes on targets in the no-fly zones in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says critics like Russia are getting it wrong, turning things upside down, when it comes to evaluating what is happening in Iraq.

For example, Mr. Rumsfeld says, it is nonsense to suggest, as did a statement from Russia's Foreign Ministry, that coalition airstrikes in Iraq's no-fly zones are obstacles to a diplomatic solution, aimed at getting weapons inspectors back into Baghdad.

"It is not the Iraqis firing on British and American airplanes that is making it difficult, it is the response that is making it difficult? The question on its face is nonsensical," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says Iraqi forces have fired on coalition planes 67 times since agreeing in principle to let weapons inspectors back into the country two weeks ago. Over the past three years, the Pentagon reports more than 1,600 cases of Iraqi missiles, rockets and anti-aircraft guns being fired at U.S. and British aircraft. "It seems to me that reasonable people would look at that and say, 'My goodness, why would the Iraqis make it more difficult to solve this,'" he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says each Iraqi firing is essentially a gesture of contempt aimed at United Nations resolutions.

The U.S. Defense Secretary spoke at a special Pentagon briefing, at which aircraft surveillance video was shown of Iraq missiles and gunfire aimed at coalition planes.

Mr. Rumsfeld denied the unusual release of the previously classified images was politically motivated.

U.S. and British planes have patrolled the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq for more than 10 years. They were set up following the 1991 Gulf war, to prevent Iraqi attacks against minority groups inside the country or possible attacks against neighboring nations.