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US, British Aircraft Fired Upon in Iraqi No Fly Zone - 2002-10-03

Coalition aircraft dropped 120,000 leaflets over southern Iraq, urging Iraqi air defense forces not to fire on U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zone. The message seems to have had no effect.

The message on the leaflet was simple: Iraqi air defenses beware! If you use radar to track coalition planes or weapons to fire on them, you could be destroyed.

But U.S. military officials say Iraqi forces near Tallil, about 250-kilometers southeast of Baghdad ignored the warning, shooting anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles at one of the aircraft involved in the leaflet drop.

The Pentagon says the plane was undamaged and returned to its base safely. Other coalition aircraft, carrying out the threat contained in the leaflet, pounded what the Pentagon says was the Iraqi air defense center involved in directing fire at the plane.

The military says it is assessing the extent of the damage to the target.

The leaflet drop was the first since October of last year. When asked why a new batch was dropped now, one military spokesman said the answer was simple: "They're firing at us and we want them to stop."

Officials dismissed suggestions the drop might be the prelude to further psychological warfare operations at a time of escalating tensions between Washington and Baghdad.

But other sources say the Pentagon is preparing a major psychological campaign aimed at Iraqi military units, especially those that might be equipped with chemical or biological weapons.

These sources say the so-called "psy-ops" campaign would be designed to convince commanders not to use such weapons if Iraq is attacked.

The no-fly zone leaflet drop follows Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's charge earlier this week that Iraq's continued efforts to shoot down patrolling allied planes were signs of its contempt for the international community.

Mr. Rumsfeld vowed coalition planes would continue to strike back against Iraqi air defense targets to protect the lives of American and British pilots.