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US strikes Iraqi command facility

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. and British forces struck an Iraqi command and control communications facility about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad around 6:15 am EDT Tuesday, U.S. Central Command announced.

The strike occurred near Al Kut, the third time of five strikes in the southern-no-fly zone to date this month that the location has been hit. The last strike occurred Friday, against a mobile surface-to-air missile site near Tallil.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld directed his commanders earlier this year to target not just the tactical weapons sites threatening aircraft in Iraq but the higher-value command facilities that provide targeting coordinates.

Since Sept 16, when Iraq President Saddam Hussein said he would allow U.N. arms inspectors access to his country to search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Iraq has fired on U.S. and British aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones more than 122 times, predominantly in the southern no-fly zone. The strikes are carried out in response to threats to aircraft enforcing the restricted areas, either targeting with radar or actual the firing of missiles or anti-aircraft artillery.

The northern no-fly zone has been considerably quieter, with just one strike this month, on Oct. 9, against a mobile missile that had been moved into the restricted area.

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"If there was ever a case of 'Watch what he does, not what he says,' this is it. While expressing willingness to work with the United Nations and the international community, Saddam Hussein orders his military to attack American and coalition pilots," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said last week.

The no-fly zones were created shortly after the Persian Gulf War by agreement of the United States, Great Britain and France to protect Kurdish minorities in the north and Shiites in the south, in keeping with U.N. resolutions that called on Saddam not to target the groups.

No-fly zone enforcement went relatively unchallenged for nearly seven years until 1998, when Iraq blocked U.N. arms inspectors from carrying out unfettered inspections. The inspectors were withdrawn and the United States and Great Britain launched a four-day retaliatory attack on Baghdad known as Operation Desert Fox. Following that campaign, Saddam directed his gunners to fire on coalition aircraft and offered a reward for any U.S. pilot or plane shot down.

Planes flying over southern Iraq have been fired on more than 206 times this year. Aircraft in the northern zone have been fired on more than 200 times, according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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