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Allied Planes Strike Iraqi Sites

Allied warplanes attacked military installations in southern Iraq on Wednesday, the second such airstrike in two days. Iraq said two civilians were killed.

An Iraqi military spokesman told the official news agency INA that the casualties had occurred when the planes fired at "civilian areas and infrastructure facilities" in the southern Basra province. One person was also injured in the attacks.

Chief Petty Officer David Nagle, a spokesman for the Saudi-based U.S.-British Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, said the sites were bombed in response to threats against aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone Wednesday. He did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.

"Coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons to strike at two anti-aircraft artillery sites near Shahban about 225 miles south east of Baghdad," he said.

U.S. spokesmen have previously used the phrase coalition aircraft to describe U.S. and British military warplanes.

All aircraft returned safely to base, said Nagle, but no damage assessment was available.

The Iraqi military spokesman said Riyadh Nahi Shaker and Murtadha Abdel Amir were killed in the air raids, while Amjad Rahim Khudhair was injured, according to the agency report.

Iraqi air defense units fired on the allied planes, "forcing them to leave our skies for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

Iraqi sites have fired on or otherwise threatened U.S.-British aircraft more than 400 times this year, according to the United States and Britain.

The raid was the latest in a flurry of attacks by American and British jets since late August amid Iraqi attempts to shoot down aircraft patrolling no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

"This had nothing to do with what happened on September 11," Nagel added.

He was referring to President Bush's campaign against terrorism following Sept. 11 attacks in the United States which left nearly 6,000 people dead or missing.

In early August, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraq had greatly improved its air defenses with fiber-optic links since coalition planes pounded them and other military targets south of Baghdad in February.

About 50 U.S. and British jets hit those defenses with precision-guided bombs and missiles.

U.S. and British aircraft patrol southern and northern "no-fly" zones to prevent Iraqi forces from attacking Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south and to provide early warning of any Iraqi troop movements toward Kuwait.

The no-fly zones have been enforced since shortly after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait in 1991. Iraq considers the zones illegal and has vowed to shoot down any coalition planes.

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