Iraq Blamed For Bomb Deaths

Baghdad skies erupt with anti-aircraft fire as U.S. warplanes strike targets in the Iraqi capital in the early morning, in this Jan. 18, 1991 file photo.
Iraq's state-run television claimed Wednesday that a U.S.-British airstrike killed 23 people during a soccer game. U.S. officials blamed a malfunctioning Iraqi anti-aircraft missile.

The Iraqi News Agency said allied planes attacked Tall Afar, 275 miles northwest of Baghdad, the capital. It did not say when, but said the victims were buried Wednesday. It said 11 other people were injured.

At the Pentagon, officials said Iraqi forces fired several surface-to-air missiles at allied planes on Tuesday and it appeared that part of at least one of the Iraqi missiles malfunctioned and landed in the soccer field.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the planes spotted fire from anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles that did not come "anywhere near our airplanes."

The allied planes did not fire in response, he said.

"In the event anyone was killed it undoubtedly was the result of misdirected ground fire that ended up in a location that was not intended," Rumsfeld said in a brief encounter with reporters. He did not elaborate.

Iraqi state-run television showed children being treated at a hospital who were reportedly injured in the attack. It also quoted an unidentified doctor who treated people at Tall Afar Hospital saying the attack was Tuesday.

The television report quoted the doctor as saying four members of one family were killed and some of the injured were in a serious condition.

"I saw three planes attack the soccer field at 11:30 a.m.," an unidentified man told the station.

An injured child, Amar Hameed, 5, said on television that he was watching the soccer game when a missile fell on the field. He reportedly had burns and fractures.

"America and its ally, Britain, have committed a new, ugly crime that will be added to the record of their heinous crimes against Iraq," the Iraqi News Agency said. "The people of Tall Afar buried today the martyrs amid shouts of anger and condemnation against this crime."

Allied aircraft patrol the skies over southern and northern Iraq, zones established after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Shiite Muslim rebels in the south and Kurds in the north from Saddam Hussein's forces. Iraq does not recognize the no-fly zones and has challenged allied aircraft since December 1998.

In Washington, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said of the Iraqi charges: "There's no substance, nothing at all to those claims."

Maj. Ed Loomis, public affairs officer for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, denied such a hit could have come Tuesday.

"We did fly yesterday, conducting routine enforcement of the no-fly zone," Loomis said. "Our aircraft completed their mission without dropping any ordnance and returned safely to their bases. … The Iraqi allegations are absolutely false."

Britain's Ministry of Defense said American and British planes were fired on by Iraqi ground forces while patrolling Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not respond either day.

"Thi is yet another example of Iraqi propaganda," a ministry statement said. "Saddam regularly claims that we have killed civilians or destroyed civilian infrastructure on days when we have not dropped ordnance — and even when we have not flown patrols over the no-fly zones."

British and American jets enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq are based in Turkey.

A spokesman for U.S. forces at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, home base for the planes that fly over northern Iraq, denied anything was bombed Wednesday.

"We flew today, but we did not … drop anything," said Maj. Scott Vadnais.

The Iraqi television report also showed hundreds of people and government officials attending funerals, with people shouting "we will protect our leader with our souls" and "America is the enemy of the world's people."

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