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U.S. Jets Slap Iraq

U.S. warplanes Thursday attacked Iraqi air-defense sites in a "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq, after western aircraft patrolling the zone were targeted by radar and anti-aircraft guns, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. European command based in Germany said all warplanes departed the area safely. There was no immediate report of damage on the ground.

U.S. and British jets have been policing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq for more than a decade. The zones were set up after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims from attack by President Saddam Hussein's military.

The exchange, latest in a long series, came amid recent media reports of growing debate within Washington over what to do about U.S. determination to remove Saddam from power.

Although President Bush recently labeled Iraq part of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iran, there has been no indication that the United States might attack Baghdad.

U.S. officials say that Iraq continues to work on development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Iraq admits that it once sought to develop biological agents but says it no longer has any such weapons program.

Baghdad was forced to accept U.N. inspectors following its defeat by a U.S.-led international force in the Gulf War, but inspectors had to abandon the country in 1998.

Despite Iraq's denial, U.S. officials say Baghdad has used the last three years to press ahead with weapons development.