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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saddam Defiant as U.S. Bombs Iraq

BAGHDAD -- The United States on Tuesday launched one of the biggest military strikes against Iraq since the Gulf War, firing 27 cruise missiles at targets in southern Iraq in response to Iraqi attacks on Kurds in the north.

Iraq said five people were killed and 19 wounded.

President Saddam Hussein responded in a defiant speech by urging his air force to attack U.S. and allied planes policing Western-imposed air exclusion zones in the south and north of his country, and said many cruise missiles were shot down.

In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton said the United States was extending a no-fly zone in southern Iraq to the "southern suburbs" of the Iraqi capital Baghdad and taking other steps in retaliation for Iraq's military move against Kurds.

"First, we are extending the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. This will deny Saddam control of Iraqi air space from the Kuwaiti border to the southern suburbs of Baghdad," Clinton said in a statement from the White House. "It significantly restricts Iraq's ability to conduct offensive operations."

He also said a United Nations plan to allow Iraq to sell oil to raise hard currency to buy food and medicine could not proceed under the current circumstances.

"We must make it clear that reckless acts have consequences or those acts will increase," Clinton said. "Our objectives are limited but clear: to make Saddam pay a price for the latest act of brutality, reducing his ability to threaten his neighbors and America's interests."

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said the attack was justified because Iraq's military actions posed a "clear and present danger" to neighboring countries and the flow of oil, and the United States reserved the right to take fur "Hit back with capability and efficiency, relying on God, the Almighty, at any hostile plane the aggressors fly to violate the airspace of your great country throughout Iraq from now and in future," he said.

Saddam said Iraqi losses were minimal. "The sons of Iraq were on their guard for the aggressors, downing a great number of their missiles," he said.

The official Iraqi News Agency later said angry Iraqis took to the streets to denounce the U.S. strikes.

Shortly after Saddam spoke, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said Baghdad would complete a troop withdrawal from the Kurdish north Tuesday and denied reports that Iraq was massing forces close to the town of Sulaimaniya.

U.S. defense officials said the unmanned missiles were fired from B-52 bombers and American warships in the Gulf at about 15 targets such as air defense radars, missile sites and command and communication centers near several areas in southern Iraq, including Al Kut, Al Iskandariyah, An Nasiriyah and Tallil.

In 1993, Clinton launched a cruise missile attack on Iraq in response to its alleged plot to assassinate former president George Bush while Bush, who led the 1991 Gulf War coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, was visiting Kuwait that year.

The 23 missiles destroyed an Iraqi intelligence headquarters in central Baghdad where U.S. officials said the plot had been hatched. Six civilians were killed.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters earlier there was evidence that some of the Iraqi forces that overran the northern Iraqi city of Arbil during the weekend were "penetrating deeper" into northern Iraq and threatened Sulaimaniya, administrative capital of the Kurdish opposition.

McCurry said there was also reason to believe that some Iraqi troops were involved in executions of leaders of an anti-Baghdad Kurdish faction in Arbil.

The White House believes Saddam sent three tank divisions composed of 30,000 to 40,000 elite Republican Guard troops into northern Iraq to help the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, involved in a bloody power struggle with another Kurdish group with links to Iran, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

It says UN Security Council resolutions approved after the 1991 Gulf War provide the legal basis for responding, but in a televised interview, Aziz said the action was illegitimate and against international law.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani welcomed the strikes but said they had so far failed to deter tank and artillery movements toward his positions.

His opponent, KDP leader Massoud Barzani, newly allied with Saddam, echoed Baghdad's defiance and said his alliance was forced by the United States.

On the diplomatic front, reaction was mixed.

Iranian state radio blasted the attacks as Clinton electioneering, and Jordan, another neighbor of Iraq, called for restraint to avoid a further escalation of violence.

Syria, which also borders Iraq, said the U.S. action threatened Iraq's unity. In Cairo, the Arab League condemned the attack as infringing the sovereignty of an Arab country.

Britain and France, who weighed in behind Washington during the 1991 Gulf War, held back from Tuesday's attack.

Britain loudly applauded the U.S. strikes but stopped short of adding its own hardware, while France said little.

But Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien voiced support and called on Saddam to withdraw from Kurdish regions in the north.

Germany also backed the attacks and said it expected Baghdad to pull out of the north at once and stop attacking civilian Kurds. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana called the military action "a justified, measured and proportionate response."

Clinton's political rival, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, said: "I trust that this development marks the beginning of decisive action by the United States to curtail the power of Saddam Hussein."

Japan said it supported the air raid as a way to ensure Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions ending the Gulf War.

China called for restraint, saying "We hope all sides will not take action that could further aggravate the situation in that area." India and Pakistan both expressed grave concern, India saying the attack was likely to affect Middle East peace.