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27 March 2003

CENTCOM Officer Says Iraqi Missile May Have Caused Civilian Deaths

(Iraqis have been firing uncontrolled, aging missiles, official says)
(480)


By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer


U.S. Central Command officials believe "it's entirely possible" that
an Iraqi surface-to-air missile fired wildly without being guided by
radar may be responsible for the deaths of 14 civilians in the
northern Baghdad Shaab marketplace, says Army Brigadier General
Vincent Brooks.

At a CENTCOM briefing March 27, Brooks said coalition forces used
precision-guided weapons to target nine Iraqi surface-to-surface
missiles and launchers in Baghdad at approximately 11 a.m. local time
March 26 (0800 GMT, 3 a.m. EST).

"The missiles and launchers were placed within a civilian residential
area," a CENTCOM statement said. "Most of the missiles were positioned
less than 300 feet from homes."

Brooks said that while CENTCOM officials are fully investigating the
incident to determine whose missiles might have caused the fatalities,
it may not be fully known "until we're in Baghdad ourselves, which we
will be. The best that we can do at this point is account for
everything we did, and we have accounted for our weapon systems that
we fired on that [day]; they hit their target, we're certain of that."

Air Force investigators examine what missions were flown, what weapon
systems specifically were used in a period of time when it might have
contributed to an incident, and examine flight paths and angles of
attack, Brooks said during the daily CENTCOM briefing from the
command's forward headquarters at Camp As Sayliyah near Doha, Qatar.

"It reinforces first that we have no intention of harming civilians
unnecessarily or destroying infrastructure and buildings that we don't
intend to attack," Brooks said. "What I know further about this
particular one is that we did have an air mission that attacked some
targets, not in that area but in a different area, and during that
period of time, they encountered surface-to-air missile fire."

Brooks said at the outset of his regular briefing to the media that
the Iraqis have been seen firing uncontrolled surface-to-air missiles.
"What I mean by that is, normally they are controlled by radar, but
there's a hazard to turning on a radar against one of our aircraft, a
very certain hazard, and so the firing crews have decided not to turn
on the radar, and fire the missiles ballistically," he said.

Brooks also said the Iraqis have been using very old stocks of
surface-to-air missiles.

"Those stocks are not reliable, and missiles are going up and coming
down," he said. "So, we think it's entirely possible that this may
have been, in fact, an Iraqi missile that either went up and came
down, or given the behaviors of the regime lately, it may have been a
deliberate attack inside of town."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)