Iraqis shoot down US spy drone


US officials yesterday played down an Iraqi offer to let CIA agents direct UN arms inspectors, as the downing of an unmanned US spy plane over Iraq highlighted tensions amid talk of impending war.

The Predator spy plane was shot down over the southern Iraqi no-fly zone in the first downing of a US aircraft in a no-fly zone since a new UN resolution was passed last month demanding Baghdad disarm.

The Pentagon said the Predator plane was fired on by an Iraqi aircraft and the Iraqi military confirmed the downing.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen Richard Myers, told reporters in Washington the attack was further evidence Iraq was not complying with the UN resolution, but said the downing did not escalate the dispute with Iraq.

"They've been making a strenuous energetic effort to shoot down US aircraft for many, many, many months now - manned and unmanned," Gen Myers said. "They got a lucky shot today and they brought down the Predator. But I do not see it as an escalation. It's been something they've been doing for literally the last couple of years."

Iraq, which does not recognise the no-fly zones, charges that Western aircraft have attacked civilian targets and killed innocent people. The Pentagon denies that.

A senior Iraqi official had suggested on Sunday that Washington send CIA agents to direct UN arms inspections. But a US official said the organisation of inspections teams was none of Iraq's business. "The [UN] Security Council, and its members, and the inspectors will worry about the who, the what, the when and the where of the inspections process," the official said. - (Reuters)