By WAIEL FALEH, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The largest attack by U.S. and British warplanes in months has killed two people, Iraqi state-run media reported Saturday, the morning after anti-aircraft fire flashed in the night sky over the Iraqi capital and sirens drove frightened residents from the streets.
Sirens started wailing Friday evening, followed by explosions from anti-aircraft weapons from the southern and western outskirts of the city of more than 5 million.
The official Iraqi News Agency, citing health ministry officials, said two people died and 20 were injured. It identified the dead as a woman, Ghayda Atshaan Abdullah, and a man, Khalil Hameed Alwash.
In hospitals, children with bandaged legs and feet held their hands out to worried parents. Concerned family members stood by anxiously, waiting for news about their relatives.
"It is another aggression on Baghdad that resulted in the injury of many women, children and elderly," said Health Minister Omed Medhat Mubarak. "Some of them are in critical condition."
During the strikes, some residents of the capital - which has not heard air raid sirens in two years - huddled together in fear in their houses. Others, however, ventured out to watch the sky.
"How many times do they destroy what they themselves said they have already destroyed?" asked Samih Jamal, a 54-year-old retired government worker.
Almost 50 minutes after the sirens first sounded, more sirens announced the end of the airstrikes. People began milling in the streets, shaking their heads and discussing the events of the last hour, but soon returned to their homes.
President Saddam Hussein chaired a joint meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council and Iraq's regional command of al-Baath Party late Friday. A statement issued after the meeting said the attack was proof the United States and "the Zionist entity," Iraq's term for Israel, are "partners in evil and aggression."
"They thought they would scare Iraq but they are wrong," the statement said. "The more they continue their aggression, the stronger the Iraqi people ... will be in facing them. We shall fight them on ground, sky and sea and their aggression will deepen their failure."
Two dozen warplanes fired long-range missiles targeting radar systems to the south and north of the capital, according to the U.S. Defense Department, which said Iraq had become increasingly threatening of late toward allied aircraft patrolling.
It was the first strike since December 1998 north of the 33rd parallel, which lies about 30 miles south of Baghdad and marks the edge of the southern "no-fly" zone patrolled by U.S. and British planes since 1991. Air raid sirens went off in Baghdad in February 1999 after strikes inside the no-fly zone.
In Baghdad late Friday, the few people out in the streets were defiant. Store owner Ayad Hamid Ali, 52, said the United States and Britain only want to scare the Iraqis. "But they know we will not bow to the foreigners," he said.
"I will go to college as usual on Saturday to tell America that they will not stop people from living normally despite its efforts to stop the machine of life in Iraq," said student Sa'adi Yousef Toma, 22.
Shabab TV showed hundreds of youth demonstrating in the streets of the capital, volunteering to fight the enemy.
President Bush authorized the strikes Friday morning, 10 years after a U.S.-led coalition assembled by his father drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said the raids had been authorized by Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon earlier this week following discussions with the United States.
The allied warplanes struck their targets Friday without leaving the southern no-fly zone, using "standoff" weapons that zero in on targets from a distance, where the pilot is safer, the Pentagon said.
It said the operation appeared to have been successful and no more strikes were needed soon. The planes involved in the strikes came from various locations in the Gulf.
U.S. and British warplanes have been patrolling no-fly zones in northern Iraq since April 1991, shortly after the Gulf War ended. The southern no-fly zone was set up the following year.