Iraq accused the U.S. Air Force Monday of provoking it by violating its airspace and asked the United Nations to halt such intrusions.
The Iraqi protest came as a team of U.N. weapons inspectors left Baghdad for two Iraqi missile test sites south of the capital to prepare to install surveillance cameras.Iraq's refusal to install the cameras earlier this month had brought Baghdad closer to a possible military confrontation with the Western allies, who had threatened to attack if Iraq did not relent.
The inspection team is led by Bill Eckert, 47, of Dayton, Ohio. He said his team would install the cameras on Tuesday.
"We still have questions to work out with the Iraqi government on technical aspects," he said Monday. "I want to give them time. We are here to succeed."
Under a compromise, the cameras will be installed but not turned on until after further talks on long-term monitoring of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as called for under 1991 gulf warcease-fire agreements.
Eckert said those negotiations would take place in New York in late August or early September.
The Iraqi protest followed a U.S. missile strike Saturday against an Iraqi anti-aircraft site in southern Iraq after an American jet detected it was being tracked by radar.
Baghdad denied Sunday that its radar had locked onto the jet and denied reports it had returned fire.
Allied warplanes have patrolled a "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq since August 1992 to protect Shiite Muslim rebels sheltering in Iraq's southern marshes. The rebels fled there after a failed uprising.
Since then, allied planes have flown thousands of missions to ensure Iraqi aircraft do not fly below the 32nd parallel. Locking on with radar is considered a hostile act.
"Iraq has lodged a protest with the United Nations over the continuation of airspace violations by U.S. aircraft for provocation and reconnaissance purpose," said a government statement issued in Baghdad.
The statement said U.S. aircraft based in Saudi Arabia and other U.S. facilities in the gulf carried out as many as 580 sorties over northern and southern Iraq in the past two weeks.
On June 29, a U.S. jet fired a missile at an Iraqi antiaircraft artillery site in Basra province after radar targeted two patrol planes.
On Sunday, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a battle group of seven ships, including a nuclear-powered submarine, cruised up the Persian Gulf. Two of the support ships have Tomahawk cruise missiles, a Navy spokeswoman said.
The Abraham Lincoln group, based in Alameda, Calif., replaces the USS Nimitz group, which left the region last month. The ships' presence in the gulf is part of a regular U.S. deployment in the area following the gulf war.