BAGHDAD, Iraq — Anti-aircraft fire flashed in the night sky over Iraq's capital and residents scattered from the streets Friday after sirens sounded for the first time in nearly two years, warning of a U.S. and British attack.
State-run media reported that allied strikes outside Baghdad killed a woman and wounded 11 other people. Asked about the report, Pentagon spokesman Lt. David Gai said: "We're not in the business of verifying or refuting outside reports."
In the hospitals, children with bandaged legs and feet held their hands out to worried parents hovering nearby, an AP photographer said. Concerned family members stood by anxiously, waiting for news about their relatives.
"It is another aggression on Baghdad that resulted of the injury of many women, children and elderly," said Health Minister Omed Medhat Mubarak. "Some of them are in critical condition."
Air raid sirens started wailing at about 9 p.m., followed soon after by explosions from anti-aircraft weaponry from the southern and western outskirts of the city of more than 5 million people.
Some residents of the capital huddled together in fear in their houses. Others, however, braved the danger 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.
In Washington, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold said the strike was aimed at stopping Iraqi attempts to make a "safe haven" for radar and command-and-control sites to conduct attacks on allied planes bombing in the northern and southern no fly zones.
Iraqi air defenses regularly target U.S. and British patrols in the zones, and the allies' planes almost daily strike targets in the north and south.
In Friday's assault, two dozen warplanes fired long-range missiles at radar systems to the south and north of Baghdad. It was the first strike outside the southern no-fly zone since December 1998.
Almost 50 minutes after the sirens first sounded, more sirens announced the end of the airstrikes. People milled around the streets, discussing the events. Air raid sirens last went off in Baghdad in February 1999 after strikes inside the no-fly zone.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein met with his Revolutionary Command Council and leaders of the ruling al-Baath Party. They denounced the attack, saying it showed 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 leadership said in a statement. "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."
Some 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 Thursday 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 his government authorized the raid this week after discussions with the United States.
U.S. and British warplanes have been patrolling no-fly zones in the north and south of the Iraq since the Gulf War, which ended in February 1991 with the end of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
Iraq does not recognize the no-fly zones and has been challenging allied aircraft since December 1998. The allies say their planes never target civilians, but Iraq reports that strikes have killed some 300 people and injured more than 800.