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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s government is in a buoyant mood following what it calls its victory in the United Nations over sanctions.

“The United States and Britain have nothing left but to admit the fact that they have failed in their evil, aggressive policies toward Iraq,” the state-run al-Qadissiya newspaper said Saturday.

Earlier this month, the United States and Britain, facing a Russian veto, were forced to withdraw their so-called smart sanctions proposal to revamp sanctions against Iraq.

The confidence resulting from the political victory may be making Iraq bolder militarily – to the dismay of its neighbors.

U.S. Defense Department officials said late Friday that the crew of a Navy E2-C surveillance aircraft flying in Kuwaiti airspace reported seeing the plume of a surface-to-air missile apparently fired from inside Iraq. The American plane was not hit in the incident Thursday.

If confirmed, that would be the first known instance of Iraq firing a missile into Kuwaiti airspace since the 1991 Gulf War, and could mean Iraq has stationed a missile unit close to the Kuwaiti border. The United States in the past has warned Iraq not to station missiles near Kuwait. A U.S.-led coalition forced Iraq to reverse its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But on Saturday, a Kuwaiti Defense Ministry official said the sound of an explosion was heard over the demilitarized zone before 9 a.m. Thursday, but said it could have been the result of an Iraqi surface-to-air missile launched against allied aircraft in the southern no-fly zone in Iraq, according to the Kuwait News Agency.

“The state of Kuwait was not attacked,” the official, who was not further identified, was quoted as saying, adding the incident “does not concern Kuwait but concerns the countries that perform the patrolling directly.”

Iraqi military officials could not be reached for comment on the Pentagon report. But Iraq announced Thursday and Friday it had fired surface-to-air missiles at “enemy warplanes” in Iraqi airspace on both those days.

In another development, Saudi Arabia has accused Iraq of firing at its border guards. Iraq denied the accusation and said that Saudi forces fired at unarmed Iraqi soldiers, killing one. Saudi Arabia sided with the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition.

The United States and Britain patrol no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq established shortly after the Gulf War to protect Kurdish and Shiite rebels against Iraqi government forces. Iraq sees the zones as violations of its sovereignty and in 1998 began firing missiles and artillery guns at the U.S. and British patrols.

Over the last three years, Iraq has occasionally claimed it had hit a U.S. or British plane, but so far no downing has been confirmed.

The last time Iraq significantly increased its challenges of the U.S. and British patrols – the Pentagon said it had been improving its targeting ability – two dozen U.S. and British jets attacked outside the no-fly zone, hitting air defense sites around Baghdad on Feb. 16.

This time, Iraq may be counting on more international support in the face of any attack given the failure of the “smart sanctions” to gain much backing.

The smart sanctions proposal would have eased the flow of civilian goods while tightening an 11-year-old arms embargo and plugging up oil smuggling routes. The Security Council voted instead to continue the oil-for-food program, which enables Iraq to sell oil despite the trade sanctions to buy necessities for its people.

Iraq wants the sanctions scrapped entirely. Under Security Council resolutions, sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles to deliver them.

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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