Baghdad claims it downed spy plane

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A second unmanned U.S. spy plane has been downed by Iraq in less than a month, Baghdad said Tuesday, following American reports that Iraq was beefing up its ability to strike U.S. and British aircraft patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq's north and south.

A U.S. military spokesman said a plane was missing and its loss was being investigated.

The official Iraqi News Agency reported that wreckage of the downed aircraft -- carrying "highly advanced equipment" -- had been found. It did not mention any pilots.

Maj. Brett Morris, spokes-man for a U.S.-British military task force in the Gulf, said coalition forces had lost a Predator aircraft Tuesday similar to the reconnaissance plane lost last month.

"We have lost contact with our unmanned observation aircraft," Morris told The Associated Press in Manama, Bahrain.

"There is an investigation going on ... with regard to the Predator's disappearance," he said. "We are working with the assumption that the plane has gone and are trying to figure out why it went down and how it went down."

Targeting ability better

U.S. officials have noted that Iraq seems to have been improving its targeting ability and missile defense systems, while also adopting a strategy to attack slow-moving American surveillance aircraft rather than high-performance fighter jets.

Morris said the Predator plane took off early Tuesday for southeastern Iraq. The unmanned aircraft, which is controlled from land, disappeared later Tuesday morning while patrolling in the area, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Iraqi agency reported that a U.S. spy plane was shot down at 11:30 a.m. near the southern city of Basra, 350 miles south of the capital.

"The plane was coming from Kuwaiti territory and it was used to provide the American enemy with information concerning our installations, vital sites and our air-defense formations," the news agency said, quoting an unidentified spokesman from the Iraqi Air Defense Command.

The Iraqi spokesman said the plane was "shot down in revenge for the martyrs of great Iraq and free Palestine," according to the agency's report.

Last month, Iraq claimed to have shot down a Predator reconnaissance plane in the Basra area. The U.S. Defense Department acknowledged losing a plane in that area, but said it was unsure whether it had been hit by hostile fire or had crashed on its own.

The Pentagon has said that plane was the first U.S. aircraft lost in Iraq in the 10 years since U.S. and British planes began patrolling "no-fly" zones -- except for a "friendly fire" incident in 1994.