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Seven Iraqi warplanes flew to Iran Saturday, causing speculation about discontent in Saddam Hussein's air force as the United States and its allies intensify the air war.

In Washington, the Pentagon said at least two dozen Iraqi aircraft, including a dozen warplanes and 12 transport aircraft, had landed in Iran recently. U.S. pilots made no attempt to stop the fleeing Iraqis.Iran, which has remained neutral, said any military aircraft that land within its borders will be ``confiscated' until the end of the Persian Gulf war. It did not say what it would do with the airmen.

Official Iraqi media said Saddam summoned his ruling Revolutionary Command Council, his most-trusted aides, to a fourth meeting in less than 48 hours. There was no elaboration.

The possible defections coincided with U.S. Air Force reports that its pilots had destroyed three Iraqi warplanes in aerial combat, bringing the total shot down by the allies to 22.

An Iraqi military spokesman admitted several warplanes had landed in Iran and said Baghdad was seeking the return of both planes and crews. The types of planes involved were not revealed by Iran or Iraq.

Military analysts suggested the crews of the seven aircraft had defected. Iran said one plane exploded on landing and two were damaged.

``It seemed to me quite clear that these pilots got together and decided they wanted to get the hell out of there,' said Hans-Heino Kopietz, formerly of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who is a defense consultant for a national security company in Britain.

Kopietz said Iran may have agreed to provide a safe haven for some of Iraq's more sophisticated warplanes, such as French-built F-1 Mirage fighter-bombers and the Soviet MiG-29 interceptors.

He added, however, that if that were the case, Iran probably would have kept silent, hoping allied radars had not detected the planes.

Before the Pentagon announcement, U.S. officials in Washington said they had known for some time that Iraqi civilian aircraft had been flown to Iran for ``safekeeping,' including Boeing 707s, other airliners and commercial cargo planes.

Before the war, Iraq's air force had 700 combat aircraft, including 30 Mirages and 30 MiG-29s. The allies say eight Mirages and eight MiG-29s were among the 22 Iraqi military aircraft destroyed so far.

Tehran radio, quoting Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said seven Iraqi warplanes entered Iranian airspace before noon in three groups, were intercepted by Iranian fighters and escorted to air fields.

It said one plane exploded and two others were damaged on landing, but did not give details. The report suggested ground defenses might have fired at the planes when they first entered Iranian airspace.

Baghdad radio quoted an Iraqi military spokesman, not identified, as saying: ``Several aircraft were forced to land in Iran.'


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