Defence Minister David Tevzadze had flown to Iraq for one day to inspect Georgian soldiers who are serving as part of the US-led coalition force.

"The plane made a manoeuvre and coalition helicopters opened return fire," Koba Kobaladze, Georgia's national guard chief travelling with the minister, told reporters on returning to capital Tbilisi.

"I was sleeping at the time and didn't notice anything," Tevzadze said.

Georgia has sent 70 elite troops, doctors and mine-clearing experts to Iraq.

They are due to return in February, and will be replaced by 200 troops who will include special forces.

Another 300 soldiers are due to arrive by mid-2004. The United States is footing the bill for the soldiers' expenses.

Two policemen hurt

Two Iraqi policemen were seriously injured in an attack in Mosul, a police officer said on Friday.

Gunmen in an unmarked car late on Thursday fired on the men outside the home of General Hashem Ahmed al-Kutashi, a district police chief in Mosul, 370km from Baghdad, Abdul Ghani Mollah Ganun said.

"Around 16:30 GMT, unknown attackers in a white car without number plates opened fire before fleeing," he said.

According to doctor Ghassan Hamed Abd Allah of Mosul general hospital, the condition of the two policemen was "serious".

Several attacks have targeted police in Mosul, blamed on insurgents trying to destabilise the US-led coalition in Iraq.