September 5, 1996 in Nation/World

U.S. Rules ‘No-Fly’ Zone, But Iraqi Forces Remain U.S. Jets Meet Scant Resistance

John F. Harris And John Mintz Washington Post
 

U.S. warplanes began patrolling an expanded “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq on Wednesday as President Clinton declared that two days of U.S. cruise missile strikes had been a success and left Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “strategically worse off than he was before.”

Iraqi forces sporadically challenged U.S. planes enforcing the ban on military flights in the new corridor south of the 33rd parallel - but to little effect. Pentagon officials said a U.S. F-16 fired a missile at an Iraqi radar battery that had tracked the plane from the ground. Also, two Iraqi MiG-29 jets approached the enlarged “no-fly” zone Wednesday but turned away when confronted by U.S. jets.

Clinton asserted that “this mission has achieved the objectives we’ve set for it,” even as the Iraqi military gains in Kurdish northern Iraq that prompted the U.S. retaliation remained intact. While Clinton said there are signs of a “withdrawal” or “dispersal of forces” in the north, he added that “it’s too soon to say that this is permanent.”

Secretary of State Warren Christopher, en route to Europe for meetings with the allies, said the United States does not expect Saddam to withdraw all troops and security officials he sent into the Kurdish zone.

The purpose of the 44 missiles hurtled from U.S. ships and bombers at 15 air defense sites, officials said, was not to forcibly evict the Iraqi army from the north but to make it safe for American and other jets to enforce the new restrictions that took effect Wednesday on airspace in the south.

Turkey, meanwhile, was pushing a new idea to pinch Iraqi sovereignty in the north. The new Ankara government wants to send a contingent of Turkish forces into the Kurdish area of Iraq near the border with Turkey. The goal is to curb attacks on Turkey from Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas based in Iraq.

White House spokesman David Johnson said the U.S. government understand Turkey’s concerns but needs more time to assess the proposal. Another Clinton administration official said privately that Washington does not oppose the plan.

Public opinion surveys showed that Clinton’s strike against Iraq was winning strong majority support at home, as military actions usually do in their early stages. Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole said Clinton was “doing what he should do” and pledged to hold any criticism for later.

While Congress has generally supported the military action, Senate passage of a resolution endorsing it has been held up by squabbling between Republicans and Democrats over how far to go in endorsing Clinton’s policy, senators said.

Retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, the U.S. military’s top officer during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said he thought “the president did exactly the right thing.” But House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said many lawmakers were troubled by the lack of international support for the strike: “The contrast between Desert Storm and the current level of (allied) support is a concern.”

Suggestions that Clinton had fashioned an inappropriately bellicose response in order to give himself a boost at home have come from foreign capitals. France and Russia have said they were opposed to the assaults, while in the Middle East even generally supportive governments like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia expressed opposition to varying degrees.

In a brief Oval Office statement Wednesday, Clinton was asked if the coalition that defeated Saddam in 1991 was dead. “I don’t think it’s dead; I think quite the contrary,” he said, noting that Britain, Canada, and Germany applauded the U.S. decision to let Saddam know that “there is a price to be paid for stepping over the line.”

Clinton hinted that Arab countries are privately more supportive than their public comments indicated. “I think that our Arab partners clearly understand what we’re doing and what the risks are,” Clinton said, adding that the allied planes enforcing the expanded no-fly zone continue to take off from air bases in Saudi Arabia.

France, which had joined the United States and Britain patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq over the last five years, has declined to enforce the new portion of the zone, which moves north by 69 miles the airspace Saddam’s warplanes are not allowed to enter, U.S. officials said. The British said they would help in the expanded zone.

“I am confident that the coalition is not weakened - if anything, I think the coalition is strengthened,” Perry said. “I fully expect the French to continue participation in the coalition.”

The new restrictions on Iraqi military flights went into effect at noon Baghdad time (1 a.m. PDT). Only hours before the deadline, about 30 MiG jets flew from Iraqi air bases in that area to other airfields north of the 33rd parallel. Another 10 or 15 MiGs apparently stayed on the ground.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials strongly denied Iraqi claims that American missiles killed a number of Iraqis in Baghdad. U.S. officials said no American missiles or aircraft struck anywhere near the Iraqi capital and ascribed the Iraqi assertions to “jumpiness.”

“At 8:45 p.m. the American enemy directed its failing missiles against our military bases and civilian places, and a number of them have fallen in Baghdad,” Iraqi state television said. The Iraqi military released a statement saying it had shot down a number of the missiles and calling Clinton “a war criminal.”

Baghdad rang with air raid sirens and antiaircraft fire Wednesday about 10 a.m. PDT, and reporters in the city disagreed about whether the loud booming sounds they heard resembled the sound of incoming bombs or were antiaircraft bursts.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS When President Clinton turned to his advisers for guidance on Saddam Hussein’s latest transgression, he found a flock of hawks and no doves. No one urged him to try diplomacy instead of force. “Not a one,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. “To the contrary, you see more people saying, ‘We should whack him harder.”’ Many of those voices were heard on Capitol Hill, and McCurry said some recommendations went beyond Clinton’s “measured and disciplined” response. Twelve KC-135 aerial-refueling planes and 75 crew members from Fairchild Air Force Base have been sent to the Middle East, base officials said. Fairchild officials would not say where in the region the tanker planes had been sent or what role they were expected to play in Iraq. While Clinton’s decision to launch missile attacks on Iraqi positions has been met with little criticism at home, H. Ross Perot was the exception. The Reform Party nominee suggested that the president was motivated by domestic politics. He told an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City that “war is not a place for a politician to create a positive image and get a bump in the polls.” - From wire reports

This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS When President Clinton turned to his advisers for guidance on Saddam Hussein’s latest transgression, he found a flock of hawks and no doves. No one urged him to try diplomacy instead of force. “Not a one,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. “To the contrary, you see more people saying, ‘We should whack him harder.”’ Many of those voices were heard on Capitol Hill, and McCurry said some recommendations went beyond Clinton’s “measured and disciplined” response. Twelve KC-135 aerial-refueling planes and 75 crew members from Fairchild Air Force Base have been sent to the Middle East, base officials said. Fairchild officials would not say where in the region the tanker planes had been sent or what role they were expected to play in Iraq. While Clinton’s decision to launch missile attacks on Iraqi positions has been met with little criticism at home, H. Ross Perot was the exception. The Reform Party nominee suggested that the president was motivated by domestic politics. He told an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City that “war is not a place for a politician to create a positive image and get a bump in the polls.” - From wire reports

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