Saddam Hussein ordered his helicopters into the U.S.-patrolled no-fly zone on Monday, saying he intended to fly home weary Iraqi pilgrims returning from Mecca. Oil prices rose because of worries about possible disruptions in oil supplies if the United States retaliated.
Any U.S. action threatening the aircraft or the pilgrims “will be met with the suitable response to deter aggression,” the state-run Iraqi News Agency warned.
The United States urged Iraq to stay out of the no-fly zone or face unspecified retaliation. “We will respond appropriately, but we’re not going to shoot down civilian helicopters,” presidential press secretary Mike McCurry said.
Western allies set up the no-fly zone after defeating Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. Western forces patrol the skies over southern Iraq to protect the people there from Iraqi reprisals for a failed rebellion.