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Context of 'December 16-19, 1998: ’Operation Desert Fox’ Hammers Iraqi Targets in Retaliation for Iraq’s Refusal to Cooperate with UN Inspectors'

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CIA Director William J. Casey meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Nizar Hamdoon, to make sure the new Washington-Baghdad intelligence link (see August 1986) is helping the Iraqis and to encourage more attacks on Iranian economic targets. [Washington Post, 12/15/1986 Sources: Unnamed sources with first hand knowledge]

Entity Tags: William Casey, Central Intelligence Agency, Kizam Hamdoon, Tariq Aziz

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS <i>Enterprise</i> guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998.Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. [American Forces Press Service, 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense, 3/7/2008] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. [BBC, 2002]
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” [American Forces Press Service, 12/17/1998] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. [CNN, 12/16/1998]
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. [Washington Post, 1/17/1999]
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. [BBC, 2002]
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).

Entity Tags: William Arkin, United Nations Special Commission, US Department of Defense, Tony Blair, David Kay, Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, William S. Cohen, Monica Lewinsky, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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