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Context of 'September 5, 2002: US and British Air Force Conduct Major Assault on Iraqi Defenses'

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One hundred American and British warplanes attack Iraq’s H-3 airfield, a major air defense installation in western Iraq located far away from the Shia-populated areas that the US and Britain patrols are supposedly protecting. The attacks mark the first time jets have striked against a target in western Iraq while patrolling the southern “no-fly” zone. According to US central command, the operation—described by one newspaper as “the biggest single operation over the country [in] four years” —was launched in “response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone.” The US asserts that “coalition strikes in the no-fly zones are executed as a self defense measure in response to Iraqi hostile threats and acts against coalition forces and their aircraft.” The London Telegraph, however, reports that the operation “seemed designed to destroy air defenses to allow easy access for special forces helicopters to fly into Iraq via Jordan or Saudi Arabia to hunt down Scud missiles before a possible war within the next few months.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/6/2002; Statesman, 5/30/2005]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US and British warplanes attack a radar installation in southern Iraq near Al Najaf about 85 miles southeast of Baghdad at around 2:50 EST after Iraqi air defenses fired on “coalition” aircraft that were patrolling the southern “no-fly” zone. This is the first such incident to have occurred after the passing of UN resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). The US- and British- imposed “no-fly” zones have never been recognized by the UN and the two countries’ jurisdiction over the zones has no legal basis. Iraq has consistently regarded this “patrolling” as a violation of its airspace and as a threat to its security. US and British warplanes have attacked Iraqi targets more than forty times during the 2002. After the attacks, the Bush administration claims that Iraq’s action was a violation of UN Resolution 1441. [Associated Press, 11/15/2002; United Press International, 11/15/2002; Associated Press, 11/16/2002; Washington Post, 11/16/2002; Washington Post, 11/17/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US and British warplanes attack sites northeast of Mosul after Iraqi defense forces fire anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft patrolling the so-called “no-fly” zones. In a separate incident, warplanes attack two Iraqi air defense communications facilities and one air defense radar site in southern Iraq in Wassit and Dhi Oar after “Iraqi air defenses fired multiple surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft.” [New York Times, 11/19/2002; Scotsman, 11/19/2002; Reuters, 11/19/2002; Associated Press, 11/20/2002] According to Iraqi authorities, four Iraqi civilians were wounded as a result of the attacks in southern Iraq. [Associated Press, 11/20/2002] White House spokesperson Scott McClellan says in a press briefing, “The United States believes that firing upon our aircraft in the no-fly zone, or British aircraft, is a violation—it is a material breach.” [White House, 11/18/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2002] And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in Chile, says: “I do find it unacceptable that Iraq fires. It is for the president of the United States and the UN Security Council to make judgments about their view of Iraq’s behavior over a period of time.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/19/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2002; CNN, 11/23/2002] This is the second time the US has bombed Iraq since the passing of UN resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). The US will conduct at least 22 more aerial attacks on Iraq before the March 19, 2003 invasion. [Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, 1/11/2006] UN officials disagree with Washington’s assessment. Secretary-General Kofi Annan states, “Let me say that I don’t think that the council will say this is in contravention of the resolution of the Security Council.” [Reuters, 11/19/2002] Responding to Annan’s remarks, Rumsfeld argues, “I don’t know that he (Annan) necessarily reflects the UN, the center of gravity of the Security Council, on any particular issue at any particular time…. Whenever resolutions are passed, they tend to be compromises, and there tend to be calculated ambiguities written into them to gain votes. So it does not come as a surprise to me…. The United Nations sat there for years with 16 resolutions being violated. So, just as we’ve seen a pattern of behavior on the part of Saddam Hussein, we’ve seen a pattern of behavior on the part of the United Nations.” [US Department of Defense, 11/19/2002; CNN, 11/19/2002] No comments supporting the US position are made by the British. [Daily Telegraph, 11/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Kofi Annan, Scott McClellan, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US military officials insist that US and British aerial attacks against targets in Iraq are being conducted only in response to Iraqis firing on planes patrolling the so-called “no-fly” zones. The increased number of aerial strikes (see June 2002-March 2003) is a response, they say, to Iraq’s increased hostility toward US and British jets, not preparation for a ground attack as some critics have suggested. “The Iraqi regime has increased its attacks on the coalition, so the coalition has increased its efforts to protect its pilots,” Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the US Central Command in Tampa, says. “Every coalition action is in direct response to Iraqi hostile acts against our pilots, or the regime’s attempts to materially improve its military infrastructure south of the 33rd parallel.” But according to the Washington Post, these officials have also “acknowledge[d] that military planners are taking full advantage of the opportunity to target Iraq’s integrated air defense network for destruction in a systemic fashion that will ease the way for US air and ground forces if President Bush decides war is the only option for disarming Iraq.” Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute who has ties to defense contractors and the Pentagon, says the attacks on Iraq’s southern air defenses will allow the US military “to send in almost anything it wants—bombers, fighters, and helicopters with Special Operations Forces” when the official invasion begins. It will also make it safer for the slow-moving C-17 transports to move troops inside Iraq. Similarly, retired Air Force Col. John Warden, who helped plan the US air campaign against Iraq in 1991, explains, “Anything that would need to be knocked out that is knocked out now saves some sorties once the war starts.” The attacks, he notes, have “some obvious value in the event of a war.” Anthony H. Cordesman, a former defense official at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also disputes the notion that the increased US air attacks are purely retaliatory. “You enforce containment when you carry out these strikes, and you deter Iraq from any kind of military adventure,” he explains. “And when you conduct these strikes, you are preparing part of the battleground for a war.” [Washington Post, 1/15/2003]

Entity Tags: James R. Wilkinson, Anthony Cordesman, US Central Command

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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