USIS Washington 

25 January 1999


(U.S. responds against Iraqi air defense system) (970)
By Susan Ellis and Jacqui Porth
USIA Security Affairs Writers

Washington -- The military commander of the U.S. Central Command
(USCENTCOM) says Iraq is carrying out "a coordinated, centralized
effort" in both northern and southern Iraq to threaten coalition
enforcement of the no-fly zones.

Marine General Anthony Zinni told reporters at the Pentagon January 25
that Iraq is stepping up the frequency, intensity and coordination of
its entire air defense system which has been repeatedly threatening
U.S. and British aircraft patrolling Iraqi no-fly zones.

Zinni stressed that Iraq's entire air defense system "is a threat to
us." At the same time, he added, "we know we have damaged their air
defense system." Still, the U.S. military recognizes that Iraq has "a
very robust system" which has considerable redundancy as well as "the
ability to repair or replace" elements of it.

"There are almost three times the number of surface-to-air missile
(SAM) batteries in the southern area and movement of these
surface-to-air missile batteries on occasion which obviously makes it
more difficult for our fliers to know where they are and where the
threat may be posed," Zinni said.

He added that the entire Iraqi air defense system, composed of "not
only aircraft fighters that would come down and engage planes, but
also the surface-to-air missiles and triple-A batteries
(anti-aircraft), radars and early-warning means and
communications...has been centrally controlled and turned on to oppose
our enforcement of the no-fly zone sanctions both north and south."

The general said the degree of Iraqi coordination has increased in
sophistication as well as frequency since "Operation Desert Fox" ended
in December, adding, "On several occasions we have seen packages of
airplanes -- two and three per flight -- coming down in coordinated
fashion, working in cooperation with surface-to-air missile batteries,
trying to lure us down into what has become known as SAM-bushes."

He said the allied military has detected early-warning systems as well
as optical guidance systems being used "obviously to prevent turning
on radars which would make targeting for us much easier." There has
been a clear indication, Zinni said, "that this is orchestrated and
obviously is part of the declared objective by the Iraqi leaders to
violate the no-fly zone sanctions and to shoot down our planes that
are patrolling these zones."

He said the U.S. has "responded within our rules of engagement by
defending ourselves and attacking this air defense system. Today we
had five violations of the no-fly zone in the south and one in the
north by a total of 12 Iraqi fighters. Plus we had radar illumination
of our aircraft in the north and also triple-A fire detected by our
aircraft in the north. We responded with attacks in the north and the
south. These attacks were against missile batteries, radars,
early-warning systems, communications both in the north and in the

But the military commander also suggested that Iraq's air defense
system may be suffering strains and that Saddam Hussein may no longer
be in a position to sustain continue losses at the current rate.

Asked about the motivations of Saddam Hussein, Zinni said "he wants to
shoot down an American airplane." Asked why the United States has not
targeted Iraqi aircraft with greater frequency, the official said
there has been an evident "lack of will to engage" by Iraqi pilots.

He raised the possibility that the latest series of actions by the
Iraqi regime are acts of desperation by Iraq's top leadership. What
would be the cure for this, Zinni asked rhetorically? "A post-Saddam
regime," he replied.

Following press reports of civilian casualties around the Iraqi city
of Basra, Zinni said U.S. aircraft "struck targets in the south, and
in this general, area and we are in the process now of reviewing our
strikes and other intelligence to determine if the possible cause of
this might have been one of our missiles if, in fact, these casualties
are confirmed."

He emphasized that U.S. targeting and execution of airstrikes "are
done in a manner to minimize any civilian casualties or damage to
civilian property, but no one can guarantee that these strikes will
not have errors." He said coalition military forces make "every
possible attempt to ensure that that doesn't happen both in our
planning and in the process of our execution."

The United States "deeply regrets" any loss of civilian life, Zinni
said because "we do everything humanly possible to prevent that." He
also stressed that "the ultimate reason and cause for these casualties
is Saddam Hussein" because of his repeated attacks against coalition
aircraft and "his history of disregard for the welfare of his own

The CENTCOM commander pressed the point that civilian casualties "are
the cause of actions initiated by Saddam." He noted the tactics the
Iraqi leader has pursued in the past by putting civilians at risk
including parking Iraqi aircraft within cities, moving military units
close to local populations, and using human shields at military
targets. All of this shows disregard for the Iraqi people, he said.

The military official indicated that it is possible that one missile
may not have performed as expected. "There is still a need for us to
review the strike," he added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commander said there have been reports of an Iraqi
missile buildup in the south of the country near the port of Basra as
well as potential movement of Iraqi heavy armored units; neither of
which poses a direct threat to Kuwait or U.S. military forces in the