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Context of 'December 2002: US Admits Using Iraqi Attack on Planes in Northern Iraq as Justification for Attacks against Targets in South'

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The US launches 44 Tomahawk cruise missiles at eight Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites and seven air-defense command-and-control facilities. This is in response to a raid by Iraqi forces on Kurdish sites in the northern safe-haven zone (see August 1996). (Barletta and Jorgensen 5/1999; Roberts 2008, pp. 121-122)

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; Tomkins and Horrock 11/15/2002; Leopold 11/16/2002; Graham 11/16/2002; Lynch 11/17/2002)

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.” (Stevenson and Shanker 11/19/2002; Nelson 11/19/2002; Leopold 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; Stevenson and Shanker 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.” (Harnden and Guardia 11/19/2002; Stevenson and Shanker 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; McIntyre 11/19/2002) No comments supporting the US position are made by the British. (Harnden and Guardia 11/19/2002)

US military officials admit that they recently used an incident of Iraqi fire on jets in the northern “no-fly” zone to justify an attack against targets in southern Iraq. (Loeb 1/15/2003)

Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley gives a briefing assessing the lessons of the war with Iraq to US and allied military officers at Nellis airbase in Nevada. He says that as part of Operation Southern Focus, US and British aerial attacks on Iraq southern and northern no-fly zones laid the foundations for the invasion of Iraq. He explains that during the nine-month period spanning mid-2002 to early 2003 (see June 2002-March 2003), US and British planes flew 21,736 sorties, dropping 606 bombs on 391 carefully selected targets. The pre-invasion bombing campaign made it possible for the official invasion (see March 19, 2003) to begin without a protracted bombardment of Iraqi positions. “It provided a set of opportunities and options for General Franks,” Mosely says. (Gordon 7/20/2003; Smith 6/27/2005; Alexandrovna and Byrne 6/27/2005)


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