U.S. Halts Attacks on Iraq After Four Days
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page A01
President Clinton announced a halt to the bombing of Iraq yesterday after four nights of furious airstrikes, calling the operation a success and sending the long-running conflict with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into a new and uncertain phase.
"I am confident that we have achieved our mission," Clinton said in a televised address from the White House. He said preliminary indications are that the assault by American and British missiles and warplanes had "significantly" damaged Iraq's military capabilities and its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
At the end of an electric day when the nation was riveted by Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives, the president returned before cameras -- two hours after appearing with Democratic legislators to vow he would serve out his term -- to announce a change in the focus of long-running U.S. attempts to contain Saddam Hussein.
Until now, the United States has insisted on the presence of the U.N. weapons inspection team, called UNSCOM, to verify that Iraq's nonconventional weapons apparatus is being dismantled. Complaints by the inspectors of Iraqi obstruction have led to recurring crises, including the rupture that led to this week's bombing raids, the heaviest since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Yesterday, Clinton said he would "welcome" the return of the weapons inspection team to Baghdad, but did not say he would insist on it. Rather, he said that if the inspectors are not allowed to return and complete their work, "we will remain vigilant and be prepared to use force if we see that Iraq is rebuilding its weapons programs."
This seemed to anticipate a new situation in which the inspectors are not allowed back into Iraq and the United States pursues its policy of "containment" of Saddam Hussein by striking militarily if he tries to reconstitute his war machine.
Clinton also said the United States would maintain its military forces in the region, keep Iraq under the pressure of comprehensive economic sanctions, continue to enforce the "no-fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq, and work more intensively with the Iraqi opposition to try to change the Iraqi government. "So long as Saddam remains in power he will remain a threat to his people, to his region and to the world," Clinton said.
The decision to end the campaign came on the first full day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of prayer and fasting. It also came amid a sharp backlash against the bombings in the Arab world, with angry anti-American demonstrations in several countries. In the most serious incident, crowds in Damascus, Syria, stormed the U.S. Embassy, the ambassador's residence and a British cultural office before being driven off by Syrian security forces.
Not a single U.S. or British casualty has been reported in about 70 hours of intensive airstrikes involving 650 sorties against nearly 100 targets. A total of 415 cruise missiles were launched, Pentagon officials said, including 325 Tomahawks fired by U.S. Navy forces and 90 heavier cruise missiles deployed from Air Force B-52s.
Officials in Washington said there was essentially no Iraqi response to the raids besides the artillery used in an attempt to shoot down incoming cruise missiles. Significantly, Iraq never fired its most dangerous surface-to-air missiles at allied warplanes, U.S. analysts said.
Despite the lack of retaliation, however, Iraqi officials remained defiant. While there was no direct comment from Saddam Hussein yesterday, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan repeated the vow of other Iraqi leaders never to let the U.N. weapons inspectors return, at least as long as the crippling U.N.-imposed sanctions remain in place.
"The issue of UNSCOM is now in the past, the commission of spies is now in the past," Ramadan told reporters in Baghdad. "I don't want to go into details, but I am saying that everything dealing with the inspections, monitoring and weapons of mass destruction, it's all behind us."
There continued to be no comprehensive tally of Iraqi casualties. Officials said a mass funeral had been held for 68 people killed in and around Baghdad in the bombing raids. Ramadan said there were 10 times more casualties among civilians than in military ranks but did not cite any figures. There were also reports of as many as a dozen deaths at a university in a northern Iraqi province, and at least a handful of deaths from the bombing of a major oil field in Basra in the south.
U.S. officials have confirmed that they tried to kill large numbers of the Special Republican Guard, which provides crucial support, protection and muscle for Saddam Hussein. Neither U.S. nor Iraqi officials would give an estimate yesterday of Iraqi military losses.
In Baghdad, journalists were again prohibited from inspecting much of the damage. But while in general the city's daily life went on as normal, with the customary adjustments for the fasting required of devout Muslims during Ramadan, it was possible to glimpse heavy damage to several buildings where elements of the Iraqi security and military establishments were housed.
One missile hit the headquarters of the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs last night, witnesses said, wounding at least three guards and leaving a crater 20 feet deep just inside the gates. Three other missiles were said to have hit near Al Mustansiriya University in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen defended the efficacy of the bombing -- despite the early assessment that only about 30 percent of 97 targets hit were either destroyed or severely damaged -- and said the strikes had "substantially degraded Saddam Hussein's warfighting capability" in two areas.
,2 First, officials said, airstrikes set back the Iraqi missile program by "at least a year." Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this was primarily achieved by heavily damaging several buildings withing the Taji missile repair complex, where much of Iraq's missile development program has been conducted.
Under the sanctions, Iraq is allowed to possess short-range missiles. Development of longer-range missiles that would threaten neighboring countries is prohibited, but was believed to be ongoing and at least several years from fruition. The missile strike thus is believed to have pushed that date back by a year.
Cohen indicated that assessment is based on the time analysts believe it would take to rebuild the facilities. It could take longer, he said, given the administration's "containment" policy of limiting Iraq's war-making capabilities through sanctions and inspections.
The other area in which Cohen cited "substantial" success was in Iraq's "command and control" systems -- systems and networks devoted to communications, intelligence, propaganda and security.
"Saddam may rebuild, and attempt to rebuild, some of this military infrastructure in the future, just as he has replaced many facilities, including lavish palaces, after Desert Storm," Cohen said, referring to the aftermath of the Gulf War. "But we have diminished his ability to threaten his neighbors with both conventional and nonconventional weapons."
Cohen added, "The policy of containment has been successful. . . . We will keep our forces in place as they've been in place for a number of years now. We will be at the ready should he try to reconstitute those facilities or pose a threat to the region. We'll be prepared to act again in the future."
Navy officials said a second aircraft carrier battle group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, has moved into the Persian Gulf to support the group headed by the USS Enterprise that has been instrumental in this week's assault.
In addition to the 400-plus cruise missiles fired during the four nights of attacks, there were undisclosed numbers of laser-guided bombs and other ordnance. Shelton said that some targets were struck more than once.
Cohen and Shelton devoted much of their briefing to emphasizing that the bombing campaign has been meeting its goals -- despite early assessments, released Friday, that indicated that allied missiles and bombs managed to destroy only a minority of their targets and apparently missed quite a few altogether. What looks like "moderate" damage from surveillance photographs, Cohen said, can actually be devastating damage on the ground.
Damage done to the oil refinery complex at Basra, the one "economic" target hit in the raids, was classified as "light," a Pentagon briefer said yesterday.
In London, officials showed images of hits by British forces against Republican Guard installations in southern Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair said the guards were targeted because they surround Saddam Hussein, "keep him in office, have their own system of repression, and of course have been instrumental in putting together the means of concealing the weapons of mass destruction."
The final day of the bombing campaign came as anger at the assault mounted in immigrant Iraqi communities across Europe -- and when emotions began to explode throughout the Arab world.
In Damascus, thousands of stone-throwing demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy and the British cultural mission. Some demonstrators managed to scale the wall of the embassy compound, where they tore down and burned an American flag. Embassy guards held off the protesters with tear gas before Syrian security forces waded in and dispersed the crowd.
Syrian security agents toting automatic weapons also had to evacuate the wife of U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker from the ambassadorial residence; she was unhurt by the angry crowds.
In the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinian protesters were injured in clashes with Israeli troops. Anti-American, pro-Iraqi demonstrations were held in the towns of Hebron and Jenin, and in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Some of the protesters carried burned U.S. and British flags, and shouted, "Death to America!" -- just days after Palestinian crowds had given President Clinton a warm and enthusiastic welcome during his landmark visit to the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Demonstrations against the bombings were also held in Jordan and Egypt, and smaller rallies were organized by emigres in Austria, Denmark and Bulgaria.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Middle East ally, sent a letter to Clinton urging him to "end military operations on Iraq as quickly as possible," according to Egyptian state television.
According to news services, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Mubarak believed the assault should end immediately because of "the extreme damage it is causing to Iraq and its people and the region."
FOUR NIGHTS OF AIRSTRIKES
Weapons rained on Iraq for the fourth straight night before the United States and Britain called a halt to the assault on Iraq's military apparatus. The strikes have targeted almost 100 sites of President Saddam Hussein's political and military infrastructure and suspected sites for the production or storage of weapons of mass destruction.
Among the sites targeted during the four-night assault:
Tikrit: Al Sahra Airfield, Republican Guard headquarters, Al Bakr air base
Mosul: Missile research and development facility, air base, two army bases, Republican Guard headquarters
Taji: military air base, missile design and production facility
Samarra: Air defense sites
Jabul Makhul: Presidential palace that covers 10 square miles and includes 90 structures, suspected nuclear/chemical weapons site, Republican Guard headquarters
Al Qurnah: Communications-related sites
Ash Shuaybah: Radar site
Ash Rumaylah: Communications-related site
Al Kut: Airfield, military complex
Ibn Al Haytham: missile storage facility in southern Iraq
Basra: Oil refinery
Britain, the only ally to support the U.S. attack on Iraq military, flew dozens of sorties with Tornado GR1 fighters from Kuwait. During the fourth night of attacks, 12 Tornados flew 24 missions, attacking an airfield and a large military complex near the city of Al Kut in southern Iraq. During previous sorties, British forces struck the Tallil air base in southwestern Iraq.
HIT IN BAGHDAD
Directorate of Military Intelligence
Special Republican Guard barracks
Republican Guard headquarters
Air Defense Center
Special Security Organization
Baath Party headquarters
Al Karama and Al Kindi missile research and development facilities
Baghdad Museum of Natural History
Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Al Mustansiriya University
B-1 bombers used in attacks on Iraqi sites
In their first use against a real target, two B-1s bombed what the Pentagon described as a large military complex near Baghdad.
Compilation of sites targeted during four nights of attacks and the degree of damage inflicted.
Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS)
Total Sites Attacked: 32
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 6
Moderate/Light Damage: 8
Under Assessment: 18
Command and Control Facilities
Total Sites Attacked: 20
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 11
Moderate/Light Damage: 6
Under Assessment: 3
Weapons Security Facilities
Total Sites Attacked: 18
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 7
Moderate/Light Damage: 11
Under Assessment: 0
Weapons Production, Research and Develop-ment, Storage Facilities
Total Sites Attacked: 11
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 1
Moderate/Light Damage: 9
Under Assessment: 1
Republican Guard and Regular Army Facilities
Total Sites Attacked: 9
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 3
Moderate/Light Damage: 6
Under Assessment: 0
Total Sites Attacked: 5
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 0
Moderate/Light Damage: 5
Under Assessment: 1
Total Sites Attacked: 1
Destroyed/Severly Damaged: 0
Moderate/Light Damage: 1
Under Assessment: 0
SOURCES: Defense Department, BBC, wire reports
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company