Hidden Agera

As well as being involved in Operation Allied Force, the UK and USA are also bombing Iraq. Jim Hedge reports on how their objectives have shifted since Operation Desert Fox.

WHILST THE eyes of the world are focused on events in Kosovo, the Anglo-American air campaign against Iraq continues unabated. However, the question is being increasingly posed as to just how far military force advances the policy of the US and UK Governments.

In many ways Operation Desert Fox (see Saddam Outfoxed, March, p22) represented a defining moment in the confrontation between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the remnants of the Coalition established after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Desert Fox saw the most extensive air strikes against the regime since 1991, and the air campaign continues today. International responses to the continuing action are not positive. The UN Security Council remains sharply divided over the continuing action and Arab popular opinion has swung sharply against the US/UK action. Meanwhile, Iraq remains as intransigent as ever over the re-admission of UNSCOM. Since Iraq started targeting those assets enforcing the no-fly zone, the F-15Es, F-16CJs and RAF Tornado GR.ls of Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch have been involved in almost daily bombing raids. So what is the aim of the continuing pressure being applied to Baghdad?

Policy aims

The stated US/UK policy aims on Iraq have broadened in the last few months. Prior to Desert Fox, the policy consisted of enforcing the two no-fly zones and the maintenance of UNSCOM inspections. Now the clear, underlying policy objective has shifted to bring about the destabilisation of Saddam Hussein’s regime, with a view to it being overthrown. The hope that Saddam would ‘see sense’ and abide by the will of the international community has failed miserably. Saddam is continuing to refuse UNSCOM access to Iraq, whilst also challenging the no-fly zones on a regular basis. In the face of this opposition, policy directed towards toppling Saddam employs a number of tactics:

1. Continued enforcement of the no-fly zones to restrict Saddam’s ability to suppress domestic opposition.

2. The degrading of Iraqi integrated air defence systems (IADS) to allow the enforcement of the no-fly zones and prevent the propaganda coup of a downed US or British plane.

3. The maintenance of international pressure and therefore sanctions on Iraq, both within the Middle East and on a global level.

4. The fostering of dissent and rebellion within the regular Iraqi Army.

5. The strengthening of the Iraqi opposition into a credible threat to Saddam.

The International Community

Since 1991 the anti-Iraq coalition has shrunk to just the US and UK. Both the Arab league and the Gulf Co-operation Council have backed away from hostile moves against Saddam. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait were used as bases for Desert Fox. Turkey has also become increasingly critical in the face of the accidental destruction by USAF F-15Es of the pumping stations delivering Iraq’s legitimate oil exports through Turkey. This is a worrying development for US planners as Turkey provides the only Northern Watch air base, Incirlik. Furthermore, some European states have become more reticent in their support of US policy, no longer seeing the long-term political goal. France in particular, ever mindful of both the economic potential of Iraqi oil and the growing alienation in the region due to US/UK bombing, has sought non-violent outcomes to the continuing skirmishes. The Government in Iran, despite its new found pragmatism, has shown no sign of weakening its long-standing hostility to Iraq, but despite a friendlier face towards moderate Western interests, Iran cannot condone US armed force because of domestic constraints.

UNSCOM Monitoring

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the dwindling Coalition members have struggled to enforce the will of the international community, as expressed in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 687 (April 1991). The Resolution sets out the cease-fire terms for ending the Gulf War, under which Iraq is obliged to accept the decommissioning of all its weapons of mass destruction and all research associated with further development of WMDs. It was intended that this process should be monitored by UNSCOM and the realisation of this mission has been the main public justification behind the ongoing air action over Iraq.

Following the final withdrawal of UNSCOM from Iraq, a series of allegations in the press have served to discredit the monitoring organisation to the point where it is widely recognised that UNSCOM will not return to Baghdad. The ostensible raison d’etre for UNSCOM was the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability which had previously been used against both Iran, and Kurdish villages. UNSCOM’s mission, the failure of which led to the Desert Fox campaign, was to ensure that Iraqi WMD stocks and production facilities were effectively removed. However, the Iraqi Special Republican Guards (SRG) whose roles include providing personal bodyguards to Saddam, have successfully conducted an extensive campaign of deception against UNSCOM. This included the bugging of UNSCOM facilities within Iraq, and even an alleged burglary of the UNSCOM offices in UN headquarters in New York. As a result, the intelligence gathered, both by UNSCOM and other ‘interested parties’ could not be acted upon. In short, Iraq managed to hide the greater part of its WMDs and refused to co-operate with UNSCOM inspections, even in the face of international sanctions and US/UK bombing.

When faced with the failure of their postwar policy, the US and the UK had little choice but to re-evaluate their aims and strategies. There has been a definite move away from attempting to ‘manage’ Saddam’s regime and towards his overthrow. As the US/UK mission objectives changed, so did the mission behind UNSCOM. Controversial allegations by ex-Chief of UNSCOM inspections, Scott Ritter, that UNSCOM was increasingly used to gather information on non-WMD targets (such as Special Republican Guard units) certainly suggest that US/UK policy moved towards the destabilisation of Iraq and the removal of Saddam. The use of MI6 and CIA/NSA personnel in UNSCOM operations, and the use of UNSCOM for national agenda purposes, have discredited the entire inspection programme to the point where it is widely recognised that UNSCOM is now an irrelevance. The situation has reached a crossroads where the US and the UK have only two basic options: either to continue to undermine Saddam’s regime, or to face an embarrassing climb-down about which Saddam would be extremely vocal. So far, the State Department and Whitehall have chosen the first course, but not without opposition, from Iraq and further afield.

The US and the UK now find themselves in an awkward position. Whilst not technically at war with Iraq, the policy has obviously shifted to the stated aim of the removal of a sovereign head of state. To this end the US has announced funding for 14 Iraqi opposition parties and strengthened the enforcement of the no-fly zones. In parallel with this, Saddam has continued to target US/UK aircraft despite Iraqi air defences sustaining what must be considerable damage.

The Iraqi Integrated Air Defence System (IADS)

Iraqi air defences are still considered to pose a threat to American and British patrols. Although the Iraqi IADS is considered to have suffered due to the arms embargo following the 1991 Gulf War, remnants are still proving troublesome. Air defence weapons are mostly of Russian origin, and despite some press reports to the contrary, it is unlikely that Iraq has taken delivery of new systems since 1991. The Iraqi IADS is still a capable system comprising a broad array of early SAMs (SA-2, SA-3, SA-6) as well as more modern and threatening Russian systems, SA-8 and SA-13s. In addition to these SAMs are MANPADS (Manual Portable Air Defence Systems) as well as a large number of statically-mounted Euromissile ROLAND 2 missiles. Although Iraq still possesses an air component to its IADS, the operational capabilities of this are severely constrained. The Iraqi Air Force seems to have reserved use of manned aircraft (including MiG-25s and -29s as well as Mirage FIs) as ‘bait’ in an attempt to draw in an unsuspecting Coalition combat air patrol, rather than using air power to strike centres of domestic opposition.


Iraqi infringements of the no-fly zones continued immediately after Desert Fox. Saddam has intensified air incursions and SAM locks in a hitherto unsuccessful attempt to bring down a US jet. American and British jets have continued to carry out strikes against Iraqi military targets in response, whilst widening the rules of engagement to include command and communications facilities as targets. Although the majority of incidents have been direct suppression of SAM or AAA sites, commentators across the Arab world have been deeply critical of US policy regarding Iraq, and see the decision to broaden air attacks as part of an ongoing attempt at a military solution. The Iraqi strategy appears to be aimed at lifting, or at least weakening UN sanctions, and Saddam is gaining some support internationally against military action. By taking a strong stance, US/UK policy is in increasing danger of polarising the debate to Saddam’s advantage. By intensifying the engagements over the no-fly zone, Saddam gains politically in the region, regardless of any military setbacks he may suffer. The US/UK decision to widen the air strikes appears to be an attempt to degrade the Iraqi IADS network before air defences score a hit, or more probably a mechanical failure brings down a Coalition aircraft. Whilst it is important not to overstate the impact this would have on American and British policy makers, the loss of an aircraft would adversely affect public opinion on Iraq.

Internal Threats to Saddam

With US and UK policy in the region under mounting international criticism, policy towards Iraq has sought to incorporate some vestige of an indigenous Iraqi resistance towards Saddam. This is intended to promote a link between US/UK policy and Arab civil society. Broadly speaking, this potential opposition comprises three main groups.

The Army

Resistance to Saddam’s regime within Iraq has not lived up to the hopes of Western planners and the much hoped for coup by the Iraqi Army is yet to emerge. This may have been due to Saddam’s speedy defensive measures to re-structure his security apparatus, including the appointment of former Defence Minister Ali Hasan Al-Majid as one of four new Regional Commanders. Nicknamed ‘Chemical Ali’ by Kurds following his use of artillery-delivered chemical agents during the 1988 Anful campaign, he is widely seen as Saddam’s hit man. His appointment during Desert Fox, along with other restructuring, is blamed for the lack of opportunity for a coup. Reports from dissident sources indicate that only a few small-scale attempts were made at rebellion during Desert Fox and these were quickly crushed. Further reports indicate that on December 18 there was an attempted mutiny at the Al Rashid military camp which was put down by Special Forces. However, it may be that, in the main, Iraqi Army commanders are not keen to rebel. Regular Iraqi formations have seen extensive combat service against Kurdish and Shi-ite rebels, and are closely intertwined in Saddam’s own crimes against Iraq. To help maintain loyalty, Saddam has ensured that all commanders have much to fear from a collapse of his regime and the settling of old scores that would surely follow.

The Shias

Resistance from the oppressed Kurdish and Shi-ite communities in Iraq has been brave but lacking any great resources. Both groups have suffered at the hands of the Iraqi security forces.

Despite forming the ethnic majority in Iraq, the Shias have been largely dispossessed under the Sunni (but theoretically secular) regime. Shi-ite resistance maintains close ties with Iran, and the Iranian-sponsored ‘Iraqi Mujehaddin’ posed the biggest threat to the Iraqi regime during the 1991 rebellion. Although Southern Watch has largely deterred Iraqi air activity against the marsh inhabitants, the Government has managed to maintain control with ground campaigns. The regular Iraqi Army, Special Forces and Republican Guards, as well as the para-military Baath party Militia have all been extensively involved in several campaigns against Shia civilians in southern Iraq. Clashes have intensified after the killings of three prominent Iraqi Shia Ayatollahs — allegedly by the security forces. The regime has denied persecuting prominent Iraqi Shi’ite clerics and executed eight men for participation in a series of murders and attacks. Exiled Shia groups say the government has been behind all the attacks, but Baghdad has blamed them on ‘outside countries trying to destabilise Iraq’.

The Kurds

Iraq has continued to mount extensive campaigns against Kurdish rebels in the north. The internecine conflict, which has only recently stabilised between the two Kurdish-Iraqi opposition groups, Mas’ud Barzani’s KDP (Kurdish Workers Party) and Jalal Talabani’s

PUK (Peoples Union of Kurdistan), has meant Iraq has had little trouble in maintaining military control over the greater part of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Government has enacted a policy of the ‘Arabisation’ of major oil rich Kurdish cities, particularly Kirkuk and Mosul. By forcibly replacing the Kurdish population with Arabs, Saddam has not only struck at the largest Kurdish power bases, he has also created sectarian ‘factions on the ground’ ensuring that the demography of major oil producing regions remain ethnically Iraqi. Despite Operation Southern Watch, the regular army has waged a continuing war against Kurdish villages.


According to the commander of Operation Desert Fox, four stated reasons underpinned the air campaign. General Anthony C Zinni said the four-day bombing campaign had achieved its objectives by:

1. Reducing Iraq’s capability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

2. Degrading its strategic and tactical C2 (command-and-control) facilities.

3. Damaging its industrial infrastructure used for smuggling gas and oil.

4. Reducing Saddam Hussein’s capability to threaten his neighbours.

Due to the failure of US/UK policy prior to Desert Fox, efforts are no longer focused only on managing Iraq’s WMD capability and the maintenance of the no-fly zones. American and British policy walks a thin tightrope between overplaying military action and fragmenting an already fractured Coalition, or departing the region devoid of a policy. Despite General Zinni’s assertion that Operation Desert Fox was a success with «80% of the designated targets” hit or damaged, Iraq has remained defiant. The agenda has now shifted to a sustained air campaign against Iraq with the intention of weakening Saddam’s regime to the point of collapse. This policy has evolved as a consequence of Iraqi intransigence and the repeated failure of the State Department and the Foreign Office to understand a thought process that is neither Western nor rational in origin.

By wilfully disregarding both the good of his country and his population, Saddam has consistently confounded Western logic. By placing his own fortunes above those of his countrymen, Saddam renders his people irrelevant to any cost/benefit analysis calculated by Western policy makers. Only by targeting the regime, which effectively means Saddam, do US and UK planners put pressure on Saddam. But Saddam Hussein has proved to be one of the region’s great survivors and whatever happens, there is no quick end in sight.

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