|THE STANDOFF CONTINUES|
February 16, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Now an update on the continuing confrontation with Iraq. Spencer Michels begins.
SPENCER MICHELS: The night skies over Baghdad were ablaze for nearly 90 hours last December, as U.S. and British aircraft attacked Iraqi targets.
The bombs and missiles were a response to Iraq's failure to allow United Nations weapons inspections. The allied campaign was halted abruptly, when U.S. and British officials said the attacks had achieved their objectives of significantly degrading Iraq's military capabilities.
But within days, a new, less dramatic and less publicized air campaign began, after Iraq asserted it would no longer comply with the so-called "no-fly" zones established in Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War.
The zones were designed to protect Kurdish rebels in the North and Shiite Muslims in the South from attacks by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces. Iraqi electronic air defenses, including radar, began locking in on U.S. and British planes patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones, a move detected by the allied pilots. Iraqi tactics grew even bolder in subsequent days, as their aircraft began pursuing allied planes, and, on at least two occasions, firing at them.
So far, no allied planes have been reported hit. And in January, the U.S. military changed its guidelines, to allow a wider array of attacks against military targets, not just air defense sites posing an immediate threat to allied pilots. Pentagon spokesman, Ken Bacon, explained.
KENNETH BACON, Pentagon Spokesman: What's changed here, primarily, is that for the first time since the imposition of the no-fly zone, Iraq is mounting a very aggressive, determined, day-in and day-out attack against the planes patrolling the no-fly zone. And we are responding appropriately to a higher level of aggressiveness from Saddam Hussein.
SPENCER MICHELS: Iraq has called the attacks unprovoked and said civilian casualties continue to mount.
IRAQI CITIZEN: Fall on my home - missile --
SPENCER MICHELS: The U.S. acknowledged one missile misfiring into a residential area near the city of Basra in Southern Iraq. Iraqi officials claim that 11 lives were lost. At the same time, the Clinton administration stepped up its support for the campaign to oust the Saddam Hussein government, identifying the opposition groups eligible to receive U.S. aid and naming a coordinator.
Now, the Iraq government has intensified its verbal attacks on regional allies of the United States, especially those hosting U.S. and British air bases. A statement Sunday threatened Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Over the weekend, and on Monday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz went to Ankara to persuade new Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, to stop U.S. patrols in the no-fly zones.
Those planes fly out of the U.S. air base in Incirlik in Turkey. Ecevit, who is among Turkish politicians most sympathetic to Iraq, rejected the idea and said his government supported the allied attacks.
Hours later, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan went on TV and threatened to attack the U.S. base in Turkey, along with those of other U.S. allies in the region, saying Iraq can "reach the dens of evil" in Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
That threat brought a quick response from Secretary of State Madeline Albright who said: "We have made very clear that were there any attacks on our forces or on neighboring countries, that our response would be swift and sure."
Both U.S. and Turkish officials denied any connection between that gesture of support and the dramatic arrest of Abdullah Ocalon, leader of the Turkish Kurds, whom the government of Turkey has been trying to capture for months, and whose arrest provoked Kurdish demonstrations across Europe.
The Iraqi threat.
JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Today, Iraqi officials renewed their threats and complaints against its neighbors that are providing bases for U.S. and British warplanes.
For more on all this, we get four views: Retired Marine Corps General Richard Neal was deputy for operations and spokesman for General Schwartzkopf during the Gulf War. He later became deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command and assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Richard Haass was special assistant to the president for Near East affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration. He's now director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.
Denis Halliday was the humanitarian coordinator of the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program in Iraq until this past fall. And Edmund Ghareeb is an adjunct professor of Middle East studies at American University, and author of several books on Iraq.
Mr. Halliday, you've been in Iraq most recently, I believe, among our group. How do you explain these threats Iraq is making against the neighbors that are hosting these bases?
DENIS HALLIDAY, Former U.N. Official: Well, I would suggest that the government in Baghdad is under significant domestic pressure to respond to the attacks in the no-fly zones, which are an embarrassment to the regime of Saddam Hussein, are a further humiliation, which was experienced in the December attacks on the country, and I believe domestic political pressure is pushing the Iraqis to take more dramatic and more violent steps to counter these continuing air attacks in the no-fly zones. And this new development of challenging and threatening, in turn, the bases in the neighborhood countries is coming out of that.
I think that's a tragedy. I think that's extremely dangerous. And I think it diverts attention where I would much happier see Iraq focus, that is, on the humanitarian crisis, the sanctions which are a form of warfare in their own right, and which, of course, are resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis every month. That's where the focus should be, so this is a very unfortunate development.
MARGARET WARNER: Excuse me for interrupting. We're actually having some audio problem, but we will fix that. Professor Ghareeb, before we get on to the impact it's having, how do you explain that Saddam Hussein is making these threats? Do you think they are serious threats?
EDMUND GHAREEB, American University: Again, a great deal depends on the situation Saddam Hussein finds himself in, how serious these attacks are. I don't believe that they are -- he's as desperate as some people are portraying him to be.
I believe that part of it is what Saddam Hussein is trying to do is, first of all, he believes he's on firm ground. He believes that the United States is violating Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. He's appealing to domestic support. I think, as Mr. Halliday said, there is domestic pressure from Iraqi nationalists and from Islamists on him, and he needs to show that he's tough.
Also, I think he is trying to play to a broader Arab audience, and perhaps this is why he's trying to put pressure on some of the neighboring governments, because he knows that there is sympathy at least on Arab public opinion for the Iraqi position, for the suffering of the Iraqi people, if not necessarily always support for the Iraqi leadership.
And, however, I think the real capability, this raises a lot of questions. I mean, militarily, Iraq does not have a strong air force. Iraq in the past has not used terrorism as far as we know to attack bases in -- or targets in other areas. So that makes it very difficult for me to see, unless they're going to launch some missiles, how they're going to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard Haass, how do you read these threats, in terms of their seriousness, why they're being issued. And, I mean, if you were still a U.S. policy maker, how would you be looking on them?
RICHARD HAASS, Brookings Institution: I would essentially see them as an opportunity. If Saddam actually carried through on them, Margaret, it would give us the license to galvanize regional and international support to really deliver a massive series of blows on Saddam Hussein. It would essentially let us do what we could have done but alas didn't do during Operation Desert Fox, which is enter into a sustained military campaign that could fundamentally weaken him, or perhaps even lead to his ouster.
That said, look, no one's made any money predicting what Saddam Hussein is ever going to do. No one really knows if he's going to make good on these threats. He's clearly hoping to intimidate these governments to get them to back down, to raise popular pressure against them. I expect he won't succeed, and then he'll have to decide whether he's prepared to escalate and actually make good on his words.
MARGARET WARNER: General Neal, is he in a position militarily to make good on these threats in any way?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.): No, I don't really think so, although it's speculation. As you recall, one of the reasons for the overflights was his lack of adherence to some of the U.N. sanctions. And if you recall, we're still thinking that he has some Scud missiles hidden somewhere within the country. That probably would be the easiest way to attack one of those three nations that he struck out at verbally, but I'm not sure he has that capability.
And if he does, then that really would substantiate the position the United States and other countries, that he's been hiding these weapons of mass destruction. As was stated by one of the previous speakers, he does have aircraft. He could conceivably put together 10 or 15 operational aircraft and make a surge effort towards one of the nations, most likely Kuwait, perhaps Turkey, and with luck perhaps get one or two leakers or aircraft get through the air defense that might be able to do some damage. A
third alternative would be non-state actors, terrorists that support the Iraqi regime and may be in contact with Saddam. Possibly they could in some way come into play. I think looking at it legitimately, one of the things that he has going for him is being unpredictable and the ability to surprise us.
Well, this he's taken the surprise away by boldly declaring that he's going to issue harm against one of those three nation states. By losing that element of surprise, we've actually probably increased our readiness already alert posture, and probably could turn back anything that he might have. I think it's a lot of wind.
|What is Saddam Hussein's plan?|
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Halliday, you started to discuss -- can you hear me now?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Yes, thank you, I can.
MARGARET WARNER: Terrific, and we can hear you much better. You started to discuss now what impact you thought these bombing attacks were having, this sort of low-level warfare that's going on. And we couldn't hear you terribly well. What impact do you think it's having? Do you think it's degrading, for instance, Saddam Hussein's military capabilities?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, the point I was trying to make was the attacks on the no-fly zones are diverting attention from the real crisis in Iraq. For me the real crisis is sanctions, which in a sense have become a form of warfare, given the fact that we're seeing thousands of Iraqis lose their lives every month. And that's where the focus would be.
That's where the Iraqis should bring in their allies and trying to find a means to have the Security Council lift sanctions. By all means - a must is to retain the control of military capacity, not just in Iraq, of course, but in the entire Middle East neighborhood -- get the focus where it should be that is, on the humanitarian crisis. The no-fly zones to me are obviously less important.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Professor Ghareeb, you believe that this is what Saddam Hussein is trying to do, and that his ultimate aim is to get the foot of the U.N. sanctions off his neck.
EDMUND GHAREEB: Absolutely. I think he's trying to draw attention also to another issue. He's trying to raise the stakes in order to force attention on what's happening in Iraq. On the sanctions, he wants to lift the sanctions. The sanctions, as we heard, have been devastating for Iraq. But at the same time, I think he's also doing something else with this confrontation, although I'm not sure that threatening the neighbors necessarily is the best way of doing that. I think what -
MARGARET WARNER: Hard to get people -- when you're threatening them
-- to then have sympathy for you.
EDMUND GHAREEB: Exactly. Absolutely. I think what he is trying to do is in a way he feels that when they were measured -- when the U.S. launched Operation Desert Fox, there was a mass response in the Arab world, in the Arab street. There was a great deal of sympathy in the Islamic world and internationally for Iraq.
What he sees then, that failed, but what's going on now is the United States is launching a campaign, a daily campaign to attack Iraqi targets, without getting the media, without getting the attention to this going on. So I think what he's trying to do is to draw attention to what's going on, and on an issue that he feels he is protecting Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, in an area where the U.S. doesn't have a great deal of legal support and legal legitimacy.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard Haass, how do you read the reaction of Iraq's neighbors right now?
RICHARD HAASS: I think most of the experts have been wrong, and have been wrong for a long time on that point, Margaret. If you recall, all during the Gulf war, everyone kept predicting the Arab street, the Arab man in the street was going to rise up on behalf of Saddam against the United States and the international coalition.
Well, it never happened. And it hasn't happened since. Saddam basically has virtually no support throughout the Arab world. There is support for the Iraqi people, which is why we need to be extra careful whenever we do use military force that we take every precaution conceivable to minimize so-called collateral damage, hurting innocent men, women and children.
Well, right now Iraq is pretty isolated, and I would actually go on to say that if the United States is prepared to use serious amounts of military force, I actually think we'll get an awful lot of support from Arab governments.
Where Arab governments get nervous is when they sense the United States is weak or indecisive. But if we show that we're prepared not only to begin but to carry out a sustained effort against Saddam Hussein and against Iraq, I actually think we'll get quite a lot of support throughout the Arab world and Turkey.
MARGARET WARNER: General Neal, let's go back to the bombing campaign that's going on right now. What impact do you think it's having within Iraq, both militarily in terms of degrading his capabilities, and also politically perhaps?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: Well, I think it's having a good effect from a United States and coalition point of view. A point I might differ with one of the speakers previously is that essentially this campaign that the United States and the coalition forces have been using is really because of Saddam Hussein's activities of putting radar contacts on our aircraft as they're controlling the no-fly zone.
So they could -- that could be shut off quite quickly and allow those planes just to continue to keep the no-fly zone what it is, no-fly zone, and there wouldn't be any more chances for collateral damage or any more attacks against Iraqi targets in the no-fly zone. Specifically answering his question, I think it's having a good impact as far as the United States and the coalition forces are concerned, because they have expanded the envelope so to speak and are able to attack not just the targets that have painted them on their aircraft, but any targets that are militarily significant.
So they have now gone out in what you would classify a target-rich environment, and if, in fact, Iraq is provocative against one of the aircraft and they turn and pick out the target of their choosing and take it on. This, obviously, is playing to the advantage of the United States and to the coalition forces.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you have any thoughts, staying with you General Neal, about what impact this might be having or U.S. policy makers may hope it's having on the army in Iraq, on the elite forces there, on the military leadership?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: Well, obviously I wouldn't want to be one of the folks this have to turn on the radars down in the Iraqi trenches. I'm assuming their air defense corps is not at a high state of morale, so to speak. Obviously by expanding the target list and attacking those targets in the no-fly zone, as they see fit, no one is immune from the attacks from the United States and from the British aircraft.
So I would think that morale is down. What's happening internally within Baghdad and the cities and towns around Iraq would be speculation on my part. I'm sure that a lot of what's being said both to the external and to the internal is just to play to the Iraqi people to try and keep them on the side of Saddam Hussein.
|Where is this headed?|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I'd like to go around to all four of you before we go and just ask you where you think this is heading. Mr. Halliday, starting with you. Where do you think this is heading?
DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, Ms. Warner, I'm deeply concerned to hear Richard Haass and then General Neal talk about these strikes and the reaction of Iraq to these strikes in the so-called no-fly zones as an opportunity, an opportunity for more warfare, for more destruction, for more attacks on Iraq. That really is totally counterproductive.
What we need to focus on today is the damage that we are doing to Iraq through the sanctions, which we are supporting in Washington, London and in Europe. That has got to come to an end. We are now responsible for the slaughter, and I use the word deliberately, the slaughter of Iraqi people, particularly the most vulnerable, Iraqi children throughout the country. We're killing thousands per month. That's where the focus should be - not on continuing warfare, which is obviously counterproductive for everybody concerned.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard Haass, is this sustainable, given concerns like that?
RICHARD HAASS: It is sustainable. And what Mr. Halliday just said is slanderous and even libel against the United States and its policy, Margaret. If any Iraqis are suffering, it's not a result of the sanctions.
It's a result from Saddam Hussein's calculated efforts to deny his own people food and medicine. He wants to create international sympathy. Clearly it's working with Mr. Halliday, but should not work with anyone who's got his eyes open and is being at all objective about who's the cause of problems within modern Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Professor Ghareeb, do you think this could continue indefinitely this low-level warfare?
EDMUND GHAREEB: It's very difficult to see how I think we - if it continues like this -- we might see an escalation, and I think the danger here of what we see, if there is an escalation, is what I would like to see, that the Iraqi people are going to continue to pay a price for what's going on, and it's not really so if the United States is interested in democracy, we're destroying the infrastructure of Iraq. And if we are really trying to change the situation, I think we should separate between the Iraqi people and the leadership.
MARGARET WARNER: General Neal, do you see that danger of escalation?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: No, I really don't. I think we will probably see a continuation here, unless Saddam gets a stroke of intelligence and calls this off and allows the uninterrupted flights within the no-fly zone. I think really all of these activities are directly related to the Iraqi leadership. All he has to do is comply with the U.N. sanctions, reintroduce the inspection regime, sanctions will be lifted, and the Iraqi people won't suffer any longer.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all four very much. We have to leave it there.