|NO FLY ZONES|
December 31, 1998
PHIL PONCE: After the Gulf war, the allies created so-called no-fly zones over Northern and Southern Iraq, areas off limits to Iraqi aircraft and patrolled by allied planes. After the latest U.S. and British bombing attacks on Iraq, Saddam Hussein's government said it would challenge allied planes patrolling the zones, and twice this week, Iraq fired surface-to-air missiles at U.S. and British warplanes, which, in turn, bombed the missile sites. We get two assessments now of the zones and the potential risks in maintaining them from two officials who helped create and implement them. Richard Haass was the top Middle East staff member on the National Security Council during the Gulf War. He's now director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. General Merrill McPeak was air force chief of staff during the Gulf War and is now a consultant. Gentlemen, welcome.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Haass, just by way of a brief history lesson, why were the zones created in the first place?
RICHARD HAASS: Well, the zones were created to protect the people of Iraq and particularly the Kurds in the North, the largely Shia Muslim people of the South, but also the zone were created to send a signal that so long as Saddam Hussein was running Iraq, Iraq's sovereignty would be compromised, so really it was meant politically to humiliate Saddam, to weaken him, as well as to protect the people.
PHIL PONCE: And just a point of information, you say Kurds in the North, the Kurds are an ethnic group in Northern Iraq and the Shiite Muslims, it's a different branch of Islam from the Sunni Muslims.
RICAHRD HAASS: Exactly.
PHIL PONCE: Which control the country. What countries in the alliance specifically were pushing for these no-fly zones to begin with back then?
RICHARD HAASS: If you'll recall, right after the United States and the rest of the world liberated Kuwait, in the immediate aftermath, then there was tremendous protest within Iraq. The Iraqi government then came down very hard on the Kurdish Iraqis in the North, on the Shia in the South; there was tremendous humanitarian difficulties. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives were potentially at stake. The United States working particularly with Britain and France essentially created these zones. What it took first, though, was a U.N. resolution, Resolution 688, which essentially demanded that Saddam Hussein stop repressing his own people. The resolution itself, interestingly enough, never mentioned the zones. The United States, working again largely with Britain and France, also with Turkey in the North, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the South, then pursuant to the resolution, essentially said the best way we know to make good on this resolution and to make it difficult for Saddam Hussein to continue to repress his people is to deny him the ability to fly his planes over large areas of his own country. That's essentially how they came about in the North in the spring of 1991; in the South in the summer of 1992.
PHIL PONCE: General McPeak, exactly what are the rules, and are the rules pretty clear to all parties?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, first of all, Phil, the rules can vary from day to day. It depends on the situation on the ground there. If Saddam is moving forces or saber rattling, we can notch him or notch him down. So let me describe more or less normal peacetime rules of engagement situation. And there would be perhaps three instances that we might expect to run into. One, we have radar sensors in our aircraft, warning equipment that tells us when we're being painted by hostile radar.
PHIL PONCE: And by painted you mean being targeted, being focused on by hostile radar?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, there are a couple of situations. One would be normal surveillance. You see these radars around the United States used by the FAA to track and identify airliners and so forth. Normal surveillance happens to us all of the time in these no-fly zones. So, we know that we're being tracked and that the Iraqis know where we are, and that's normal. The second situation is not surveillance radar but what you might call fire control radars. These are radars associated either with ground defenses like surface-to-air missiles, or even large guns, AAA -- anti-aircraft artillery - and enemy or hostile interceptors that have fire control radars, and our equipment in our cockpits tells us which type of radar is illuminating us.
PHIL PONCE: General, I guess the question I meant to ask - and maybe I wasn't clear - is: Are there circumstances when Iraqis can fly into the no-fly zones, and is that acceptable under any circumstances?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: They can - anyone can fly into these no-fly zones if they get U.N. permission. The U.N. notifies central command, and we clear through flights through these no-fly zones. Now it doesn't happen often. When Iraqis choose to penetrate them, as they have been with increasing frequency lately, sort of testing us, and then quickly turning and running back into their air space in what looks like might be an attempt to draw us into a trap of some kind, that's done without U.N. permission, and, of course, we observe this and can chase them and follow them.
PHIL PONCE: General, what kinds of - what can the Iraqis "throw" at U.S. forces by the way of missiles and planes? Are they a serious threat to the planes that are trying to enforce the no-fly zones?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, the surface-to-air missiles are certainly a threat, as are the guns to a less - somewhat lesser degree. They have been flying Mirage F-1's at the North and South edges of the no-fly zone, and these can be a danger also, although their air force was crippled in Desert Storm and hasn't recovered fully.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Haass, what are the main risks of trying to enforce these no-fly zones, from your standpoint?
RICHARD HAASS: Well, besides the risk to the pilots, there's really the diplomatic risk. There's not an awful lot of international support or Arab support or Turkish support for what it is we're doing. A lot of countries see this as the least pressing of all the international resolutions against Iraq. For example, there's much more support to get Iraq out of the weapons of mass destruction business than there is in this area. This is seen as somehow infringing Iraqi sovereignty. It's seen as overly intrusive by many. The Turkish government is particularly worried that somehow we're going to lead to Kurdish nationalism, which would threaten Turkey's own wholeness. So the real problem is diplomatic, and if the United States gets involved in a set of exchanges with Iraq, we may find ourselves somewhat isolated diplomatically here.
PHIL PONCE: General McPeak, how about the possibility of losing a pilot, is that likely, or is that very possible?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, it's always possible. On the rules of engagement issue, Phil, I ought to make it clear that our pilots are cleared to respond whenever they are threatened, either by a fire control radar or by a launch of a hostile missile or gunfire or a launch of a missile by an Iraqi fighter. So they - and they've demonstrated this recently, that whenever attacked, they're cleared to respond. And in that process we can always lose somebody. In fact even in a normal peacetime accident - engine failure - fire - hydraulic failure - normal things that happen we can end up having someone parachuting into Iraqi territory and he would be captured.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Haass, why do you think the Iraqi government is doing this? What is the motivation behind this sort of cat-and-mouse kind of thing?
RICHARD HAASS: I think Saddam Hussein wants to show that he's not simply dead; that after Desert Fox, where he essentially absorbed punishment for 70 hours, he clearly got humiliated, clearly there was some grumbling in Iraq. I think he wants to show that he can fight back. Also --
PHIL PONCE: And you mentioned that one of the justifications for the no-fly zones, to begin with, was humiliation.
RICHARD HAASS: And also he knows that this is probably the area where we have the weakest international case. Again, the no-fly zones are not imbedded in any U.N. resolution. This is something the United States, Britain, and France essentially did unilaterally or collectively in order to implement the resolution. So he knows --
PHIL PONCE: And at this point France is not taking part of the enforcement, is that correct?
RICHARD HAASS: Only very little in the southern area. What this, though, tells Saddam if there's going to be an area where he's going to pick a fight with the outside world, this is probably the best area he can do it, where he's likely to find considerable support, where the United States is likely to find itself fairly isolated. So I think he's getting smarter about picking the venues, picking the subjects on which he decides to have clashes. Clearly, this is better for him than weapons of mass destruction where, for example, during the entire operation Desert Fox he found himself really isolated diplomatically and militarily.
PHIL PONCE: General McPeak, do you think that Saddam Hussein is trying to take attention away from the weapons of mass destruction issue and trying to make the agenda one dealing with sovereignty and invasion of air space?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Yes, I think that's correct. I agree entirely with Richard Haass on that. And we must focus on the weapons of mass destruction; these chemical, biological, nuclear weapons are a real threat. And if we look away even for a second, he'll get them. He's with probably weeks of having a bio-capability, months of chemical, and a year, maybe two at the outside, of nuclear capabilities that would really be threatening to everybody.
PHIL PONCE: And General McPeak, from the point of view of military tactics, how much longer is this apt to last, or is there no way of saying?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: No way of saying. But, look, Phil, our guys have been there - this will be their ninth consecutive holiday season over in the Gulf. And if you haven't spent Christmas in a sandbox, you probably can imagine how much fun it is. I agree with Richard that this is not just a military problem; few problems are. It has a diplomatic, a political, and economic dimension. We either have to get serious about all pieces of this, or get the military out of there. Our guys have done everything asked of them. They've done it very well, with minimum casualties to our side and to the other side. It's time to either get serious across the board, or get out of there.
PHIL PONCE: General, thank you very much. Mr. Haass, thank you.