Mon. Sept. 30, 2002
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was his usual outraged self: "It bothers the dickens out of me that U.S. and British pilots are getting fired at day after day after day, with impunity." In the real world, of course, Iraqi weaponry brought to bear on these aircraft are immediately bombed out of existence. Even turning on a ground radar in the area brings an immediate attack. Hardly impunity, by any conceivable definition of the word. The video clips Rumsfeld and co. had trotted out even showed this happening.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on hand, and noted that Iraq has fired on no-fly-zone patrols 67 times since Sept. 16 alone--the day the Iraqis agreed to allow the return of UN weapons inspectors. Of course, no one at the press conference suggested to Myers or Rumsfeld that if pilots don't wish to be fired upon, they should refrain from violating Iraqi airspace. That would expose a rather fat lie at the core of Rumsfeld's presentation:
"With each missile fired at coalition air crews, Iraq demonstrates its contempt for U.N. resolutions."
There is no UN resolution authorizing the no-fly zone. It is an invention of the U.S. and British governments, with no basis in law, and the Iraqi government has consistently refused to recognize it as legitimate. The aircraft being fired upon are fighters and spy planes from an avowed enemy state, which are violating Iraq's airspace. The U.S. also has a history of using these aircraft in a deliberately provocative manner in order to create a reaction that justifies a "retaliation." Two years ago (10/25/00), the Washington Post reported on this:
In early 1999, said Mike Horn, who flew F-15s in two tours of duty in Northern Watch [the operational name of the northern no-fly zone], "sometimes we flew in such a way that we provoked them to shoot at us." Under the operation's rules of engagement, they could not bomb unless the Iraqis fired upon them first.
One sure-fire way to get the Iraqis to start shooting, Horn recalled, was to buzz a heavily defended area north of the city of Mosul. "F-16 guys would pop flares over Saddam Dam, which makes a big smoke trail, and the Iraqis would open up," said Horn, who has left the Air Force and now flies for American Airlines.
The rules that allowed for this sort of behavior were allegedly changed, but the recent increase in Iraqi attacks on aircraft--if, indeed, there is an increase--begs the question of whether those rules have been changed again. Unfortunately, it's just another question that remains unasked.
Laura Meckler of the Associated Press has chosen to report on the briefing without mentioning any of these facts, making her "reports" useless as anything but propaganda. Matt Kelly, also of AP, did a little better. In the final analysis, though, not much. He was kind enough to point out that, in spite of today's bloviation, "Iraq has never shot down a coalition fighter." He wrote:
The United States and Great Britain set up the no-fly zones after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to prevent Saddam from attacking Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south. Iraq, considering the zones an infringement on its sovereignty, has tried to shoot down the planes patrolling them.
The coalition forces respond to Iraqi fire by attacking antiaircraft sites and the communications and command networks that tie them together.
Kelly's use of "Saddam" here is unfortunate. This extreme sort of personalizing--to the point of using the Iraqi dictator's first name--was introduced by George Bush, Sr. as a means of obscuring the fact that there are people in Iraq; people who will have to bear the brunt of any U.S. action. "Saddam" never attacked a single Kurd or Shiite. He ordered it done from the safety of a bunker somewhere while conscripts were made to carry out the deed. A U.S. attack will not be upon "Saddam"; it will be upon Iraq, and it won't be "Saddam" who will be doing the dying.
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