Allied generals deny Iraqi request to move planes WAR IN THE GULF

March 18, 1991|By Eric Schmitt | Eric Schmitt,New York Times News Service

MANAMA, Bahrain -- At a meeting held in the Iraqi desert, allied generals yesterday formally rejected a request from Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council to move its war planes around the country.

The commanders warned Iraq that coalition fighters would shoot down any Iraqi war planes that took to the skies, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. military command in Riyadh issued a terse statement confirming that the meeting between the military officers began at 1 p.m. in Safwan, an Iraqi town on the Kuwait border, and that the talks "centered on the cease-fire agreement."

Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, the U.S. Central Command's chief of staff, headed up the allied military delegation that met with about 10 Iraqi officers, the statement said. But it did not elaborate on what was said at the meeting.

In Washington, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said: "The request was made, and we said no with respect to fixed-wing aircraft, because that's something that was agreed to at the very time operations were suspended."

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the senior U.S. commander in the gulf, has said that under the terms of the cease-fire, Iraq is prohibited from flying airplanes without allied permission.

Iraq had shuttled some planes to different locations last week and had requested to continue doing so.

The issue of limiting Iraq's ability to use the remnants of its decimated air force has been an obstacle toward reaching a permanent cease-fire agreement.

The United States finds itself in the delicate position of keeping the pressure on Baghdad without resuming air or ground attacks.

Speaking on the ABC News program "This Week With David Brinkley," Mr. Baker said that Iraq's use of helicopter gunships against Shiite and Kurdish rebels also violated the agreement that allied forces made with Iraq in Safwan on March 3.

"We've also said that helicopters should be used for logistical purposes, not for the purpose of shooting and dropping bombs on your own people," Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Baker was careful to note that the Bush administration was not directly assisting the Iraqi revolt and had not made a change of government in Baghdad a formal war aim. Nonetheless, he said, it would welcome a new regime.

"We've said on a number of occasions that it's really up to the Iraqi people to decide who their leadership is," Mr. Baker said. "We would like to see a change in government. We've made no bones about that."

While adopting an official hands-off policy on assisting the insurgents, Mr. Baker acknowledged that by restricting President Saddam Hussein's power to defend his government the United States was helping the rebels.

"That may be a collateral effect of the suspension-of-operations agreement," Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Baker's statements add to the growing list of warnings to Baghdad against offensive action that U.S. officials have made in the last several days.

On Friday, the United States said it had moved ground forces back to their forwardmost positions in occupied Iraq to signal Baghdad that it cannot move its forces, including its aircraft, as it chooses.

A U.S. military official in Washington said General Schwarzkopf sent the first informal message on Friday to the commander of the Iraqi Army 7th Corps in Basra that the allied forces would not tolerate the Iraqis flying their fixed-wing aircraft during the cease-fire period.

A U.S. military spokesman in Riyadh said that there was no announcement of dates for future military meetings.

Wire services also reported thesegulf-related developments yesterday:

* Saudi Arabia and Iran announced that they would resume diplomatic relations tomorrow. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1988 after more than 400 people, mostly Iranian pilgrims, were killed in Mecca in clashes with Saudi security forces.

* Iraqi rebels claimed that Iraqi government forces massacred thousands of people in napalm attacks that left the burned bodies of women and children strewn along a highway in southern Iraq. State-run newspapers in Baghdad also reported horrific scenes of destruction in two southern cities, saying the bodies of hundreds of people killed by anti-government rioters were on the streets or stacked in hospitals.

* Five hundred more Iraqi prisoners of war were taken to a remote border crossing, where they boarded Iraqi buses for home. The repatriation brought to nearly 2,000 the number of Iraqis returned since the fighting stopped two weeks ago. About 60,000 Iraqis were taken prisoner in the war.

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