Saddam sends anti-aircraft rockets into no-fly zone Iraqi leader's purpose unclear

U.S. weighs military options.

January 05, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Saddam Hussein has moved more surface-to-air missiles into the "no-fly zone" in southern Iraq since U.S. warplanes shot down an Iraqi jet fighter in the forbidden airspace, according to Pentagon officials.

Military sources said yesterday that the purpose of the buildup is unclear, since Iraq's forces in the south have no air cover and are highly vulnerable to punishing and swift U.S. counterattack. "There's obviously a reason for it, but frankly we don't yet know what Saddam's intent is," one official said.

Pentagon planners are now considering military options, including destroying the missiles and more aggressive enforcement of the no-fly zone. The official said that U.S. action is not imminent.

"We'll probably have to wait to see what he [Saddam] does next," he added.

Military tension has been quietly building since the Iraqi jet, a Soviet-made MiG fighter, was shot down Dec. 27 in the first air battle since the no-fly zone was established by the United Nations last August, and U.S., British and French fighters began air patrols to enforce the ban.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, in an interview yesterday, said that Iraqi jets have made no bold incursions into the zone since the incident. But Mr. Cheney and other U.S. officials involved in Operation Southern Watch said that Iraqi fighters have been playing cat-and-mouse, flying up to the 32nd parallel and often just over it to test U.S. reaction.

Since the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi dictator has tested the limits of U.N. resolutions intended to protect Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south, and has toyed with the access and authority of U.N. inspectors responsible for checking on Iraq's weapons abilities.

In the latest move, Iraq transported Soviet-made SA-2 and SA-3 missiles south of the 32nd parallel, where they supplement other surface-to-air missiles that have remained in the area since the "no-fly" zone was established.

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