U.S. urges allies to back ultimatum against Iraq over missiles

January 06, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The United States has urged its allies to joi in threatening Iraq with military action if Baghdad does not remove newly deployed surface-to-air missiles that menace allied warplanes patrolling southern Iraq, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

U.S. officials have consulted with British, French and Saudi officials over the proposed ultimatum, which could be issued as early as today.

Bush administration officials declined to comment while Washington and its allies sought to work out the details of the demand.

But diplomatic officials said that unless there is a hitch in the consultations, Washington and its allies plan to present the demand in New York to the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations.

The Iraqis would be given a short period to remove the missiles from the air exclusion zone in southern Iraq -- perhaps as little as 48 hours -- or face the consequences. Diplomatic officials said that if punitive attacks were carried out, they might include Iraqi air bases, which are easier to attack than the small and mobile surface-to-air missile batteries.

Diplomatic officials said the threat to take military action would // be implicit but nonetheless unmistakenly clear in the ultimatum to Baghdad. The precise form of the military action to be taken would depend on the nature of the Iraqi response.

The U.S. demand was the latest step in a rising confrontation between Baghdad and Washington, which began with the downing on Dec. 27 of an Iraqi MiG-25 that was violating the air exclusion zone imposed by the United States and its allies in August to protect rebellious Shiite Muslims from air attack.

After the downing of the Iraqi plane, Iraqi aircraft continued to skirt the border of the air exclusion zone and to cross into the BTC area when allied patrols were not present.

The United States rushed Navy planes to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and moved a Navy aircraft carrier from the waters off the coast of Somalia to the Persian Gulf to beef up its air patrols.

Iraq then took the next step by moving a small number of Soviet-made SA-2 and SA-3 surface-to-air missile batteries to an area just south of the 32nd parallel, which marks the northern boundary of the air exclusion zone.

Providing new details about the deployment of the SAM missiles, U.S. officials said yesterday that Iraq had begun moving the missile batteries before the air battle with the Iraqi MiG. According to classified intelligence reports, the surface-to-air missile batteries were deployed south of the 32nd parallel on Sunday, southeast of the Al Jarrah air base.

The next day, Iraqi aircraft made at least three incursions into southern Iraq, flying directly over the area protected by the Iraqi missiles.

An administration official said that one incursion was three miles deep into the air exclusion zone, while another Iraqi plane penetrated seven miles into the area. Another plane flew 16 miles into the zone, the official said.

Some officials believe that the Iraqi plan is to use their planes to lure U.S. aircraft into the range of the surface-to-air missiles so that Baghdad can avenge the downing of the Iraqi MiG.

Other officials believe the Iraqi plan is to use the missiles to protect the Iraqi planes that are violating the air exclusion zone and, thus, thumb its nose at the West.

But whatever Baghdad's motive, Washington wants Iraq to remove the missiles. In the gulf war, virtually all of the U.S. air loses were because of fire from anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles.

As the allies worked on the ultimatum, the White House yesterday publicly alluded to the prospect of military action.

"We're monitoring the missiles," said the White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, who traveled with President Bush to West Point, N.Y. "We're very concerned. We're still considering our options."

President-elect Bill Clinton also reiterated his strong support for enforcing the restrictions imposed on Iraq.

"I think Saddam should take no comfort in the fact that Bill Clinton is heading towards the presidency," said Mr. Clinton's spokesman, George Stephanopoulos.

He said the Iraqi president "must abide by all U.N. resolutions," adding: "He must abide by the no-fly zone. And Bill Clinton supports President Bush in his efforts to enforce them and he will continue to support them as president."

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