U.S., allies draft air-strike plans against Iraq Hussein's gone 'beyond limit,' official asserts

January 13, 1993|By Mark Thompson and Susan Bennett | Mark Thompson and Susan Bennett,Knight-Ridder News Service Richard H. P. Sia of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The United States, joined by Britain and France, is preparing for a possible military strike against Iraq that could occur at any time and without further warning as President Saddam Hussein's belligerence continues.

"We don't need a provocation," said a senior defense official. "He's already gone beyond his limit."

Action against Iraq also was being discussed at the United Nations. A source told Reuters that a further refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to fly into Iraq aboard U.N. aircraft could open the way to a punitive response without additional warning. This might include direct military action, the source said.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations acknowledged that he was worried about an impending U.S.-led attack but said he saw no way to prevent it.

"I think there are signs [of military action], but Iraq has no other way to deal with the situation but to see what the others will do," Nizar Hamdoon told Cable News Network. "Yes, we are worried."

Mr. Hamdoon also told reporters he had handed a letter to the Security Council from his foreign minister offering to enter into a dialogue with the U.N. over a range of issues.

"I think you can read in the letter that there is an Iraqi wish to try to defuse the crisis by discussing the outstanding issues and try to find . . . ways to ease the tension," he said, but added there the Iraqi letter made no specific proposals toward solving the various problems.

But the letter was delivered the same day as Iraq challenged the world community for the third straight day yesterday, sending a salvage crew to retrieve equipment along the Kuwait border despite Security Council threats of "serious consequences."

Iraq is authorized to remove non-military equipment from the area, a former Iraqi navy base that falls within Kuwaiti territory under a new U.N. border demarcation. But crews are supposed to have prior clearance from U.N. staff before entering.

Amid a mood of increasing impatience, Pentagon officials said plans are being drafted for attacks by U.S., British, and French warplanes against a variety of Iraqi targets.

Allied planes could attack Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles in either the northern or southern zones in which Iraqi planes are barred, or they could expand their target list and hit ammunition depots or airfields in southern Iraq, defense officials said.

The allies who supported the U.S.-led military action in the Persian Gulf war with Iraq have been united in their opposition to Hussein's latest provocations.

"As far as the British are concerned, we are 100 percent in favor of a tough approach to Iraq," said a British official in Washington. If and when there is military action, "we would expect to take part."

The White House yesterday signaled an end to its patience with Hussein as Iraqis entered Kuwait for a third straight day and a top U.S. general said Iraq has set up plane-killing missiles in northern Iraq that threaten allied warplanes.

"We already have grounds for anything we want to do," said an administration source. "If we take action, it will be fairly quick and over fast. We don't want to start another air war."

Bob Hall, a Pentagon spokesman, said it would be an allied decision, not necessarily another provocation by Mr. Hussein, that could trigger an attack.

"We won't tolerate any interference with our ability to enforce the no-fly zone," Mr. Hall told reporters. "And if we make a judgment that some Iraqi action interferes with that ability, we'll take the appropriate action."

Earlier yesterday, in a television interview, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. resolutions a "matter of extreme concern."

"There is a clear pattern of violation, whether it is missiles or these raids into warehouses or other actions that they've taken," Mr. Fitzwater said. "It remains to be seen exactly what may come of that, but, as we said, there will be no warnings."

U.S. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the top commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said Mr. Hussein's missiles in northern Iraq -- dormant for nine months -- have been turned on "within the last few days."

The missiles, which threaten allied warplanes designed to ensure that Mr. Hussein does not repress his rebellious Kurdish population, were turned on at about the same time that allied threats forced Hussein to move similar weapons in the southern no-fly zone.

While acknowledging that the missile redeployment does not violate any cease-fire accord, he described it as "part of a continuing pattern of going to the brink on the part of Hussein" and said military action is "the only thing" that compels compliance by the Iraqi leader.

Pentagon officials also played down the threat on the ground, paying much more attention to Iraqi activities they say could imperil allied enforcement of several post-war U.N. resolutions to protect Iraq's Shiite Muslims and Kurdish populations.

"The missiles pose a more immediate threat to our aircraft," said a military officer monitoring developments in the region. "The border incursions don't affect us militarily. That's more a diplomatic issue, a U.N. issue, than something affecting the coalition military effort."

Although all the missiles -- some of which have left the southern zone -- are no longer positioned to fire on the U.S., British and French warplanes that patrol the skies, Mr. Hall said Iraqi compliance is still "something I think we're making a judgment on."

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