Iraqi defiance means more attacks likely Planes, air defenses could be targets STRIKING AT IRAQ

January 18, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Iraq can expect an escalating series of military attacks to increase pressure for compliance with United Nations resolutions and intensify the pain for continued defiance, senior U.S. officials indicated yesterday.

They characterized yesterday's Tomahawk missile attack against "a high value" target in suburban Baghdad as an ideal mission to send a message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and punish him for provocations against allied planes in northern Iraq earlier in the day.

"It was a multibillion-dollar facility that was very important to the Iraqi military," said a senior Pentagon official. "You're hitting a target they care about a lot. They've spent a lot of dough on it."

This official, who discussed the mission on the condition of anonymity, compared yesterday's strike to the "discrete" allied air raid on a network of air defense sites in southern Iraq on Wednesday.

"This action is over, just as the one last week was over, with the option to turn the page to a new chapter," the official said.

Later, when asked if the missile attack could be considered a parting shot by President Bush, the official fired back: "That assumes that was the last."

Military officials said future options included strikes that would ground Iraq's remaining 350 aircraft, disable its air defenses around Baghdad and destroy the remnants of its weapons programs. As with the last two attacks, most would be designed to minimize the risk to U.S. pilots.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater also did not rule out further strikes if Iraq continued to violate Persian Gulf war cease-fire agreements with the United Nations. "I don't think you can assume these kinds of episodes are over until we get compliance," he said.

U.S. military officials said about 40 Tomahawks, each carrying a 1,000-pound warhead, were programmed to destroy several key buildings in a nuclear weapons complex in Zaafaraniyah, eight miles southeast of downtown Baghdad.

The missiles, similar to those used effectively by the U.S. Navy in the opening hours of the Persian Gulf war exactly two years earlier, hit about 2 p.m. EST when Iraq was shrouded in darkness.

The complex has more than two dozen separate structures judging from an aerial reconnaissance photo shown to The Sun. But military planners only targeted those deemed critical to Iraq's nuclear processing capacities.

Iraq denied the complex had any connection to nuclear weapons, saying the missiles hit a mechanical engineering plant that makes molds and dies.

But former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay told CNN that while the plant does make molds and dies, it also makes components for Iraq's enriched uranium program.

The senior Pentagon official suggested that much of the target planning relied on information collected after several physical inspections of the complex by the U.N. teams that have been trying to dismantle Iraq's facilities for producing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

"We have absolute confidence" that the complex had no civilian uses, the official said. "U.N. inspectors have been in there."

This official and others also hinted that future targets might be sites that have been visited by U.N. inspectors.

Since August 1991, when Iraqi efforts to obstruct U.N. inspectors first put Washington and Baghdad on a renewed collision course, this and other weapons sites had been among the "target sets" programmed into U.S. Navy Tomahawk missiles, military officials said.

They added that missiles aboard four U.S. warships -- a cruiser and two destroyers in the Persian Gulf and a destroyer in the Red Sea -- were poised to attack other sites on short notice.

The Pentagon official said flatly that one purpose of the missile attack was retaliation for Iraqi provocations against allied aircraft early yesterday that led to the shooting down of an Iraqi fighter jet in the northern no-fly zone and the attack against a radar station in the zone that threatened allied flyovers. The incidents "were part of the calculus" in deciding to launch the Tomahawks, he said.

The Pentagon said two U.S. Air Force F-16s on routine combat air patrol in the zone were "painted" by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery radar. The pilots reported seeing "tracers and air bursts," but inexplicably did not return fire despite rules of engage

ment that allow taking defensive action.

About 45 minutes later, two British Jaguar fighter jets and a French F-1 Mirage also reported "lock ons" by Iraqi air defense radar, Pentagon officials said.

Then an Iraqi SA-6 anti-aircraft missile radar locked onto a U.S. F-4G warplane and the jet immediately fired back with one or two High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles, officials said. They could not say whether the radar was damaged, but it stopped operating.

Mr. Fitzwater said the Iraqis had fired a long-range SA-6 anti-aircraft missile at U.S. and coalition aircraft, but Pentagon officials said later that only the missile's radar had been turned on and "locked" onto a U.S. aircraft.

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