U.S. and its allies hit Iraq, bombing both no-fly zones Clinton advisers reportedly urge escalated strikes

January 19, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States and its European allie hurled more bombs at Iraq yesterday as President Bush threatened to keep punishing Saddam Hussein up to his last moment in office tomorrow, and President-elect Bill Clinton promised to stay on the same course.

Mr. Clinton actually is being urged by his defense advisers to escalate air strikes against Iraq sharply to apply greater pressure on Iraqi armed forces to topple President Hussein, the Los Angeles Times reported in a story attributed to transition sources.

The sources said that Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several Clinton advisers are eager to break with what they see as the Bush administration's wavering, inconsistent policy, which they say has ceded the initiative to Mr. Hussein. They are recommending that Mr. Clinton warn Mr. Hussein of stepped-up action, in the hope that the Iraqi military will act against the Iraqi leader.

"The United States hasn't done a particularly effective job of convincing the Iraqi military that when Saddam Hussein flouts the sanctions, it's the military that's going to pay and not Saddam," the Los Angeles Times quoted a Clinton transition adviser as saying. "When that realization comes through, there'll be a better sense on their part of what they can do."

In strikes yesterday, allied aircraft pounded radar and air-defense sites in both the northern and southern no-fly zones and apparently shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 fighter in the south.

The Pentagon acknowledged civilian casualties, including a downed cruise missile Sunday that hit the al-Rashid Hotel, where most journalists are staying and where an Islamic conference of several hundred people was under way.

A Pentagon official apologized.

President Bush, who ordered the attacks Sunday and yesterday from his weekend retreat at Camp David, Md., said as he returned to the White House, "Let's just hope the message has been delivered loud and clear."

It was his first public statement on the latest round of military strikes to punish Iraqi President Hussein for failure to follow United Nations cease-fire agreements and resolutions that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Mr. Clinton voiced his willingness to pick up where the Bush administration leaves off, warning Iraq that U.S. policy toward Baghdad will not soften when he becomes the U.S. commander in chief.

"The policy of this country [toward Iraq] will remain American policy after Jan. 20," he said in a speech to diplomats in Washington. "I support the international community's action .

designed to bring him into full compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions."

U.S. Air Force jets that led yesterday's daylight bombing raid, the third major assault on Iraq in six days and the second in less than 24 hours, struck at targets in the north and hit those in the south that had survived an attack by U.S. and British fighter jets Wednesday, senior military officials said.

"The Iraqi air-defense capability in southern Iraq is neutralized," one senior military official declared. He said the mission was prompted partly by signs that Iraq had reactivated mobile anti-aircraft missile batteries in the south.

Allied planes hit targets yesterday at three fixed air-defense sites in Tallil, Samawa and Najaf.

Although senior U.S. military officials said the repeated air strikes had not cost any allied losses of life or aircraft, they acknowledged yesterday that one of 45 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired had struck outside Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel after being knocked off course by Iraqi artillery fire.

Two hotel employees were killed and at least 15 people were injured by the blast, which military officials attributed to burning rocket fuel, not the missile warhead.

"We regret the loss of life," said a senior military official who would not be quoted by name.

Military officials also disclosed that a bomb that missed its target a mile in Basra Wednesday hit a one-story house at the edge of a farm field, but they had no information on casualties. Initial news accounts identified the structure as an apartment building.

The Iraqi government reported that 21 people were killed in yesterday's raids and that Sunday's strike killed three Iraqi civilians and injured 30. Baghdad said Wednesday's raids in southern Iraq killed 17 soldiers and two civilians and wounded 15 people.

The Pentagon said it had no way to verify those figures.

Four British Tornado jets participated in yesterday's attack in the south, which lasted only 15 minutes and ended at 4 a.m. EST, Pentagon officials said. French F-1 Mirages provided air cover for that mission, which involved a total of 75 planes, they said.

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