U.S. builds forces for Iraq strike President says U.S. is 'prepared to act' to force inspections

A warning to Hussein

Planes, troops give Clinton 'flexibility' to back up his words

November 12, 1998|By Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman | Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As more U.S. soldiers and warplanes were en route to the Persian Gulf, President Clinton warned yesterday that the United States is "prepared to act" militarily if Saddam Hussein does not allow United Nations inspectors to resume searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

The increase in planes and troops gives Clinton "greater flexibility" to back up his words with force, the White House said. The evident purpose of the buildup is to intimidate Iraq or, failing that, to launch an attack.

The latest crisis began at the end of October, when Iraq blocked all but the most routine inspections by the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM). The Security Council resolution that ended the Persian Gulf war in 1991 requires Iraq to prove it has fully dismantled its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

Clinton, speaking at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, said he would prefer to see the confrontation end peacefully. Restoring U.N. arms inspectors to their jobs, he said, "remains the most effective way to uncover, destroy and prevent Iraq from reconstituting weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them."

"But if the inspectors are not permitted to visit suspect sites or monitor compliance at known production facilities, they may as well be in Baltimore, not Baghdad," Clinton said. "That would open a window of opportunity for Iraq to rebuild its arsenal of weapons and delivery systems in months -- and I say again -- in months, not years."

With the crisis building, diplomatic activity intended to head off military action picked up. The Security Council met in emergency session, Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued an appeal to Baghdad to cooperate with the weapons inspections and Russia again counseled against the use of force.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian envoy to the United Nations, warned that "the use of force is fraught with very serious consequences, not only for the U.N.'s ability to continue to monitor inside Iraq but also for the stability of the region and for the Middle East in general."

Apart from Britain and Kuwait, the United States has not received public support for the use of force. But countries that have expressed sympathy for Iraq in recent years, including France and several Arab nations, have largely remained silent this time, in acknowledgment that Iraq's actions are unacceptable.

In remarks yesterday, Clinton warned that a failure by the United States to respond "could embolden Saddam to act recklessly, signaling to him that he can with impunity develop these weapons of mass destruction or threaten his neighbors."

A lack of response also would undermine the Security Council's ability to promote international security, the president said.

"We continue to hope -- indeed, pray -- that Saddam will comply," the president said. "But we must be prepared to act if he does not."

After any military action, U.S. officials said, the United States would try to undermine Hussein's regime and be prepared to strike again any time Iraq threatened its neighbors or tried to rebuild its arsenal of dangerous weapons.

Clinton did not deliver an ultimatum or suggest a deadline by which Iraq must act. But officials and diplomats said Hussein is fully aware of how he could avoid military action. Iraq could inform the Security Council that it will cooperate with the inspections and then start to prove it.

The Pentagon is sending 4,000 soldiers to the Persian Gulf to beef up the American force of 23,500 already there, officials said. About 3,000 of them will be sent to Kuwait to reinforce the 1,500 stationed there; the others will man Patriot missile batteries throughout the region.

An additional 129 American aircraft, including 84 combat planes, will be sent to the region to supplement the 173 at bases and aboard Navy ships. Among the new aircraft will be six B-1 bombers, a dozen B-52s and a dozen radar-evading F-117 stealth bombers.

The movement of soldiers and aircraft will begin by the end of this week and will be completed within two weeks, a Defense Department official said.

The Clinton administration has accelerated the deployment of the carrier group headed by the USS Enterprise, which will relieve the USS Eisenhower on Nov. 23, three days ahead of schedule.

Any air campaign would likely begin with cruise missiles fired from Navy ships and Air Force bombers, perhaps followed by attacks by U.S. aircraft from gulf bases and Navy carriers. There are about 300 cruise missiles in the region.

Some defense experts warn that a bombing campaign would only slow Hussein's weapons programs and would not achieve the goal of removing him from power. They say a concerted effort must be made to keep the pressure on, through arming and training Iraqi opposition groups.

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