The assault, the largest against Iraq in two years, involved 80 U.S. and British warplanes, including 24 strike aircraft, which flew out of air bases in the region and off the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, stationed in the Persian Gulf. It was timed to begin Friday evening after 8:00 p.m., when many people were milling about the streets of Baghdad. An Iraqi government official said that two people were killed and 20 injured in the nearly two-and-a-half hour bombardment.
Bush, who was on a one-day visit to Mexico at the time, described the raid as "routine." At a news conference the president stated, "Our intention is to make sure that the world is as peaceful as possible." He emphasized, "We will continue to enforce the 'no fly' zone until the world is told otherwise."
In a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the right to control the air space over their country, Washington imposed "no-fly" zones in northern Iraq in mid-1991 and in the south in August 1992, covering the majority of the country.
Since 1998 the Iraqi regime has ordered its antiaircraft units to try to shoot down U.S. and British planes patrolling this area. Washington has responded with sometimes daily air strikes, allegedly against radar and antiaircraft installations within the "no-fly" zone areas. Over the past two years, these bombing attacks have killed an average of one Iraqi civilian about every other day.
According to a news release issued by the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. European Command, U.S. and British aircraft bombed Iraq on 111 different days in 1999, 85 days in 2000, and 9 days through mid-February of this year. These figures are understated, the military brass reported, since from April 1999 to March 2000 they do not include attacks in the southern "no-fly" zone. As of last June, U.S. forces had flown 50,000 sorties in the northern sector and 230,000 in the southern zone since 1991.
U.S. defense department officials said the February 16 attacks were aimed at five Iraqi radar facilities around Baghdad. U.S. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, described the purpose of the bombardment as being "to degrade [and], disrupt the ability of the Iraqi air defenses to coordinate attacks against our aircraft."
Several days after the raid, a New York Times article reported that "Chinese workers were helping the Iraqi military build a fiber-optic network linked to radar stations and the targets attacked by American and British warplanes." State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, stated, "We are obviously concerned about reports that the Chinese have provided assistance to the Iraqis." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said February 20 that it had no knowledge of the project.
Washington sends message
While striking at Iraq, Washington's military attack was also designed to send a powerful message to its imperialist rivals in the European Union (EU) involved in putting together their own rapid reaction strike force. The U.S. rulers know the strike will remind the EU nations about Washington's overwhelmingly superior military power, ability to deploy it around the world, and willingness to use it to advance their interests--despite protests over the sanctions and the bombings.
The bombing attack received expressions of sympathy from the governments of Poland and Germany, while authorities in France and Turkey were skeptical.
"This appears to be a political signal, a sign of determination, a degree of toughness on the part of the new administration," remarked a senior German official. According to the Washington Post, "The German and French foreign ministers were about to sit down to dinner Friday night when the news [of the bombing] caught them unaware.... But the Germans were not overly perturbed."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said his foreign minister, who is on his way to Washington for talks, would discuss how to prevent "solidarization of the Arab masses."
French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine complained that there was "no legal basis for this type of bombardment." He added, "This action as far as I am aware, is approved by hardly anyone. Only Canada and Poland, but I don't know why. All other countries have expressed their disapproval, criticism, doubt, and disquiet as we have done, because we do not see the point of this action."
The government of Turkey, which allows U.S. and British planes to use its bases to patrol the southern "no-fly" zone, complained about not having advance notice from Washington about the most recent military strikes.
The bombing drew sharp condemnation from the Arab League, including Egypt and Syria, Washington's former allies in the Gulf War. Russian and Chinese authorities also opposed it.
Protests were held in Baghdad, where the ruling Baath party organized a march of some 20,000 people February 18 and 19. Actions also took place in Jordan and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
'Long series of criminal actions'
Cuba's revolutionary government, the only voice on the UN Security Council during the brutal 1990-91 imperialist assault to expose Washington's aims and answer its rationalizations for its aggression, again sharply condemned the bombing attack. A statement issued February 16 by the foreign ministry labeled the murderous bombing raid "the most recent in a long series of criminal and hostile actions that various U.S. administrations have been carrying out against Iraqi territory for the past 10 years. This assault, Cuba said, "was carried out under the cynical pretext of self-defense by the U.S. and British air forces, which have been brazenly violating Iraqi airspace." For the past decade, the Cuban foreign ministry stated, the U.S.-sponsored trade sanctions against Iraq "have inflicted tens of thousands of victims and incalculable material losses" on the Iraqi people.
The statement concluded by condemning "the genocidal policy by the U.S. government against the Iraqi people." The revolutionary government reiterated its "full solidarity with the people of Iraq and demands the immediate lifting of this regime of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council."
The sanctions, initiated by Washington in 1990 and imposed ever since, have begun to unravel in recent months. A number of countries have resumed direct flights to Baghdad, and European firms are stepping up their efforts to do business in Iraq. TotalfinaElf, a French company, is negotiating for rights to Iraq's huge Majnoon and Bin Umar oil fields. At the Baghdad international trade fair in November, firms from Germany, France, and Spain were promoting their products, along with hundreds of other companies from the Arab world and Russia.
Iraq, which is currently the third-largest oil producer in the world and the six-largest supplier of oil to the U.S. market, recently reopened an oil pipeline through Syria to the Mediterranean port of Banias, allowing it to pump as much as $3 million worth of petroleum a day.
Shift in approach
Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, Jr., urged in a February 21 column published in the National Review that the strikes be used by the Bush administration to "help reestablish regional confidence in American leadership provided they are represented as they should be--namely as an integral part of a larger, systematic, and sustained U.S. effort to discredit Saddam Hussein and assist in the liberation of Iraq from his regime's predations." Gaffney details a number of proposals to pursue such a shift made to the Clinton administration by high-ranking Republicans and officials who are now part of the Bush administration.
These include setting up a provisional government, prohibiting any Iraqi military forces on land or air in areas now marked as the "no-fly" zones, and turning Iraqi assets over to the U.S.-backed opposition. He writes the "new strategy should be explicitly aimed at ending Saddam's misrule and the threat it poses to his own long-suffering people and others beyond his borders."
'End the bombing and sanctions against Iraq!'
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