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United States steps up enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zone

Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz

Cohen: Iraq 'will bear consequences' for violations

October 9, 1997
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States announced Thursday that it will step up enforcement of a "no-fly" zone in place over southern Iraq since the Persian Gulf War.

U.S. officials have accused Iraq of recently sending its warplanes into the no-fly zone below the 33rd parallel. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday that enforcement will be stepped up and that the Iraqis "will bear the consequences" if its warplanes keep violating the ban.

He said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "is posing a risk to himself, his pilots as such, whenever they start to challenge the no-fly zone."

Both Cohen and Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon declined to delineate what steps the United States might take, other than to send more planes into the zone and have them fly closer to the 33rd parallel.

But Pentagon sources tell CNN that the United States is not considering purely retaliatory strikes against Iraq.

"We're not doing this to launch a war, we are doing this to get Saddam's attention, to tell him to watch it, to be careful," said a senior Defense Department official.

Bacon emphasized the scope of the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.

"We have a powerful military force in the Gulf ready to protect our interests there," Bacon said. "We have in the past used a variety of military assets, including Tomahawk (cruise) missiles and aircraft, to protect our interests. And we will be able to do that in the future."

More U.S. ships sent to region

Iraqi no-fly zone

When Iranian jets launched strikes last week against the bases of the Iranian Mujahedeen opposition movement in Iraq, Iraqi aircraft rose to defend the area, at times violating the no-fly zones in the process.

But U.S. officials say Iraqi jets also continue to flit into the southern zone and back out, simply to test the ability of U.S. forces to patrol the area.

United Nations weapons inspectors have also reported recent interference from Iraq. Some U.S. officials believe that, combined with the air incursions, could signal a new pattern of Iraqi defiance.

Bacon said the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz, and a protective cordon of warships capable of firing long-range Tomahawk missiles, would arrive in the Persian Gulf this weekend, ahead of schedule on orders from Cohen.

Bacon also said the United States had a force of about 20 fighter jets and two B-1 bombers capable of firing cruise missiles on temporary duty in nearby Bahrain.

He said U.S. warplanes, including fighters based in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, recently began flying closer to the 33rd parallel some 40 miles south of Baghdad while patrolling in the southern no-fly zone.

The planes, Bacon added, were also flying in larger concentrations in order to better protect the zone from penetration.

The southern no-fly zone was created after the war in 1991 to prevent the Iraqi government from attacking Shiite Muslims in the area. There is a similar no-fly zone in northern Iraq to protect the country's Kurdish minority.

Pressing United Nations for action

Meanwhile, the State Department said that Washington planned to press for the "strongest possible action" by the United Nations to make Iraq comply with a U.N. commission charged with scrapping Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't want to be in a position to discuss all the options, except to say that we of course would want the strongest possible action by the (Security) Council to back up the important work of the U.N. special commission," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

Next week, the Security Council is scheduled to discuss a report by the head of the U.N. special commission, Richard Butler. The report listed a series of incidents of Iraqi interference with inspections of such sites.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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