Iraqi choppers to defy no-fly zone to ferry pilgrims
April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 10:02 a.m. EDT (1402 GMT)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq said Monday it would defy a
U.S.-enforced no-fly zone to send helicopters to the Saudi
Arabian border to pick up "sick and exhausted" pilgrims
returning from the hajj.
The Iraqi News Agency said the decision to send the aircraft
was made after a high-level meeting headed by President
"Any American practice threatening the safety of the
helicopters and the pilgrims will be met with an appropriate
action," the agency said, quoting what it called an
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said that while Iraq had other means of retrieving the pilgrims, the United States had no intention of shooting down civilian aircraft.
Defense Secretary William Cohen said that retrieving the pilgrims could qualify for an exemption to the ban on flights in the area, but added that Iraq is "in no position to simply be flaunting the rules."
Iraq maintains that the no-fly zone in the southern part of
the country -- imposed after the 1991 Gulf War and expanded
last fall -- is illegal, and has periodically tested Western
resolve to enforce it.
On April 9, Iraq defied a U.N. ban on international flights
in and out of the country when it sent a civilian plane to
Saudi Arabia carrying 104 sick and elderly pilgrims to the
annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The plane returned the same day.
The news agency said that lack of communication with the
pilgrims and their widespread movement at the holy sites
prevented Iraq from sending a plane to ferry the pilgrims
The original purpose of the no-fly zone was to protect
southern Iraq's residents after a failed anti-government
revolt in the area. Its expansion last fall was a punishment
after Saddam sent Iraq's army to aid one Kurdish faction in
the north against another.
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