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World - Middle East

Clinton says operation against Iraq is complete


Attack on Iraq: An image gallery

U.S. military releases bombing damage assessments for 3 nights of attacks on Iraq

Iraq's missile program set back a year

In this story:

December 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:08 p.m. EST (2308 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Acting on the advice of his national security team, President Clinton announced Saturday the completion of Operation Desert Fox, the U.S. and British strikes against Iraq.

"Based on the briefing I've just received, I'm confident we've achieved our mission," Clinton said.

Earlier, as the United States and Britain launched a fourth day of airstrikes against Iraq on Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the raids had inflicted heavy damage on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's military command facilities and security forces and set back Iraq's missile program by at least a year.

The new wave of attacks hit as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began in Iraq and much of the Arab world.

"The operation's going to continue until (Clinton) decides it has been completed. It is still under way," Cohen said.

As the new wave of attacks began, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Baghdad will end all dealings with the U.N. Special Commission charged with certifying that Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

"The Special Commission is now behind us," Ramadan told a news conference. "Its only mission in Iraq now is to find a cover for the genitals of those who want to carry out aggression against Iraq."

The United States and Britain began the airstrikes against Iraq late Wednesday over its refusal to cooperate with the U.N. weapons-inspection team. Iraq must destroy its chemical and biological weapons before the U.N. will consider lifting sanctions it imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Attack on Iraq: An image gallery

U.S. military damage assessments for first 3 nights of attacks on Iraq

CNN related video: CNN reports on Iraq strikes

Asked about casualties caused by the raids, Ramadan said: "The number of martyrs amongst civilians is tens of times higher than that of military personnel." While Ramadan gave no figures, another Iraqi official said Saturday that 68 people had been killed in the raids, and that some hospitals and health centers had been targets.

U.S. officials said the latest bombing phase would be less intense than Friday night's raid, but that more military sites were targeted.

Britain: Key military targets hit

British Defense Secretary said Saturday that Friday's airstrikes hit major military targets, including the headquarters of the elite Republican Guards, the ruling Baath Party headquarters and air defense systems, and substantially damaged Iraq's "chemical and biological war machine."

U.S. defense officials had said Friday the campaign could end Saturday.

Clinton's secretaries of state and defense, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were expected to meet Saturday to discuss the raids, one U.S. official said.

U.S. beefs up aircraft carrier group

Meanwhile, a second U.S. aircraft carrier battle group -- led by the USS Carl Vinson -- moved into the Gulf to join the USS Enterprise, U.S. Navy officials said.

The 72,800-ton Carl Vinson carries about 60 attack warplanes and a crew of some 5,000. Its escort group includes warships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Carl Vinson's sister ship, the Enterprise, heads a fleet of about 20 U.S. warships in the Gulf. Both vessels are nuclear-powered.

The addition of the second carrier brings U.S. air strength in the region to more than 300 warplanes. Most are shore- based in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf Arab states.

"Some 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired, and around 100 air-launch cruise missiles have been used," Robertson said. "Coalition forces have attacked about 100 separate, precise military targets."

Iraq said Saturday its forces shot down 23 out of 60 missiles fired at it during the third night of the raids.

"The criminal American and British enemy fired 60 missiles between 1550 (1350 GMT) on Friday ... and 0900 (0600 GMT) on Saturday. Our anti-aircraft forces shot down 23 aggressive missiles," said a statement by the leadership of the joint armed forces, issued by the official Iraqi News Agency.

On Friday, Iraq said it had shot down 77 out of 305 missiles fired in the first two days of raids.

'Ramadan is a sacred month'

The raids Friday night and early Saturday, the fiercest so far, died away only minutes before Iraqi Muslims were called to prayer for the start of Ramadan.

As Iraqis emerged from the bomb shelters to pray for victory, Clinton broadcast a Ramadan message to the Arab world Saturday, saying the airstrikes on Iraq were in the interests of the entire Middle East.

"Ramadan is a sacred month, but the Satans in Washington and London would not care about sacred things," Abu Sameer, a butcher in Baghdad's Karada market said Saturday. "The Americans and the British do not fear God. Otherwise they would have suspended their aggression."

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan, breaking their fast with a festive meal. But eight years of sanctions have reduced most Iraqis to poverty, and this year's destructive prelude to the holy month has angered many Iraqis.

"Is this Ramadan? We're supposed to have a peace of mind while we fast. Instead, they reward us with heavy bombings," said grocer Falah Ridha.

The comments appeared to reflect a shift in public mood since the start of the military strikes, with early nonchalance increasingly tinged with anger or fear as the raids picked up again Saturday night.

Funeral processions wind through Baghdad

Iraqi officials staged a public funeral procession through Baghdad in which 68 taxis carried coffins which they said contained the bodies of victims from the attacks.

Iraqi Health Minister Umeed Madhat Mubarak was quoted Saturday as saying U.S. and British forces had targeted hospitals and health centers around Iraq in their three days of air raids.

The official Iraqi News Agency quoted him as saying the attacks had killed "a large number of patients and workers" at the hospitals, but gave no details.

The Western forces hit Saddamiya Hospital in the southern town of Qurna on the first night of raids, returning to strike it again on the second round in the early hours of Friday, Mubarak said.

In the second series of attacks, they hit the Saddam Teaching Hospital in the Salahudin province north of Baghdad, he said, adding that Saddam Medical City and Al-Liqa Maternity Hospital were also damaged in the raids.

Mubarak said during the second night of strikes that 25 people had been killed in Baghdad alone.

Iraq says oil exports unaffected

Iraq Oil Ministry officials said Saturday that Iraq's crude oil exports under the U.N.-approved oil-for-food program were continuing, despite some damage to oil facilities from the missiles.

The officials said the exports were averaging 1.8 million barrels per day from the Al-Bakr port on the Gulf and terminals at the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.

They said a main pumping station on Iraq's strategic pipeline close to Basra was hit in the raids and workers are repairing the damage. The officials also said missiles hit a refinery in the southern city of Basra but that the damage was repairable.

Saturday's attack came hours after Saddam Hussein defied Washington and London and called on Arabs to resist what he called the agents of Satan.

"By God, we will not compromise," thundered the 61-year-old leader.

"We stand against the barbaric ways of those that have used our airspace to launch an aggression against our people," Hussein said in a taped television address broadcast by the Qatar television station al-Jazeera.

"A curse on the agents of Satan," Hussein added.

Iraqi newspapers took up the theme Saturday with fierce condemnation of the United States and Britain and appealed to all Arabs to unite against them.

"Now the doors are open wide for Arabs to enter Iraq to take part in the decisive battle of Um al-Ma'rik (the mothers of all battles)," the Al-Qadissiya newspaper said.

Arab League meet canceled

Iraq, however, canceled its request for a weekend meeting of the Arab League to discuss the airstrikes, officials said Saturday.

Moeen Mola Hameed, Iraq's representative at the Cairo-based organization, said: "We asked for an emergency meeting by the Arab League and we were forced to cancel it based on orders I received from the (Iraqi) leadership."

Officials had said on Thursday that the league's council would meet on Saturday or Sunday.

"Maybe the reason of cancellation is the weak official position of Arab governments toward the strike," Hameed said, adding that some Western countries and China and Russia showed stronger positions by comparison.

Iran Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called Friday for an end to the bombings.

"As the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference ... Iran declares the extreme concern of the public opinion in the Islamic world about these attacks, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, and calls for an immediate end to the attacks," Kharrazi was quoted as saying by IRNA, the official state news agency.

Kharrazi protested to Britain after a stray missile fired against Iraq landed in its territory and damaged property, IRNA reported.

The missile crashed into Iran's southwestern border city of Khorramshahr on Thursday, damaging property within a 200- meter (990-foot) radius and causing panic. There was no report of injuries.

Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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