Iraqis vent anger over airstrikes, survey damage
U.S., Britain declare end to Operation Desert Fox
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December 20, 1998
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqis cursed the United States and President Clinton Sunday, as they climbed out of bomb shelters following the end of air strikes designed to limit Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and to threaten its neighbors.
Rubble from the air assaults by U.S. and British forces in Operation Desert Fox lay atop cars, and groups of people gathered to assess the damage, while loudspeakers atop a mosque blared recitations from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
Abu Yarub, a soldier, was bitter. "Clinton this time inflicted great harm on us. He had no reason to do that."Iraqis said their beleagured nation had triumphed after Operation Desert Fox and the air assaults by U.S. and British forces.
"This is a victory to the people of Iraq, the leadership of Iraq and the nation of Iraq," a woman said as she prepared to leave a shelter in central Baghdad.
Others defiantly said the attacks had failed to change Iraq's stand on U.N. weapons inspections.
A young man said he was willing to endure the treatment "until we see the blockade lifted." He was referring to U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq over its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. "This shows that Iraq was right. The government was right."
Iraqi officials had no immediate reaction to the announcement of the cease-fire, at 2 a.m. Sunday in Baghdad.
After a final wave of airstrikes against Iraq on Saturday evening, President Bill Clinton announced the United States had ceased the military action known as Operation Desert Fox after four days of bombardment.
Clinton said he ordered the mission because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein repeatedly hindered the work of U.N. weapons inspectors charged with making sure his country was not developing biological, chemical and long-range missile weapons.
"As far as I was concerned, Saddam's days of cheat and repeat were over," said Clinton. "I am confident we have achieved our mission," he said at 6 p.m. EST at the White House.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a simultaneous announcement in London.
Blair echoed Clinton's remarks, saying the raids had met their military objectives. "We can be satisfied with the job well done," he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Saturday that the raids had inflicted heavy damage on Hussein's military command facilities and security forces and set back Iraq's missile program by at least a year.
Clinton said the United States would continue a strong military presence in the region, continue to monitor a no-fly zone over parts of Iraq, retain extensive sanctions against the country, but allow it to continue selling oil in exchange for food and medicine.
The president said he would "welcome" the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, but stopped short of making it a requirement to avoid more military action.
Clinton administration officials said privately that the resumption of UNSCOM activities would be difficult or impossible. But the president did not rule out further attacks should Iraq resume development of the banned weapons.
Baghdad assesses damage, vows no more inspections
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan announced earlier Saturday that Baghdad will end all dealings with the U.N. Special Commission charged with certifying that Iraq has destroyed so-called weapons of mass destruction.
In the last wave of attacks, at least one missile damaged the Iraqi Labor Ministry building complex in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
Residents in northern Baghdad said two more missiles slammed into the complex, but journalists were barred from approaching the buildings. Three guards near the ministry building were also wounded in the 9:35 p.m. strike, sources told CNN.
Saying 12 students had died earlier on Saturday, Ramadan charged, "The number of martyrs among civilians is tens of times higher than that of military personnel."
Iraqis say 68 died in raids
Another Iraqi official said Saturday that a total of 68 people had been killed in the raids, and that some hospitals and health centers had been targets.
The United States and Britain began the airstrikes against Iraq late Wednesday over its refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, who first entered the country when the U.N. imposed sanctions against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson said Saturday that Friday's airstrikes hit major military targets, including the headquarters of the elite Republican Guards, and the ruling Baath Party headquarters and air defense systems.
U.S. beefs up presence in Persian Gulf
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 addition of the second carrier to the Enterprise 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 and 100 air-launched cruise missiles have been used to attack 100 separate, precise military targets, Robertson said. Iraq said Saturday its forces shot down 100 missiles during the first three nights.
The fiercest raids, Friday night and early Saturday, died away only minutes before Iraqi Muslims were called to prayer for the start the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Bombs, funerals mark beginning of Ramadan
During the day, 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.
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.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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