April 6, 2001

Ten years ago, on April 6, 1991, Iraq signed on to United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, formalizing the cease-fire to end the "Gulf War." Today, the only major violations of the cease-fire come in the form of bombings by United States and British airplanes patrolling the so- called "no-fly zones" (NFZs) in north and south Iraq. While another resolution (#688) expresses concern that Iraq respect the rights of all its people, the zones are not specifically created or endorsed by any U.N. documents or resolutions.

On February 16, President George W. Bush ordered a bombing outside the NFZs, close to Baghdad. That attack reportedly killed 3 civilians and wounded 30 more. Since that time, there have been four more bombings (2/21, 2/22, 3/20, and 3/30). Two of those incidents involved "flare bombs," incendiary devices designed to distract anti-aircraft fire, which Iraq says are being used to burn crops and property.

Since the December, 1998 "Desert Fox" bombing of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, U.S. and British air raids have become, in Bush's words, "routine." In 1999, they attacked 138 times; an average of once every three days; in 2000, the average came closer to once every five days. Although less frequent, there have been a total of 13 bombings just in the first 95 days of 2001; an average of once per week. Most people are not aware of these bombings. The March 30 bombing received only two sentences in the Oregonian. News about the bombings can, however, easily be found on the web attributed to wire services (AP, AFP, Reuters, UPI, etc.).

Agence France Presse reports that the total number of Iraqis wounded in 1999 was 371, with 156 people killed; in 2000, 556 were wounded and 159 killed; Iraq says at least 37 more have been wounded and 8 more killed this year. This is a total of 323 people, many civilians, killed as part of a near-silent ten-year war that has lasted longer than any other in U.S. history.

In addition to conventional bombs and flare-bombs, the U.S. has reportedly also been using cluster bombs (which contain 145 little bomblets and, unexploded, look like toys to children) and Joint Stand Off Weapons, tested in the February 16 attack. (JSOWs have a range of 40 miles and are guided by satellites.)


The Bush administration is reportedly rethinking the policy of the NFZs. Unfortunately, they are sending out mixed messages. Secretary of State Colin Powell has described "three baskets" of U.S. policy in Iraq: "Regime change," the sanctions, and the no-fly zones. In early March, Powell stated that the U.S. was looking to expand the list of possible targets in the no-fly zones to include suspected weapons sites. The director of think tank GlobalSecurity.org was quoted in the Chicago Tribune (3/8), noting that the bombings are therefore meant to replace the weapons inspectors who left Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of "Desert Fox."

Later in March, U.S. Army General Tommy Franks proposed to lower the number of NFZ flights and focus more on surveillance in order to "reduce the risk to pilots, cut costs and provide a clearer picture of what's going on in Iraq." Franks worried that the number of flights increases the risk that the Iraqis will shoot down a plane with their random anti-aircraft fire. (Although with the accidental bombing of 5 Americans and one New Zealander by U.S. planes in Kuwait on March 12, along with the military mishaps involving submarines and several other airplanes, it is clear the U.S. may pose the greatest risk to itself.)

The Tribune also quoted legal experts who worried that the U.S. should not end the patrols, which allegedly are to prevent Iraqi air flights, since they "provide at least some legal pretext for airstrikes on Iraq."

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