Right of Reply: George Robertson

The Secretary of State for Defence replies to yesterday's article on Iraq by Menzies Campbell
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I WAS glad to read in Monday's Independent that Menzies Campbell agrees with the Government's long-term strategy on Iraq. But he is wrong to suggest that changes to our Rules of Engagement for patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq are designed to allow the pursuit of an attritional, undisclosed, campaign against Iraq's defences, aimed at destabilising the regime. Our actions are purely defensive and in response to threats. If the threats stop, the responses will stop.

Since the end of Operation Desert Fox, coalition aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones have been shot at, or otherwise threatened, over 70 times. Our Rules of Engagement are a direct consequence of Iraq's systematic attempts to kill or capture our aircrew. They are intended precisely to avoid the situation Menzies Campbell describes - of our aircrew being dragged through the streets of Baghdad - or worse.

The Rules allow our aircraft to target not just anti-aircraft batteries and missile sites but also those elements of Iraq's Integrated Air Defence System that control the attacks on our aircraft. We are not attempting to destabilise Saddam's regime, we are simply seeking to reduce the risk to our aircrew.

Finally, the suggestion that the reason for our patrols has changed of late is simply not true. The necessity for no-fly zones is as real today as it was almost eight years ago; they prevent Saddam from using his airforce to launch offensives against the Kurds in the north and Shia Muslims in the south. The function of the no-fly zones is to prevent Saddam from resuming his brutal repression of his own people.

Is Menzies Campbell saying that we should abandon the no-fly zones and the people they protect? I hope not.