Clinton says missile attacks have taught Saddam a lesson

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton said yesterday that the US had achieved its mission in Iraq, after Washington launched a new wave of attacks.

Saddam Hussein now "knows there is a price to be paid for stepping over the line", the President said. "He is strategically worse off." He said Iraqi forces had withdrawn from northern Iraq, where they had been involved in factional fighting between Kurdish groups.

Despite criticism from its Gulf war allies, Washington yesterday stepped up the pressure on President Saddam. The day began with new cruise missile strikes, and ended with reports of explosions in Baghdad and anti-aircraft fire. The Pentagon denied Iraqi government claims that it had launched an attack against the Iraqi capital after Baghdad residents heard a series of explosions.

But earlier, the US had pres-sed home its initial assault when 17 cruise missiles were fired from four ships at command and control targets and air defence facilities, the US said. The attacks were aimed at clearing up targets unscathed by Tuesday's larger-scale attack.

"We have successfully completed the mission to attack the air defence facilities - a total of 14 air-defence facilities - south of the 33rd parallel," Defense Secretary William Perry said at a joint news conference in Washington with his British counterpart, Michael Portillo.

As the dust cleared from that operation, the US began patrolling the new extended no-fly zone that it has declared in southern Iraq. A Western military source said Iraq flew some 30 planes from the south shortly before the enforcement of the extended no-fly zone.

But as allied planes began to patrol, a US F-16 fighter attacked a hostile radar unit. Details of the incident, confirmed by White House officials, were sketchy, but the F-16 fired one missile after it had been locked on, or "illuminated", by the radar attached to a mobile anti-aircraft missile unit. After the attack, the Pentagon claimed, the unit was "no longer operational", while the American warplane returned to base in Saudi Arabia unscathed.

More important, however, the clash bore out warnings from US officials that in spite of misgivings among members of the 1991 Gulf war coalition, the US was ready to carry out further strikes to ensure the safety of its aircraft in the enlarged zone - which now stretches to the 33rd parallel, almost to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. We will take "whatever action is necessary", Mr Perry said after the latest skirmishing.

And the mixture is combustible, as President Saddam responds by seeking to establish how far Washington will go to enforce a limitation which deprives him of the use of his air force in the entire southern half of the country. Just before the radar incident, two Iraqi MiGs also approached US aircraft but turned back before crossing the 33rd parallel.

The US actions have stirred deep misgivings among some of its partners, with France reportedly refusing to patrol the new section of the no-fly zone. But Mr Clinton denied there was any friction over the operation, and said the Gulf war coalition remained solid - or at least alive. "I don't think it's dead," the President said.

Policing Saddam, page 10