Allied strike could cause devastation

Uncertainty whether the Gulf war allies would again strike against Iraq persisted up to the deadline for withdrawal of Iraqi surface-to-air missiles from firing positions south of the 32nd parallel, fixed for 10.15pm last night.

The Pentagon and British defence sources indicated that they were ready and determined to strike if ordered to because Iraq did not obey the ultimatum issued by four of the five members of the UN Security Council. For the first time, the US admitted officially that F-117 Stealth fighters - the high-precision night-attack aircraft - were in the area.

The demarche issued at 10.15pm GMT on Wednesday demanded that all the missiles which had been moved to new positions south of the 32nd parallel should be moved to new sites; that Iraqi aircraft should not fly south of the parallel and that Iraqi forces should not take hostile action by, for example, tracking or locking radar on to allied aircraft. The Iraqis responded by stating their right to move their forces on their own territory, including deploying their own air defences.

Since before Christmas Iraq has made a systematic effort to violate the no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel and to threaten allied aircraft enforcing it.

The missiles are three to five batteries - the number of launchers in each unspecified - of ageing but still potentially dangerous SA-2 and SA-3 missiles. They have been moved a 'few tens of kilometres' south of 32 degrees.

They are on mobile launchers and are routinely resited. They can be dismantled, transported and reassembled elsewhere in less than 12 hours. Western analysts said the reported movement of missiles on Thursday was therefore not a particular signal indicating that they were being withdrawn. Allied intelligence saw 'preparation of missiles and the associated radars for dismantling', but this was not especially surprising.

An allied attack was expected to concentrate primarily on the missile sites and associated radars. The Iraqi airfields under the no- fly zone south of the 32nd parallel have been dormant, and the incursions into the zone, of which there have been several in recent weeks, have been by aircraft based north of it. The closest operational airfield is al-Jarrah. But the allies have no remit to attack airfields north of 32 degrees unless they are expected to pose a threat to allied planes. As the allies also found early in the Gulf war, the 30-plus main Iraqi airfields are so large - bigger than London's Heathrow in many cases - that it would be impracticable to close them down completely.

The allied air power in the region is overwhelming. Armed with anti-radar missiles to home in on any radars that are switched on, and laser-guided bombs, the allies can hit the Iraqi positions from 'medium altitude' - around 15,000ft - out of range of the anti-aircraft guns which did most damage to low-flying aircraft in the 1991 war. The US has 12 ships in the Gulf itself, including the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, three cruisers, two destroyers and two frigates.

The Pentagon said yesterday the cruiser Cowpens and the destroyers Hewitt and Stump were equipped with Tomahawk land- attack cruise missiles which could also pinpoint targets.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent