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U.S. changed Iraq policy to begin airstrikes months before war

John Byrne

Did Bush lie to Congress about use of force?

The U.S. quietly shifted policy towards Iraq to allow for surgical, pre-emptive airstrikes months before any attempt to seek UN or Congressional approval for the use of force, RAW STORY can reveal.

The discovery, made by investigative blogger Ron Brynaert, raises questions of whether Britain and the United States violated a UN resolution to provide for the security of Iraqi citizenry in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.

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The change meant that the U.S. began systematically bombing air defense systems and other buildings, even beyond the No-Fly Zones established in the wake of the Gulf War. The U.S. justified these pre-emptive airstrikes under a 1991 UN Security Council resolution which says that Iraq must “remove the threat to international peace and security in the region.”

The resolution, however, never specifically called for the use of force. Nor did it authorize the no-fly zones, a joint venture of the British and U.S. governments.

Some suggest the change indicates President George W. Bush lied to the nation when he declared in October 2002 upon signing the Congressional authorization on the use of force, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary."

Other U.S. commanders have admitted to “spikes of activity,” a phrase employed by both British and American officials when discussing bombings before the push for Congressional or UN approval.

“I directed it,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a Sept. 16, 2002 Pentagon press briefing in response to questions about the rising tide of Iraq airstrikes in 2002. "I don't like the idea of our planes being shot at. We're there implementing U.N. resolutions... And the idea that our planes go out and get shot at with impunity bothers me."

After repeated questioning about when the change was made, Rumsfeld was hesitant, and according to the transcript, reporters laughed.

"Less than a year -- less than a year and more than a week," the transcript records, “(Laughter.) I think less than six months and more than a month."

In his autobiography, American Soldier, retired U.S. General Tommy Franks, who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, invoked the “ spikes” phrase—as far back as 2001.

"I'm thinking in terms of spikes, Mr. Secretary,” he wrote, referencing a conversation with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in December 2001, “spurts of activity followed by periods of inactivity. We want the Iraqis to become accustomed to military expansion, and then apparent contraction."

"As Phase I is completed, we could flow steadily for the next sixty days, while continuing spikes of activity to lend credence to our deception,” he added. “During the sixty days we would increase kinetic strikes in the no-fly zones to weaken Iraq's integrated air defenses."

The Downing Street minutes indicate the change had been made by July 2002, when British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon was quoted as saying, "the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime."

John Pike, director of the defense analysis firm GlobalSecurity.org, says the increased bombings indicate the decision for war had already been made. “It was no big secret at the time,” Pike said. “It was apparent to us at the time that they were doing it and why they were doing it, and that was part of the reason why we were convinced that a decision to go to war had already been made, because the war had already started.”

U.S.-led forces attacked 349 targets in months before war

Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley, the allied air force commander at the time, said the U.S. coalition flew 21,736 sorties over southern Iraq between June 2002 and the start of the war. The missions attacked 349 targets between June 2002 and the start of the war. Moseley said they were fired upon by Iraqis 651 times.

But Moseley admitted it was possible the Iraqis’ attacks came in response to stepped-up bombings.

"We became a little more aggressive based on them shooting more at us, which allowed us to respond more," he told the New York Times. "Then the question is whether they were shooting at us because we were up there more. So there is a chicken and egg thing here."

Figures provided by the British Ministry of Defense to parliament provide insight into whether bombings were done in self-defense.

Between March and November of 2002, coalition forces said they recorded eight violations by Iraqi forces of the No-Fly Zone and 143 instances of “recorded threats.”

In response, they attacked Iraqi installations with 253,000 pounds of bombs.

In June 2002, for instance, the coalition recorded three “threats,” and bombed with 20,800 pounds of munitions. The greatest number of threats during this period was in September 2002, when Iraqis are said to have shot at the U.S.-led forces ten times, and were hit with 109,200 pounds of bombs.

Michael O’Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who specializes in arms treaties and Iraq policy, says that he believes the U.S. had grounds for increased bombings.

“I think there’s no doubt that there was a desirability to have some of these strikes intensify, but I also think that Iraq made it easy to justify,” O’Hanlon told RAW STORY. He believes Rumsfeld was “on solid ground.”

“There really was always a state of low-scale war between the U.S. and Iraq – the ceasefire was never respected,” he added. “Getting into 2002 in particular, there was no doubt that was at that point we were trying to be a little tougher on Iraq – for four years they had been in even greater non-compliance on the issue of weapons inspections.”

But he did see a foreshadowing of a war in the strikes, and said that despite his belief that the U.S. strikes were legal, there was a clear degree of increased aggressiveness.

“There was something going on here in that it was in many ways showing a foreshadowing of a war,” he remarked. “This was an escalation, and was one that was perhaps justifiable in my mind... [there was] a changing perspective on the ground of the U.S. government.”

Clinton bombings harsh, too

While President Bush explicitly altered the rules of engagement with regard to pre-emptive strikes in Iraq prior to seeking approval for war, President Clinton also bombed Iraq aggressively during his term.

But the airstrikes under Clinton appear to be of a smaller magnitude, and in direct response to attacks. Clinton never changed the rules of engagement, and justified his attacks in response to specific events.

There is scant information surrounding the total tonnage of bombing conducted by Clinton, but comparative bombing by British forces suggests strikes were more limited.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament in May 2000 that British forces had dropped 5,000 pounds of bombs in the southern No-Fly Zone between August 1992 and December 1998.

In 1998, President Clinton authorized Desert Fox, a 70-hour airstrike which blasted 100 targets. Critics saw the move as an attempt to deflect from a looming impeachment vote; Clinton said the bombings were in response to Iraq’s failure to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country.

Hoon said that between 1998 and 2000, the British Royal Air Force dropped 156,000 pounds of bombs. By contrast, in eight months in 2002, British forces dropped more than 252,000 pounds.

Clinton launched other attacks on Iraq in response to Iraqi moves, such as a 1993 strike after an attempted assassination of former President George H.W. Bush. According to one columnist, Clinton “provided a model for Bush's relentless bombing of Iraq as he also led several significant strikes on Afghanistan and the Sudan.”

In the late 1990s, Clinton moved more aggressively against Hussein, providing funding for opposition groups, and periodically striking when U.S. planes came under attack. By 1999, his forces were attacking more military targets.

But unlike Clinton, Bush explicity changed the rules under which strikes could be conducted, allowing pre-emptive attacks on sites they felt could threaten their forces in the future after an apparent decision to go to war.

#

Following are charts provided by British Defense Secretary to parliament. On November 27th in 2002, in response to a question asked by the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, the Ministry of Defense released the information "on how many occasions (a) coalition aircraft and (b) UK aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone in Iraq have (i) detected violations of the no-fly zones, (ii) detected a direct threat to a coalition aircraft and (iii) released ordnance in each month since March, stating for each month the tonnage released" (House of Commons Hansard) included in these charts:

(i) No-fly zone (NFZ) violations are detected in several ways. I am withholding details of detection methods in accordance with Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. The number of violations recorded, by month, in the southern No Fly Zone, is as follows:

Month

Number of violations recorded

March

0

April

1

May

0

June

1

July

1

August

0

September

3

October

2

November

0

(ii) Coalition aircraft recorded threats on a total of 143 occasions, as follows:

Month

Coalition aircraft recorded threats

March

0

April

1

May

20

June

13

July

30

August

15

September

41

October

14

November

9

Note:

We do not hold separate threat figures for individual nations' aircraft.

(iii) (a) Coalition aircraft in the southern NFZ responded in self defence against Iraqi Air Defence targets on 41 occasions in the period from 1 March to 13 November, and released 126.4 tons of ordnance.

Month

Responses conducted in self defence

Tonnage of ordnance released

March

0

0

April

1

0.3

May

5

7.3

June

3

10.4

July

5

9.5

August

8

14.1

September

10

54.6

October

6

17.7

November

3

12.5

(iii) (b) Of these totals, UK aircraft responded on 17 occasions and released 46 tons of ordnance:

27 Nov 2002 : Column 331W

Month

Responses conducted in self defence

Tonnage of ordnance released

March

0

0

April

0

0

May

2

4.9

June

2

2.2

July

1

3.2

August

2

3.2

September

6

21.1

October

4

11.4

November

0

0

This article was researched by Larisa Alexandrovna and Ron Brynaert and written by John Byrne. Edited by Larisa Alexandrovna.

Originally published on Thursday June 30, 2005.

 


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