‘No-Fly’ Zone in Iraq Starts Today, Bush Says : Persian Gulf: Allied patrols are designed to shield the Shiites and to encourage dissidents against Hussein.


President Bush announced Wednesday that allied warplanes will assert control of the skies over southern Iraq, a gesture designed to break Baghdad’s repressive control over the Shiite Muslim-dominated region and to signal to Iraqi dissidents that the West continues to seek the fall of Saddam Hussein.

At a White House news conference, Bush said that the United States and its coalition partners will begin regular surveillance flights over an area encompassing fully a third of Iraqi territory and will respond militarily if Iraqi aircraft seek to operate in the region.

Pentagon officials said that any Iraqi aircraft entering the skies south of the 32nd Parallel after 7:15 a.m. PDT today will be shot down.


Baghdad has been warned that the flight prohibition applies to civilian airliners as well.

“No Iraqi aircraft, either fixed-wing or rotary wing, military or civilian, will be allowed to fly south of the 32nd Parallel,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Martin Brandtner, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We will respond appropriately and decisively to any Iraqi failure to comply with this requirement or any other interference with our air operations.”

At the same time, Bush said that the United States will be watching closely to see if Iraqi ground forces persist in a continuing crackdown against Shiite civilians and anti-government rebels and would be “extraordinarily concerned” if Baghdad does not halt such repression. But officials declined to spell out what steps they would be willing to take to prevent or punish such violations.

The President said that Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, had briefed Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton on the operation. “I don’t think the other side will try to put a political spin on this,” Bush said. “We’re talking about something very serious here. I’m not worried about the politics of it at all.”

Clinton, speaking to reporters while campaigning in Memphis, Tenn., said that he supports Bush’s action. But Clinton renewed criticism that Bush had not moved faster to protect both the southern Shiites and the Kurdish population in the north.

Bush rejected suggestions that the move could be seen as an election-year ploy by a President trailing in the polls, saying that he and allied leaders are motivated only by “new evidence of harsh repression” by Hussein.

“What emerges from eyewitness accounts . . . is further graphic proof of Saddam’s brutality,” Bush said.


In launching the protective mission--dubbed Southern Watch--Bush and his senior advisers stressed that it is not intended to abet a Shiite-led insurgency or to bring about the dismemberment of Iraq.

Brandtner stressed in a Pentagon briefing that the allies are establishing “a no-fly zone, not a security zone”--meaning that the allies have no intention of offering the Shiite population blanket protection from government attacks, as they had for the Kurds last year in Operation Provide Comfort.

Instead, senior officials said, the goal remains to increase the pressures that might force Hussein from power while allowing Iraq to remain intact as a nation.

“The United States continues to support Iraq’s territorial unity and bears no ill will toward its people,” Bush said. “We continue to look forward to working with a new leadership in Baghdad, one that does not brutally suppress its own people and violate the most basic norms of humanity.”

A senior Administration official, elaborating on the President’s statement, said: “One of the effects of this is to deny him the attribute of sovereignty. If that sends the signal that as long as Saddam is in charge, Iraq’s sovereignty is eroding, so be it.”

An Iraqi spokesman, quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency, said that the United States, Britain and France intend to create a crisis to divide the south from the rest of Iraq and draw the whole region “into the fire of racial and sectarian conflicts.”


“Should the climate become ripe for the new aggressive plan, despite the U.S. claims of not aiming at dividing Iraq, it would . . . lead to this division and was indeed first conceived to serve this process,” the spokesman said.

After receiving a copy of the coalition’s ultimatum, Abdul Amir Anbari, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that his government has a proposal to ease the tensions and establish the truth about the situation in southern Iraq.

Anbari said that Iraq “is calling for the establishment of a so-called ‘wise men committee’ composed mainly from members of the Security Council, as well as from members of the region in order to visit Iraq and investigate the situation and report back to the countries concerned.” The Administration and its allies shunted aside a similar proposal a few days ago.

The new action is described by Bush and allied leaders as a necessary step to enforce a U.N. resolution that prohibits Iraq’s repression of its citizens. The President said that the flight prohibition and the surveillance flights would continue until Baghdad fully complies with U.N. cease-fire resolutions that followed the end of the Persian Gulf War.

Senior Administration officials acknowledged, however, that the new no-fly zone may have little direct effect on an Iraqi crackdown that has been waged as much with infantrymen and artillery as with warplanes and helicopter gunships.

They voiced hope that the new warnings and surveillance might have a deterrent effect on Baghdad, but were vague about what further steps the Administration would take if violations continue.


“The direct impact affects only the air,” a senior Administration official said. “The real question is going to be whether other Iraqi behavior will be adjusted.” But he added: “I’m not ruling out further responses by other means.”

Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall said that in recent months an Iraqi force numbering 60,000 men has carried out “systematic, coordinated military action against the civilian population in southern Iraq.” He said that the repression escalated in July, when Iraqi airplanes and helicopters began flying strafing missions against towns and villages.

The Iraqi military has begun constructing a series of causeways in the marshy region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and using the roadways as platforms for artillery attacks on civilian targets and concentrations of Shiite insurgent forces, he said.

Pentagon officials said that the no-fly zone would apply to civilian as well as military aircraft to prevent the kind of disastrous radar mix-up that led to the 1988 downing of an Iranian civilian jetliner over the Persian Gulf by a U.S. warship, leaving 290 dead.

The flight prohibition and aerial surveillance will be conducted by an allied task force consisting of more than 100 ground-based aircraft and the 72-plane air wing aboard the carrier Independence, now sailing in the northern Persian Gulf.

E-3 radar surveillance and E-2 Hawkeye surveillance and battle-command aircraft will patrol the skies, accompanied by fighter escorts and a variety of attack and electronic-warfare planes, officials said.


A total of 24,500 U.S. military personnel are in the region, most of them committed to the current operation. More than 2,000 Army troops are deployed in a joint exercise near the Kuwait-Iraq border, and U.S. crews are in Israel working with Israeli troops on new batteries of Patriot missiles.

The British have pledged six Tornado combat jets, while France has announced that it will provide 10 aircraft, presumably their top-of-the-line Mirage 2000 fighters, to help police the zone.

The operation is under the overall command of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, head of the U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. The air operation will be directed from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, by Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael A. Nelson.

U.S. military officials said that Iraq’s air defense system, virtually destroyed during the Gulf War last year, remains weak except in Baghdad. However, Iraqi Information Minister Hamid Youssef Hammadi warned that Iraqi defenses had been rebuilt and would be used against allied aircraft.

Some Russian-made SA-3 ground-to-air missiles have been spotted around the southern city of Basra, but Brandtner said they do not pose much of a threat.

Times staff writer Stanley Meisler contributed to this story.

REPERCUSSIONS ASSESSED: Benefits, risks for President. A8

CLINTON SUPPORTIVE: But he also criticizes Bush. A14