Clinton Calls Iraq Attack A Warning

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Shortly after the U.S. Army and Navy launched 27 cruise missiles against air defense targets in Iraq in a surprise 45-minute attack this morning, President Clinton said that he is sending an unmistakeable message to Saddam Hussein that military intervention against Kurdish factions in northern Iraq will not be tolerated. The attack began at 1:30 a.m. EDT as Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf and B-52 bombers fired Tomahawk and AGM-86C at radar installations, anti-aircraft missiles and air command stations in Southern Iraq. During a brief 8 a.m. press conference, President Clinton explained his decision to order "Operation Desert Strike" as a response to Iraqi attacks on Kurdish cities in the northern "no-fly" zone this weekend. The attack, Clinton said, would make Saddam pay a price for his "latest act of brutality." To make southern Iraq safer for U.S. and other planes, the post-Gulf War "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq was expanded to run from the Kuwaiti border to the south almost to the suburbs of Baghdad. Hussein responded defiantly in his own TV address, saying the attack had barely harmed his people. Now, said Saddam, Iraq will no longer recognize the two "no-fly" zones imposed by U.S.-led forces, will shoot down any foreign aircraft over Iraq, and stands ready to teach the U.S. an "unforgettable lesson." While reiterating that Iraq was only operating in its own territory, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz called Clinton's speech part of a campaign of deliberate, baseless disinformation. "The strikes may look decisive," says TIME's Scott MacLeod. "But they should be seen in the context of U.S. policy towards Iraq, which is a failure. U.S. policy has been to force Iraq to become some kind of democracy, push Hussein out of power, and cause Iraq to dispose of its weapons of mass destruction. In the five years since the Gulf war, not much has changed." In fact, says MacLeod, U.S. policy in the area is on a downhill slide. "The U.S. seems unable to keep the anti-Saddam coalition together. The Kurds are fighting among themselves, while countries like France, Turkey and Russia refuse to support the attack. U.S. policy has failed in a strategic sense if Saddam can move his army north into Kurdistan and conquer a city under U.S. protection." Finally, MacLeod says Saddam Hussein may have more of an edge in the public relations war than Clinton thinks. "The Iraqi government is trying to paint its attacks as a legitimate move by a central government to quell a disturbance in its own country. Saddam has an effective argument, since it is hard to argue that the attack is part of a dastardly invasion." Whatever long-term plans the United States has for Iraq, Saddam Hussein has continued to demonstrate a cunning and resilience which will keep him in the game for some time to come. -- Terence Nelan