Feb. 16 — President Bush says his authorized attack on the outskirts of Baghdad was a justified, routine enforcement of the "no-fly-zone" that U.S. and British planes have policed since the end of the Gulf War.
But some experts say today's strike against Iraq was not unjustified and could further inflame anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and fracture U.S. support for sanctions against Iraq.
"It's absolutely unconsciousable," said Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American Anti-Discrimination committee in Washington, D.C. "First off, the United States has imposed these horrible sanctions that have resulted in hundreds and thousands of deaths and the only thing this administration has done is compounded our problems with this aggression."
In the most aggressive attack by combined forces outside the southern no-fly-zone since Operation Desert Fox in 1998, a strike force of 24 U.S. and British aircraft today targeted radar sites and bombed key command and control nodes in Baghdad. The no-fly-zones were set up after the Gulf War in 1991 and were imposed to protect Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south from possible attacks by Iraqi forces.
No Defense for Self-Defense
Pentagon officials described the strike as a "self-defense" measure in response to increased use of anti-aircraft radar on American jets patrolling the no-fly-zone, which Iraq does not recognize and has called illegal. However, some experts believe the Pentagon's self-defense argument is not valid because, they say, the no-fly-zone is not valid.
"Self-defense? That depends if you're talking about a sovereign nation protecting itself against planes from another nation flying over its country," said Erik Gustafson, a former soldier in the Gulf War and current executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. "The fly zones were not established by the United Nations, It's not in any U.N charter."
Gustafson indicated that he was not surprised by the strike, saying that it was a continuation of enforcement of the no-fly-zone policy since before Bush took office last month. U.S. and British planes have been bombing zone targets since Baghdad stepped up its defied sanctions in December 1998 and the U.S. and British forces waged a four-day campaign against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox.
Waning Support for Sanctions
The strikes came one week before Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to travel to the Middle East to discuss, among other things, U.S. policy toward Iraq in meetings with Arab leaders. The United States, Gustafson said, does not have a lot of international support for the current sanctions against Iraq, especially among Iraq's neighbors. Gustafson favors sanctions that affect Iraq's military not the "civil and public health of its citizens."
Today's action, he said, could undermine Powell's efforts to gather support for the U.S. policies toward Iraq.
"If you look at the sentiment toward us internationally, we're not looking so good," Gustafson said. "Secretary of State Colin Powell is being sent to shore up support for U.S. policies and you bomb Iraq? His efforts may be seriously undermined."
According to Hussein Ibish, Bush has squandered an opportunity to improve relations in the Middle East with a new approach.
rationale that the Bush administration gives is no explanation at all.
You can't give justification for something that wasn't justified to begin
with," Ibish said. "Iraq didn't give up its sovereignty when it lost Gulf
War. The United States' actions were completely unjustified and all is
does is dig a deeper whole for all of us and everyone else involved. It's
a horrible way for a new administration to begin what should have been
a change in approach."
Feb. 16 — In a change from the practices of the previous two U.S. leaders, President Bush notified no congressional leaders that he had authorized today's bombing raid on Iraq.
The staff of Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, learned about the raid by watching television. Warner himself was on a military airplane at the time of the raid, and his staff said it could not be certain that he had not been informed.
Some Democratic leaders expressed surprise and disappointment at not being informed of the airstrike on Iraqi defense targets.
A representative from the office of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said it was "unusual" that they were not notified, adding that former President Clinton, who authorized similar air strikes on Iraq in 1998, would always give key congressional leaders prior notice. In fact, aides for both Republicans and Democrats say Clinton routinely informed them of military operations before launching them, so the leaders would not be caught off-guard. And Democrats on Capitol Hill also say former President George Bush routinely kept congressional leaders in the loop.
Congressional sources say some of the GOP leaders were not pleased at having caught off-guard about the attack. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., says that Lott was traveling on a plane at the time of the raid and has since been in touch with the White House.
One staunchly partisan Democratic congressional aide called Bush's lack of notification a "rookie move."
However, with Congress not meeting today, almost all of the key congressional leaders were traveling on airplanes this morning, so it may have been hard for the White House to reach them. But senior staff members on Capitol Hill say there is no record of any attempt by Bush aides to reach them.