Strikes Halted, Iraq Backs Down
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 1998 Following Saddam Hussein's late-night, last- minute concession to meet U.N. demands, President Clinton called off military strikes he'd ordered against Iraq.
"The United States, together with Great Britain, and with the support of our friends and allies around the world, was poised to act militarily if Iraq had not reversed course," Clinton announced at the White House Nov. 15.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, appearing with the president at the press briefing, said the Iraqis saw "that we were serious, that this was not an empty threat, and that we were substantial in numbers and capability." Considering the military forces primed to attack, plus support from throughout the Gulf and the U.N. Security Council, Cohen deemed Iraq's capitulation "wise and prudent."
Despite Iraq's renewed pledge of unconditional compliance, however, the president ordered U.S. forces to remain in the Persian Gulf. "Until we see complete compliance, we will remain vigilant. We will keep up the pressure. We will be ready to act," he said.
More than 23,500 U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines, along with 170 U.S. aircraft and 23 warships currently stand ready in the Gulf. Two days before Iraq backed down, Clinton deployed another 3,000 troops, an air expeditionary force with 84 combat and 45 support aircraft, more Patriot missile units, and a light infantry battalion to the region.
Pentagon officials said service members who deployed in response to the latest crisis will remain where they are. Units that have not deployed will stay in the United States but will be on a high state of alert.
"Iraq has backed down, but that is not enough," Clinton said. "Now Iraq must live up to its obligations."
Under the terms of the latest agreement, Iraq must allow unfettered access to all sites U.N. inspectors choose to inspect. Iraqi authorities must turn over all relevant documents and accept all resolutions relating to weapons of mass destruction.
Clinton said protecting the Gulf continues to be a top priority mission since Hussein continues to be "an impediment to the well-being of his people" and a threat to regional peace and world security.
The long-term solution, according to the president, is a new government in Iraq. Over the past year, U.S. officials have deepened engagement with "the forces of change" in Iraq and will further intensify that effort, he said.
"Let me say again, what we want and what we will work for is a government in Iraq that represents and respects its people, not represses them, and one committed to live in peace with its neighbors," Clinton stressed.
In the meantime, the United States will continue working to eliminate the deviant Gulf state's weapons of mass destruction, and enforcing U.N. sanctions and no-fly zones, the president said. He vowed to respond firmly to any Iraqi provocations.
"We must remain vigilant, strong and ready, here and wherever our interests and values are at stake," he said. "Thanks to our military, we will be able to do so."
Once again, he said, diplomatic pressure backed by military might saved the day. Praising America's service members for their patriotism and professionalism, Clinton said, the military's "strength, its readiness, and its capacity is advancing America's interest and the cause of world peace."