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Tensions Rise Between U.N. and Iraq

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 1997 – President Clinton called for strong U.N. actions to force Iraq to allow Americans on U.N. weapon inspection teams.

Clinton also said it would be an act of war if Iraq fired on U.S. U-2 spyplanes acting on behalf of the United Nations.

U-2 missions resumed Monday, Pentagon officials said, and Iraqi anti-aircraft sites did not fire on the high-flying planes.

Saddam Hussein "needs to know it would be a big mistake," if Iraq attempts to shoot down the American aircraft, Clinton said.

Hussein precipitated the crisis by threatening to expel American members of U.N. weapon inspection teams. The United Nations refused to let Hussein dictate who could be on its teams.

The Iraqi president "should not attempt to defy the will of the international community or interfere with those who, appropriately under the auspices of the United Nations, are carrying out their mandated work," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Nov. 4.

McCurry said emissaries from a variety of nations have made it clear privately and publicly that Hussein ought to comply with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen repeated the message at the Pentagon Nov. 6.

"Sufficient warnings have been given to Iraq over the years that they must comply with U.N. sanctions," Cohen said. Efforts to hide or remove equipment or facilities will only redouble U.N. efforts to complete their inspections, he said.

"The task right now is to persuade them to cease and desist from their obstruction. ... Hopefully, the message will be loud and clear, and Saddam Hussein will abide by it," Cohen said.

If the Iraqi leader fails to comply, the United Nations could consider taking military and economic measures, Cohen said. The United States maintains a combat-ready force in the region of about 18,000 troops, 17 ships and 200 combat aircraft. After Hussein threatened to shoot down U-2 aircraft, flights were temporarily suspended and the USS Nimitz delayed a scheduled port call.

The United Nations' ability to determine Iraq's weapon capabilities and inspect facilities is serious business, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said. The goal of U.N. inspections is to ensure Hussein does not rekindle his programs to build weapons of mass destruction, he said. While U.N. officials believe Iraq's nuclear weapons program has been dismantled and eliminated, they continue looking at three other areas -- missiles, chemical and biological weapons, he said.

Iraq used Scud missiles during the Gulf War. U.N. officials say they have accounted for Iraq's imported Scud missiles, but evidence exists the Iraqis are trying to maintain the ability to build missiles should U.N. sanctions be lifted and they are able to acquire machinery, equipment and parts from the world market.

Iraq used chemical weapons in the past, and it's safe to assume they would be willing to use them in the future, Bacon said. "Iraq may have an indigenous capability to manufacture some gases such as mustard, maybe sarin. This could start up if there weren't proper monitoring of Iraq's production facilities," he said.

Although the Iraqis claim they destroyed all biological agents left over from the Gulf War, they have not produced evidence to prove it, Bacon said. U.N. officials are trying to look at the scope of the Iraqi biological weapons capability, but barring inspectors blocks this effort.

"This is a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and the U.N., and we're trying to solve this as a member of the Security Council, diplomatically," Bacon said. "We think Saddam's actions make it very clear to the world that he is not interested in playing by the rules of the road. We think it makes it very clear to the world that he wants to increase tensions when the rest of the world wants to decrease tensions. We hope he will listen to the U.N. team that's currently over there talking to them about the need to comply with U.N. resolutions."

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