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Cohen Promises "Significant" Strikes Against Iraq, If Needed

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 1998 – Diplomacy is the best solution to the current Iraq impasse, but if it fails Defense Secretary William S. Cohen promised a "significant" air campaign.

Cohen told Congress Feb. 3 the objective is to get U.N. inspectors unfettered access to suspected Iraqi chemical and biological weapons sites. Diplomacy, he said, is still the best way to do this. "There is no substitute from a military point of view that would compensate adequately for having them do their jobs without restriction," he said to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He said the primary objective of the use of force is to reduce or curtail Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ability to manufacture, store or reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. Military force would also limit Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors. Cohen stressed President Clinton has not decided on the use of force.

The secretary said DoD believes the objectives could be achieved without using ground forces, but that ground forces could conceivably be used in the future. The United States has bombed Iraq since the end of the Persian Gulf War.

"[The bombings] have been described as 'pinpricks,'" Cohen said. "[A campaign today] would be far more than experienced in the past and would be very much concentrated and directed toward ... really preventing [Hussein] from reconstituting his capability in the near future, at least, and dealing him a serious blow as far as being able to pose any kind of threat to his neighbors."

Cohen said the Iraqi military "has been contained in a very small box." Iraqi forces cannot move south of 33 degress north latitude and cannot move to the northern part of the country. Iraqi military capability has been severely degraded. Even with this, Cohen said, no one should have "unreasonable expectations about what can be achieved by air power alone."

He said he was confident U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region would provide the necessary support if the U.N. agrees to the use of military force, but admitted to being confused by apparent opposition in the U.N. Security Council. "There are other [allies] who have different interests, a different perception [about Iraq]," he said.

Cohen said Hussein wants an end to inspections and an end to U.N. sanctions. The only way he will end the sanctions is for the inspectors to finish their jobs. The secretary said the best way for the world to avoid a military solution in Iraq is for the U.N. Security Council to declare Iraq is committing a significant breach of his obligations.

"[The Security Council members] appear to be unwilling to bring themselves to [declare Iraq in significant breach of agreements], and I frankly think it undermines the credibility of the Security Council," Cohen said. "I think it undermines the future actions of the United Nations when they can't bring themselves to do this. I find it befuddling to say the least."

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