Iraq Tries to Divert Attention Away from the Kosovo Crisis
2 April 99

Since the opening days of the Kosovo crisis, Baghdad has openly criticized NATO attacks. Interestingly enough, as NATO commenced Operation Allied Force, Allied attacks on Iraqi targets have ceased. The last confirmed attack on Iraqi targets for violations of the no-fly zone occurred over two weeks ago, on March 16. This operational pause comes after almost three and a half months of on-again/off-again strikes.

The Pentagon has stated that the reason for this pause is because there have been no violations of the no-fly zone during the Kosovo crisis. Indeed, it might be possible that Saddam elected to not light up Allied planes on radar, however, this is very hard to believe. Why would Saddam choose to stop challenging Allied aircraft, especially when NATO and the UK Foreign Ministry have confirmed that Baghdad and Belgrade have shared air defense information just last month and may still be doing so now?

A more plausible explanation for the lack of activity over Iraqi airspace may be U.S. angst at becoming involved in a two front aerial campaign with no clear way to exit either one. There is evidence that this may be the case. On April 1, General Wesley Clark transferred six EA-6B electronic jamming aircraft from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to support NATO strikes against Yugoslavia. At the same time, Clark also ordered a temporary cut back in operations out of Incirlik enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq due to the departure of those jamming craft. Also consider the fact that the U.S.S. Roosevelt carrier battlegroup, which was scheduled to go to the Persian Gulf, may stay in the Mediterranean for strikes against Yugoslavia.

Apparently the Iraqis have noted this chink in U.S. resolve as well. Today, the official Iraqi news agency (INA) reported that U.S. and British warplanes attacked some service installations and weapons sites in the Afak region of Qadissiya Province in the Southern No Fly Zone that "lead to (the) destruction of two houses and injured two citizens." Other details of the report said that the planes carried out "13 sorties from Kuwaiti airspace and 33 from Saudi airspace, supported by early warning AWACs and A2C from Saudi airspace" at around 0500 GMT. Both U.S. and the British Defense officials have denied that any allied aircraft were involved in any sort of activity over Iraq.

It is odd that INA reported which targets were hit, which is unprecedented in and of itself, but it is also reporting attacks that the U.S. and British are denying ever happened. Whether or not this report is true isnít important. There are three possibilities here. One is that Iraq is attempting to make the U.S. foreign policy react to it, thereby changing the operational tempo in Kosovo. The other is that this is intended as a direct challenge to the United States, by creating a sense in the U.S. that a two front war is underway. Finally, there is the possibility that Saddam himself is planning to increase the tempo of his operations in order to take advantage of the American obsession with Kosovo. It is unclear which it is but the situation in Iraq now bears intense scrutiny.