The administration’s comments, led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, apparently came in response to a Russian government statement earlier yesterday that enforcement of the no-fly zones is hampering negotiations for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, an assertion that Rumsfeld called ”nonsensical.”
”With each missile fired at our air crews, Iraq expresses its contempt for the UN resolutions, a fact that must be kept in mind as their latest inspection offers are evaluated,” Rumsfeld said at a briefing where the Pentagon showed grainy videotape of what were said to be Iraqi antiaircraft missile batteries firing at allied aircraft.
Rumsfeld said that Iraqis have fired on planes enforcing the no-fly zones 67 times since Iraq on Sept. 16 offered to allow weapons inspectors to return. He said that the 67 attacks represented an increase, but a Pentagon press officer said that the Defense Department tracked the frequency of antiaircraft attacks over similar periods and that the figure was meant to show continued Iraqi intransigence.
The defense secretary’s comments came as Congress prepared to begin considering a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq, a debate that could commence as early as tomorrow in the Senate. That debate will be informed by a new Congressional Budget Office report saying that even a quick war in Iraq could cost at least $22 billion.
Rumsfeld described the no-fly zones as ”implementing … relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” but there is disagreement about the basis for the flight restrictions. While the United States and its allies established the southern zone in 1992 and the northern one in 1997 to enforce UN resolutions calling on that country not to oppress its minorities and not to menace its neighbors, the United Nations Security Council never formally authorized the actions.
”There has never been a consensus in the Security Council about the status of the no-fly zones,” a UN official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ”There are two points of view in the Security Council. One led by, but not exclusive to, Russia has pointed out that there’s no explicit mention of the no-fly zones in any security council resolution.” The other point of view, held by the United States and Britain, is that the no-fly zones are necessary to support the resolutions. The Iraqi government has never recognized the legitimacy of the zones.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a new statement criticizing the zones and recent air attacks that the Pentagon has said were made to enforce them.
”Anglo-American bombing raids in `no-fly zones’ not only deepen the complicated atmosphere around Iraq but create obstacles in the search for a political-diplomatic settlement of the Iraq question,” the Russian statement said.
Rumsfeld responded that the Russians had it backward. ”It’s the shooting at the airplanes that cause[s] the response,” he said.
Thus far in 2002, there have been 406 incidents of provocative action – attacks on coalition aircraft or Iraqi jets violating the airspace – in the no-fly zones, according to Rumsfeld. No coalition planes have been shot down, according to the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld announced last month that the United States had shifted its strategy in responding to such provocations. Instead of striking specific targets that attacked coalition aircraft, the United States and Britain have systematically tried to destroy Iraq’s air defense system, which is one of the more sophisticated in the world. Asked yesterday how much the defenses have been degraded, he said, ”Not enough.”
Meanwhile, negotiation continued on the wording of a congressional resolution on Iraq. With staffers at the White House scheduled to discuss the issue tomorrow, Senate majority leader Thomas Daschle’s office said the Senate would not begin to debate a resolution until at least then.
Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who last week spoke out against using military action until all diplomatic efforts have failed, is trying to set up a meeting of Democratic senators to craft a unified proposal. A number of Republicans and Democrats have expressed reservations about the broad language contained in the Bush draft resolution.
Some lawmakers want to require the administration to consult with Congress more frequently than the once every 90 days that Bush agreed to in the latest draft his administration has released. Others want to explicitly limit where Bush would be authorized to take military action, and still others have demanded that Bush consult more with the United Nations before launching strikes.
Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, made it clear that he would vote against a resolution that did not require more consultation with Congress.
”My allegiances and responsibilities as a United States senator are not to the president of the United States or the party that I happen to belong to,” Hagel said in a speech in front of the National Press Club. ”My responsibilities are to the people who sent me to Congress and the people of this country.”
The Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers yesterday it would cost $9 billion to $13 billion just to deploy US troops in any war with Iraq. Fighting could run $6 billion to $9 billion a month, and it would cost another $5 billion to $7 billion to return the troops to their home bases at the end of any hostilities.
Further, the additional cost of occupying Iraq after a war would run from $1 billion to $4 billion a month, not including funding of reconstruction work or humanitarian aid, the CBO said.
The figures were based on two options, one calling for heavy use of ground troops, which would be more costly, and another relying more on air power. The options do not include the possibility that Iraq or other nations in the region would use chemical or biological weapons.
The CBO figures are lower than previous $100 billion to $200 billion White House estimates.
Wayne Washington and Sue Kirchhoff of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Robert Schlesinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 10/1/2002.
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