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Rumsfeld rewrites UN policy on Iraq

October 2 2002

Attack zone ... Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revs up the rhetoric on Iraq. Photo: AFP

US and British warplanes enforcing "no-fly" zones over Iraq are performing "aerial" weapons inspections under a United Nations resolution, according to the United States Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr Rumsfeld's statement expands the stated mission of the air patrols, which had previously been justified as necessary to protect Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds from air attacks by the Iraqi military.

But Mr Rumsfeld, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, argued that the no-fly zones, which were established after the end of the Gulf War in 1991, have existed to protect Iraqi citizens under UN Resolution 688 and to perform "aerial inspections" under UN Resolution 687.

"These are new interpretations," said Kenneth Pollack,
the director of research at Brookings Institution's Saban Centre for Middle East Policy. "The no-fly zones were established to enforce 688 - to protect the Iraqi people from the depredations of the regime. This is the first time the US Government has ever tied them to enforcement of the inspection provisions of 687."

Mr Pollack, a former CIA analyst who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, said he thought Mr Rumsfeld's position would be hard for the Bush Administration to sell to the international community, particularly when Russia and the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, have said US and British enforcement of no-fly zones is not sanctioned by either resolution 687 or 688.

"At a moment when the entire world thinks this Administration is hell bent on attacking Saddam, [Rumsfeld is] trying to take another aspect of Iraq policy and weld it on to inspections," Mr Pollack said. "It's certainly going to look cynical to many foreign governments."

Mr Rumsfeld said enforcement of the northern and southern no-fly zones had been the "air components" of the UN inspections regime, which ended in 1998 when inspectors withdrew.

"Aerial inspections, however, continued," Mr Rumsfeld said. "As coalition aircraft attempt to enforce the no-fly zones, they conduct aerial surveillance to help determine compliance with UN resolutions 688 and 687, which bans nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

Mr Rumsfeld dismissed criticism by Russia's foreign ministry that recent attacks by US and British warplanes enforcing the no-fly zones against Iraqi air defences had made it more difficult for UN efforts to resume weapons inspections in Iraq. He said the attacks had come in response to shooting at coalition warplanes by Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries.

He was backed by Air Force General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who released video footage of Iraqi anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missiles being fired at coalition jets. He also released statistics showing Iraq had fired at coalition aircraft 67 times in September, including nine times last weekend.

While coalition rules of engagement allow warplanes to target communications centres in response to hostile fire, Mr Rumsfeld recently directed them to place more emphasis on those installations when returning fire.

The Washington Post

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