Order Code IB94049
Issue Brief for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Iraq: Former and Recent Military Confrontations
With the United States
Updated October 16, 2002
Alfred B. Prados
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Events of the Crisis
December 1998 Air Strikes
The February 2001 Strikes
Additional Strikes and Provocations
Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks
Force Deployments and Costs
U.S. and International Reactions
Administration Position on Use of Force
Plans and Alternatives
FOR ADDITIONAL READING
Iraq: Former and Recent Military Confrontations
With the United States
Efforts by Iraq to impede U.N. weapons
inspections since late 1997 and to challenge
the allied-imposed no-fly zones over northern
and southern Iraq have resulted in further
confrontations with the United States and its
allies. A decision by Iraq to ban almost all
U.N. inspections on October 31, 1998, led the
United States and Britain to conduct a 4-day
air operation against Iraq on December 16-20,
1998 (Operation Desert Fox). The two allies
launched approximately 415 missiles and
dropped more than 600 bombs targeted at
Iraqi military and logistical facilities.
Since the December 1998 operation, the
United States and Britain have carried out air
strikes against Iraqi air defense units and
installations on a frequent basis, in response to
Iraqi attempts to target allied aircraft enforcing
no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.
On October 7, 2001, following the September
11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations warned Iraq not to move against Iraqi opposition
groups or attack its neighbors while the United States was involved in its campaign against
According to the U.S. Defense Department as of late November 1998, expanded
military operations and crisis build-ups in the
Gulf since the 1991 war had cost a total of
$6.9 billion. Incremental costs of these operations amounted to approximately $1.6 billion
in FY1998, 1.3 billion in FY1999, $1.1 billion
in FY2000, and $1.1 billion estimated in
FY2001. A news report on July 26 estimated
that the cost of enforcing no-fly zones is likely
to approach $1 billion during FY2002. These
figures do not include costs resulting from
Congressional Research Service
operations in Afghanistan or from a possible
expansion of the campaign against terrorism
to target Iraq.
Erosion of the former allied coalition and
U.S. force constraints limit some military
options. Although some Arab states, notably
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, host U.S. aircraft
enforcing no-fly zones, no Arab states with
the exception of Kuwait have publicly supported allied air strikes against Iraq. At an Arab
summit conference on March 27-28, 2002, the
attendees welcomed Iraqi assurances that it
would respect the independence of Kuwait,
called for respecting the integrity of Iraq, and
announced its “categorical rejection” of
President Bush remains committed to
regime change in Iraq, and media reports
indicate that a range of military options are
under consideration to meet the President’s
objective. Some officials and analysts have
called for expansion of no-fly zones over Iraq.
Others support covert operations to inflict
damage on key Iraqi facilities and build a
viable opposition to the regime. According to
press articles, some U.S. officials favor more
strikes against Iraq even in the absence of
evidence linking it to the September attacks,
in view of its efforts to acquire mass destruction weapons, refusal to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, and long-standing support for
terrorism. On October 10 and 11, 2002, the
House and Senate, respectively, passed
H.J.Res. 114, which authorizes the President
to use military force to defend U.S. national
security against the continuing threat from
Iraq and to enforce all relevant U.N. Security
Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
˜ The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 12, 2002, President Bush
described the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as “a grave and gathering danger”
and added that “Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance.”
He went on to say that the United States wants the U.N. to be effective and is prepared to
work with the U.N. Security Council to meet the current challenge by Iraq. In a subsequent
speech in Cincinnati on October 7, the President spoke of Iraq’s continued efforts to develop
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and said “I hope this will not require military action,
but it may.”
On October 10, by a vote of 296 to 133 (Roll no. 455), the House of Representatives
passed H.J.Res. 114, which authorizes the President to use the U.S. armed forces to defend
the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and
enforce all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq. The Senate passed
H.J.Res. 114 by 77-23 (Record Vote No: 237) on October 11.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
This issue brief covers the most recent U.S.-Iraqi confrontations, which began in the fall
of 1998. It summarizes events that led to the crisis, the allied military build-up, military
strikes against Iraq, international reactions, costs, and options for U.S. policy makers. It does
not cover developments in the war in Afghanistan, except insofar as they may relate to the
U.S.-Iraqi confrontation. For further information on previous U.S.-Iraqi confrontations, see
CRS Report 98-386, Iraq: Post-War Challenges and U.S. Responses, 1991-1998.
Since the cease-fire of March 3, 1991, that ended the Persian Gulf war (Operation
Desert Storm), the United States has resorted on several occasions to the use or threat of
force against Iraq. Some of these incidents resulted from Iraqi challenges to U.N. cease-fire
terms that followed the war. Others resulted from bilateral issues between Iraq and the
United States and its allies.
A principal factor in the most recent confrontation was Iraq’s failure to cooperate fully
with U.N. weapons inspectors. The inspection regime, established by U.N. Security Council
Resolution 687 adopted on April 3, 1991, is designed to identify and dismantle Iraq’s
programs to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical, biological,
and nuclear warfare systems as well as missiles capable of delivering them. Two agencies
are charged with conducting these inspections: the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq
(UNSCOM), which deals with chemical, biological, and missile systems; and the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which deals with Iraqi nuclear weapons
programs. Since the inception of the inspection regime, Iraq has obstructed its work in
False, misleading, or incomplete responses to questions posed by inspectors;
Interference by Iraqi escorts with the conduct of inspections;
Denial of access to “sensitive” sites on grounds of national security;
Removal of or tampering with material evidence of weapons programs; and
Attempts to exclude U.S. personnel from inspection teams.
On seven occasions between 1991 and 1993, the U.N. Security Council found Iraq in
“material breach of cease-fire terms”; however, the Council has not issued a finding of
“material breach” since June 17, 1993, despite subsequent Iraqi provocations. According to
news reports, some Council members are reluctant to agree to another such finding, which
they think might provide the basis for an attack on Iraq.
Another factor contributing to the recent confrontation was Iraqi violation of the no-fly
zones imposed by the United States and its allies over portions of northern and southern Iraq.
U.S. and British aircraft (and formerly French aircraft) have conducted overflights of
northern and southern Iraq since 1991 and 1992, respectively, to enforce the bans on Iraqi
aircraft in these zones. The allied overflights are known as Operation Northern Watch and
Operation Southern Watch and are designed to exclude Iraqi aircraft from flying north of the
36th parallel and south of the 33rd parallel, respectively. The southern zone, covering 227,277
square kilometers (87,729 square miles) is larger than the northern zone, which covers
43,707 square kilometers (16,871 square miles), but Iraqi air defenses reportedly are thicker
in the northern zone. Together, these zones cover 270,985 square kilometers (104,600 square
miles), or 62% of Iraqi territory.
U.S. officials base the no-fly zones primarily on U.N. Security Council Resolution 688
of April 5, 1991, which demands that Iraq end repression of its population (notably Kurds
in the north and Shi’ite Muslims in the south), and on the military cease-fire agreements after
the Gulf war (the Safwan Accords), which forbid Iraq to interfere with allied air operations
over Iraq. Some countries question this interpretation, arguing that Resolution 688 was not
passed under Chapter VII provisions (peace and security) and does not by itself permit
military action to enforce its terms. Iraq maintains that the no-fly zones constitute an illegal
infringement on its sovereignty and has occasionally fired on allied planes conducting
overflights to enforce these zones.
Events of the Crisis
Between mid-1993 and 1996, UNSCOM personnel were able to carry out their
inspections of Iraqi weapons programs with relatively little interference by the government
of Iraq. Increasing attempts by Iraq in 1997 to impede U.N. weapons inspections and to
exclude U.S. personnel from UNSCOM teams prompted demands by the U.N. Security
Council that Iraq cease its interference or face further sanctions. A Russian undertaking in
November 1997 to seek “balanced representation” in UNSCOM membership temporarily
averted a crisis; however, tensions mounted again in January 1998, as Iraq once more barred
U.S.-led teams from conducting inspections and declared several “sensitive sites” off limits
to U.N. inspectors. After a month of intensive diplomacy and a continuing build-up of U.S.
forces in the Persian Gulf region, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and the U.N. Secretary
General signed an agreement with the following provisions:
Reconfirmation by Iraq that it accepts relevant U.N. resolutions
Commitment of U.N. member states to “respect the sovereignty and
territorial integrity of Iraq”
“Immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access” by UNSCOM and
IAEA within Iraq, with respect for Iraqi concerns relating to “national
security, sovereignty, and dignity”
Special procedures to apply to inspections at eight “presidential sites”
defined in an annex to the agreement
Efforts to accelerate the inspection process, and an undertaking by the
Secretary General to bring to U.N. Security Council members the concerns
of Iraq over economic sanctions.
On March 3, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1154, cosponsored by Britain and Japan, which commended the initiative of the Secretary General
in security these commitments from Iraq, stressed that Iraq must comply with its obligations,
and warned that any violation of these terms or other Security Council resolutions “would
have the severest consequences for Iraq.” Although inspections during the spring of 1998
proceeded relatively smoothly, many questions concerning Iraq’s weapons programs
remained unresolved. Also, Iraqi spokesmen continued periodically to warn of a new crisis
if economic sanctions were not quickly removed.
December 1998 Air Strikes
After a lull of several months, tensions mounted in August 1998, as Iraq began to
challenge U.N. operations once more. On August 5, Iraq announced that it would no longer
allow UNSCOM to inspect new facilities, and followed with a ban on all remaining
UNSCOM activities on October 31. U.S. officials described Iraq’s actions as unacceptable,
as did some other members of the Security Council. Resolution 1205 of November 5, which
demanded that Iraq rescind its bans on U.N. weapons inspection activities and resume full
cooperation with UNSCOM, did not specifically mentioned use of force; however, U.S.
officials emphasized again that all options are open including military force to compel Iraqi
compliance. On November 11, the United Nations evacuated more than 230 staff personnel
from Baghdad, including all weapons inspectors, as the United States warned of possible
retaliatory strikes against Iraq.
As U.S. forces were on the verge of conducting air and missile strikes against Iraq on
November 14, the Clinton Administration delayed them for 24 hours upon learning that Iraq
had agreed to resume cooperation with UNSCOM. After further negotiations, Iraq agreed
in a letter to the Security Council on November 15 to provide unconditional cooperation to
UNSCOM and rescind its ban on UNSCOM activities. The Administration then canceled
the planned strikes; however, the President warned that Iraq must fulfill its obligations.
Specifically, in a news conference on November 15, he listed five conditions Iraq must fulfill
to meet the criteria of unconditional cooperation:
Resolution of all outstanding issues raised by UNSCOM and the IAEA.
Unfettered access for inspectors with no restrictions, consistent with the
February 23 memorandum signed by Iraq.
Turnover by Iraq of all relevant documents.
Acceptance by Iraq of all U.N. resolutions related to mass destructions
No interference with the independence or professional expertise of weapons
Despite its pledges on November 14-15, Iraq began to impede the work of U.N.
weapons inspectors once more, according to statements by UNSCOM Chief Butler on
December 8. On December 15, Butler submitted a report in which he concluded that “Iraq
did not provide the full cooperation it promised on 14 November 1998” and “initiated new
forms of restrictions upon the Commission’s work.” On December 15, Butler withdrew
remaining UNSCOM inspectors from Iraq, saying that they could no longer perform their
mission. On the following day, then President Clinton directed U.S. forces to strike military
and security targets in Iraq. He described the mission as “to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.”
Attacks began on December 16, 1998, at 5:06 p.m. EST (December 17 at 1:06 a.m.
Baghdad time) in an operation known as Desert Fox, as U.S. forces launched over 200 cruise
missiles (officials declined to give an exact number) at over 50 targets in Iraq, from the
aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, other Navy ships in the region, and some 70 Navy and
Marine Corps aircraft. According to some media reports, B-52 bombers based in the Indian
Ocean island of Diego Garcia took part as well. British forces also joined in the attacks. A
second wave of attacks took place on the evening of December 17-18, involving
approximately 100 cruise missiles (but with larger warheads than those used in the first wave
of attacks) and B-52 bombers, again with British participation. B-1 bombers joined the
attack during the third wave (evening of December 18-19), marking the first combat
operations for this aircraft. After the fourth wave of attacks (evening of December 19-20),
President Clinton halted the 72-hour operation (code named Operation Desert Fox) on
December 20. Senior U.S. officials warned that the United States would repeat its attacks
as often as necessary to prevent Iraq from continuing programs to develop mass destruction
During Operation Desert Fox, U.S. and British forces launched approximately 415
cruise missiles (325 Tomahawks fired by Navy ships and 90 air launched cruise missiles
mainly by B-52s) and dropped more than 600 bombs. According to reports by the U.S.
Department of Defense, the 97 targets of allied attacks included lethal weapons production
or storage facilities (11), security facilities for weapons (18), Iraqi Republican Guards and
other military facilities (9), government command, control, and communications facilities
(20), air defense systems (32), airfields (6), and one oil refinery. According to preliminary
Defense Department assessments on December 20, 10 targets were destroyed, 18 severely
damaged, 18 moderately damaged, 18 lightly damaged, and 23 not yet assessed. A second
assessment on December 21 cited a total of 98 targets, of which 43 were severely damaged
or destroyed, 30 moderately damaged, 12 lightly damaged, and 13 not damaged. The U.S.
theater commander described the estimates as conservative, pointing out that even lightly
damaged facilities can be rendered unusable. There were no U.S. or British casualties.
According to the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, the allied action killed 62 Iraqi military
personnel (including 38 Republican Guards) and wounded 180; there have been no estimates
of Iraqi civilian casualties. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Harry Shelton told
the Senate on January 5, 1999, however, that allied strikes killed or wounded an estimated
1,400 members of Iraq’s elite military and security forces (600 from the Special Republican
Guard and 800 from the Republican Guard).
A series of follow-on military actions have occurred since December 28, 1998, as Iraqi
air defenses have tried to target U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and Iraqi
aircraft have made brief intrusions into the zones. U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft, as well
as British aircraft, have responded to Iraqi challenges with anti-radiation missile strikes
directed against Iraq air defense and command and control installations and have fired at
intruding Iraqi aircraft. Before Operation Desert Fox, U.S. responses to Iraqi violations of
the no-fly zones were usually confined to the immediate source of the violation, i.e., an air
defense battery or an intruding Iraqi aircraft. On January 27, 1999, authorities expanded
rules of engagement to allow U.S. aircraft to target a wider range of Iraqi air defense systems
and related installations in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zones. In congressional
testimony on March 23, 2000, a Defense Department official said operational commanders
have been given additional flexibility in responding to Iraqi provocations; under the current
rules of engagement, pilots may respond not only by defending themselves but also by acting
to reduce the overall Iraqi air defense threat to coalition aircraft.
Official Iraqi media reported on January 3, 1999 that President Saddam Hussein
condemned the no-fly zones as illegal and said his people would resist them with “bravery
and courage.” The Iraqi President followed up by offering a $14,000 bounty to any unit that
succeeded in shooting down an allied plane and an additional $2,800 reward for capturing
an allied pilot. Allied officials state that no U.S. or British manned aircraft have been lost,
despite Iraqi claims to the contrary. (For example, on September 13, 2000, an Iraqi air
defense spokesman asserted that Iraqi air defense units had shot down 10 allied aircraft since
December 17, 1998.) Similarly, allied officials have dismissed an Iraqi claim on June 15,
2000, that Iraq had shot down or intercepted 100 U.S. high-speed anti-radar missiles
(HARM) used by allies to target Iraqi radar.
Iraq has claimed that allied air strikes have killed a number of Iraqi civilians. In a note
to the U.N. Human Rights Commission released by U.N. officials on March 26, 2001, the
Iraqi government protested that allied air strikes had killed 315 and wounded 965 Iraqis, all
civilians; the note described the allied overflights as a violation of international law.
Subsequently, the Iraqi government claimed that a U.S.-British air strike on June 20, 2001
killed 23 Iraqis and injured 11 others participating in a soccer game near the city of Mosul
in northern Iraqi. U.S. and British officials have denied some Iraqi reports of civilian
casualties and have attributed others to the Iraqi practice of placing air defense weapons in
close proximity to populated areas, thus using nearby residents as human shields.
Iraq reportedly has succeeded in extending the range of some of its older model air
defense missiles and has made its communications less vulnerable by installing fiber optic
cable, reportedly with Chinese assistance. On July 31, 2001, U.S. Defense Department
spokesman Rear Admiral Quigley told reporters that Iraq has shown “a considerably more
aggressive stance in trying to bring down a coalition aircraft.” He noted continuing
provocations by Iraq against allied aircraft over the two no-fly zones, especially in the
southern zone, and allied retaliations (number of days on which allied aircraft have struck
Iraqi targets in response):
Southern Watch: 221 provocations in 2000 (18.4 per month); 370 in the first
seven months of 2001 (30.8 per month).
Northern Watch: 145 provocations in 2000 (12.1 per month); 62 in the first
seven months of 2001 (8.9 per month).
In response, allied forces conducted strikes on Iraqi targets in the Southern Watch area on
32 days in 2000 and 19 days during the first 7 months of 2001; in the Northern Watch area,
on 48 days in 2000 and 7 days during the first 7 months of 2001.
According to a July 26, 2002 press report, a spokesman for U.S. European Command
(which is responsible for Operation Northern Watch) gave the following statistics on the
numbers of incidents in which Iraqi air defense units threatened U.S. or British aircraft: 143
in 1999; 145 in 2000; 97 in 2001; and 32 during the first six months of 2002. The press
report cites the following figures on the number of times U.S. and British aircraft returned
Iraqi fire: 102 in 1999; 48 in 2000; and 11 in 2001. (It is not clear whether these figures
cover only Northern Watch or Southern Watch as well.) According to the same press report,
a Pentagon spokesperson said U.S. and British combat aircraft returned fire from Iraq on 14
occasions over the southern zone and 8 occasions over the northern zone during the current
fiscal year (i.e., beginning on October 1, 2001).
A more recent press report of October 8, 2002, quoting unnamed U.S. officials,
indicated that allied aircraft had been fired upon 1,000 times during the past three years by
Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries and by at least 60 surface-to-air missiles.
The February 2001 Strikes. A gradual escalation in military clashes became
noticeable in 2001. On February 16, 2001, between the hours of 11:20 a.m. and 1:40 p.m.
Washington, D.C. time, 24 U.S. and British combat aircraft struck five Iraqi air defense
command-and-control installations, using precision guided munitions. According to a U.S.
Defense Department spokesman, four of the five installations struck by the allied aircraft
were located north of the 33rd parallel (the northern limit of the southern no-fly zone), but the
aircraft themselves did not go north of the 33rd parallel. The spokesman noted that this was
the first time since Operation Desert Fox that allied aircraft had hit targets outside the
southern no-fly zone, although targets outside the northern zone had been struck during the
fall of 1999. According to press reports, one goal of the allied strikes was to destroy a fiber
optic cable network that Chinese were reportedly installing to upgrade the effectiveness of
Iraqi air defense radars.
Subsequent press reports indicated that many of the munitions fired by allied units had
missed their targets; according to these reports, a majority of the AGM-154A Joint Stand-Off
Weapons (JSOWs) dropped by U.S. aircraft went astray, although two other types of “smart
weapons” (AGM-130 guided missiles and Stand-Off Land Attack missiles) achieved
somewhat more success. These alleged problems have been attributed by press sources to
several possible factors: human error in programming, heavy wind, software defects,
mechanical failure, or jamming of signals by Iraqis; officials reportedly believe the first two
explanations are the most likely. Defense spokesmen have declined to identify the munitions
used in the strikes.
Additional Strikes and Provocations. Since February 2001, allied forces have
carried out several significant strikes against Iraqi air defense installations, including an Iraqi
mobile early warning radar in southern Iraq on April 19, an air defense site in northern Iraq
on April 20, an air defense installation 180 miles southeast of Baghdad on May 18, and an
air defense site in northern Iraq on August 7. On August 10, in the largest air strike since
February, U.S. and British aircraft hit three installations: a surface-to-air missile battery 170
miles southeast of Baghdad, an associated long-range mobile radar system, and a fiber optic
communications station 70 miles southeast of Baghdad. Before this strike, on July 29, U.S.
National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice told CNN that the Administration is
contemplating the use of “military force in a more resolute manner” and said that “Saddam
Hussein is on the radar screen for the Administration.”
Meanwhile, some observers believe Iraqi air defense forces may be improving their
ability to target allied aircraft. On July 24, 2001, Iraqi forces fired a surface-to-air missile
at a U.S. high altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, and Defense Department sources
reportedly said the missile came close to hitting the plane. On three subsequent occasions
Iraqis claimed to have shot down a U.S. Air Force RQ-1B Predator–an unmanned aerial
vehicle (UAV or “drone”)–over southern Iraq. U.S. Defense spokesmen acknowledged that
the UAVs were lost but did not confirm that they had been shot down by Iraqi units.
Conflicting reports indicate that a fourth Predator may have been lost on May 27, 2002; Iraq
claimed to have forced an unmanned reconnaissance plane (nationality not indicated) on a
mission over northern Iraq to land, while unnamed defense sources in Kuwait said a Predator
malfunctioned and crashed in northern Kuwait. After the loss of the first Predator, press
reports noted that if the Iraqi claim is correct, it would be the first time that a U.S.
aircraft–albeit an unmanned aircraft–involved in enforcing the no-fly zones has been brought
down by Iraqi fire.
Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks. The Iraqi government was the only Middle
East regime that did not send condolences to the United States after the September 11
attacks, although Iraq officials did express sympathy to several U.S. non-government
organizations known to oppose U.S. containment policies toward Iraq. According to
numerous press reports, U.S. officials have found no hard evidence of an Iraqi hand in the
attacks or subsequent cases of anthrax, although some U.S. officials suspect Iraqi
involvement. Some commentators have pointed to several alleged meetings in recent years
between Iraqi intelligence officials and members of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda
organization and speculated that Iraq could provide Al Qaeda with money and expertise on
chemical and biological warfare. Other commentators counter that Saddam and bin Laden
have different views and ideologies and note that Iraq has been trying recently to cultivate
better relations with western countries in an effort to gain support for terminating economic
sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In testimony before the Senate Armed
Services Committee on March 19, 2002, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said
“the jury’s out” regarding any Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks but added that
“it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or
Iraqi, and we’ll see where the evidence takes us.”
Debate over this issue continues in governmental and unofficial circles. During a
speech in Cincinnati on October 7, President Bush pointed out that Iraq and Al Qaeda had
a common enemy in the United States and stated that the two have had high-level contacts
going back for a decade.
On October 11, U.S. Defense Department spokesmen were quoted as saying that there
had been no significant increase in skirmishes between allied forces and Iraqi forces since
the September 11 attacks. More recent press reports, quoting U.S. military officials, indicate
that a two-month lull in Iraqi air defense activity after the September attacks proved shortlived and that Iraq subsequently resumed more aggressive engagements with allied aircraft
enforcing the no-fly zones. A Christian Science Monitor article on October 8, 2002, noted
that the long-standing low-level warfare between allied pilots and Iraqi air defense units is
intensifying and could be a prelude to another Gulf war. According to the article, allied
pilots are concentrating on command and control centers and higher profile targets, including
two recent strikes on the airport at the southern city of Basra. They have also dropped
leaflets warning personnel stationed at air defense units not to track or fire upon allied
aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones.
Statements. On January 29, 2002, in his State of the Union address, President Bush
described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as constituting “an axis of evil.” During a speech on
June 1, 2002 to graduating West Point cadets, President Bush promised to “confront regimes
that sponsor terror” and said we must “confront the worst threats before they emerge,” while
not mentioning Iraq directly. On July 9, a New York Times article quoted President Bush as
making the following comments at a news conference on the previous day: “It’s the stated
policy of this government to have regime change [in Iraq]. And it hasn’t changed. And we’ll
use all tools at our disposal to do so.” On September 4, the President briefed leading
Members of Congress on Iraq and gave them a letter, in which he stated among other things:
“America intends to lead the way to make certain that the Saddam Hussein regime is not able
to threaten anyone in the world with the world’s most devastating weapons” and added that
“I am in the process of deciding how to proceed.” In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly
on September 12, 2002, President Bush described the regime of Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein as “a grave and gathering danger” and added that “Iraq has answered a decade of
U.N. demands with a decade of defiance.” He went on to say that the United States wants
the U.N. to be effective and is prepared to work with the U.N. Security Council to meet the
current challenge by Iraq. In a subsequent speech in Cincinnati on October 7, the President
spoke of Iraq’s continued efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and said
“I hope this will not require military action, but it may.”
Force Deployments and Costs
U.S. force levels in the Persian Gulf region have fluctuated since the Gulf war of 1991.
During the mid-1990s, U.S. forces in this area on an average comprised 15,000 to 20,000
personnel (many of them Navy and Marine Corps personnel embarked on ships), together
with up to 200 aircraft and 20 ships (usually but not always including an aircraft carrier).
After brief upsurges during the run-up to Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, force
levels averaged somewhat higher, varying from 20,000 to 25,000, between 1998 and 2001.
Most U.S. personnel in the region, including those conducting Operation Southern Watch,
are assigned to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), whose area of responsibility covers
large parts of the Middle East, southern and central Asia, and northeast Africa. U.S. forces
conducting Operation Northern Watch are based in Turkey and assigned to U.S. European
Command (EUCOM). The task forces responsible for enforcing the two no-fly zones are
linked by a hot line and coordinate many of their operations.
U.S. and other allied forces in the region have increased significantly since the
September 11 attacks. Recent official figures are not available; however, according to a
February 24, 2002 Washington Post article, Defense Department officials said there are
60,000 U.S. troops in the CENTCOM area of operations, of which 4,000 are on the ground
in Afghanistan. Many other troops in the CENTCOM area are involved in supporting allied
News media have reported a further build-up in the fall of 2002 in the Persian Gulf
region amid increasing reports of expanding the war against terrorism to Iraq. The Navy and
Air Force already have headquarters elements in the Gulf region, and during October the
Defense Department reportedly ordered the Army’s Fifth Corps and the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force to deploy headquarters element to the region as well. The U.S. Central
Command, which would have overall responsibility for a military operation against Iraq,
plans to send 600 of its headquarters personnel to nearby Qatar. Though officially described
as routine deployment in connection with a joint military exercise, the movement of
CENTCOM personnel to Qatar could facilitate the establishment of a forward headquarters
in the Gulf region, according to press speculation.
A Defense Department spokesman told reporters on November 17, 1998 that expanded
military operations and crisis build-ups in the Gulf since the war in 1991 had cost a total of
$6.9 billion. Much of this figure represents the costs of enforcing the no-fly zones over
northern and southern Iraq. Following are costs estimates for several other crisis build-ups
and retaliatory operations undertaken by the United States between 1991 and 1997.
Troop movements and retaliatory strikes against Iraq, December 1992January 1993: $400 million
Troop deployments to counter Iraqi force movements, October 1994
(Operation Vigilant Warrior): $257 million (partially defrayed by Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia)
Retaliatory strikes following Iraqi incursion into protected northern zone,
August-September 1996 (Operation Desert Strike): $102.7 million.
Incremental costs of U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf since FY1997 appear in Table
1. Official cost figures since FY2001 are not available. A press report on July 26, 2002,
indicated that expenditures on Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch were $519.5
million and $118 million, respectively, during the first eight months of FY2002 (October
2001 through May 2002) and are likely to reach almost $1 billion by the end of the current
fiscal year (September 30, 2002).
Britain, according to an August 23, 1999 London Times report, is spending
approximately 4.5 million pounds ($7.19 million at exchange rate of U.K. 1 pound=U.S.
$1.5974) per month on its deployments in the Gulf. Current figures are not available.
Table 1. Costs of Persian Gulf Operations
(in U.S. $ millions)
Desert Spring (Kuwait training)**
Desert Thunder (Nov. 1998 build-up)
Desert Fox (Dec. 1998 air strikes)
Source: Department of Defense, Comptroller
**Known as Intrinsic Action until FY2000.
U.S. and International Reactions
Administration Position on Use of Force
U.S. administrations have taken the position that they already have sufficient authority
to use military force to compel Iraqi compliance. On February 3, 1998, during an earlier
phase of the present confrontation, Clinton Administration officials reportedly cited the joint
resolution passed by Congress on the eve of the 1991 Gulf war (P.L. 102-1) as the basis for
this authority. Several other laws have been cited in support of this position. For further
discussion of legislative implications, see the CRS Electronic Briefing Book, Terrorism,
“War Powers and Iraq,” by Richard F. Grimmett and David M. Ackerman,
[http://www.congress.gov/brbk/html/ebter226.html]. According to news reports, President
Bush believes he already has legal authority to act without further legislative authorization
but decided to seek a new resolution from Congress as a gesture of support.
On September 20, the President sent Congress a draft resolution authorizing the use of
military force against Iraq. During subsequent debates, Members agreed on a somewhat
more narrowly phrased resolution. On October 10, by a vote of 296 to 133 (Roll no. 455),
the House of Representatives passed H.J.Res. 114, which authorizes the President to use the
U.S. armed forces to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing
threat posed by Iraq and enforce all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding
Iraq. The Senate passed H.J.Res. 114 by 77-23 (Record Vote No: 237) on October 11.
In the international context, the United States believes that two previous U.N. Security
Council resolutions provide sufficient authority to use force against Iraq: Resolution 678
(November 29, 1990), which authorized military action after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and
Resolution 687 (April 3, 1991), which made a cease-fire conditional on Iraqi compliance
with various specified terms, including the inspection and dismantling of Iraq’s lethal
weapons programs. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1154 of March 2, 1998 (see above)
does not specifically mention the use of force, but warns Iraq of “severest consequences” for
violation. In a news conference on March 11, President Clinton said “We believe that the
resolution gives us the authority to take whatever actions are necessary. But, of course, we
would consult [with other Security Council members].” Subsequently, U.N. Security
Council Resolution 1205 of November 5, 1998 condemned Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with
UNSCOM as a “flagrant violation” of Resolution 687 and other relevant agreements, and
expressed full support for efforts by the Secretary General to seek full implementation of the
February 23 agreement. Other members of the Security Council, however, with the notable
exception of Britain, do not believe that the wording of recent U.N. Security Council
resolutions provides an automatic trigger authorizing military force. On September 12, 2002,
as noted above, President Bush urged the U.N. Security Council to enact a new resolution
demanding full Iraqi compliance with U.N. weapons inspections under threat of military
Congress has been largely supportive of Administration efforts to compel Iraqi
compliance with U.N. resolutions. Congress has also appropriated funds to defray the cost
of increased U.S. force deployments to the Gulf since 1997. On December 17, 1998, during
Operation Desert Fox, the House of Representatives passed H.Res. 612, expressing
unequivocal support for the men and women of our Armed Forces carrying out missions in
the Persian Gulf region, and supporting efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
More recently, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the House of
Representatives passed H.J.Res. 75, the House of Representatives passed H.J.Res. 75,
entitled “Regarding inspection and monitoring to prevent the development of weapons of
mass destruction in Iraq”, on December 20, 2001. Among other things, this resolution stated
that Iraq “remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations” and
that Iraq’s refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors “immediate, unconditional, and
unrestricted access ... presents a mounting threat to the United States, its friends and allies,
and international peace and security.”
As noted above, On October 10 and 11, the House and Senate, respectively, adopted
H.J.Res. 114, which authorizes the President to to use the U.S. armed forces to defend the
national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and enforce
all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
International reactions to U.S. reprisals against Iraq have been mixed and have varied
according to the nature of the crisis that precipitated a U.S. military response. On the whole,
altered international conditions have caused some erosion since 1991 in international support
for the use of force against Iraq. Factors contributing to this erosion include differing U.S.
and European perspectives on the region, Arab disillusionment with broader U.S. Middle
East policies, diminished Arab concerns over a potential threat from Iraq, and increasing
sympathy for the sufferings of the Iraqi people. This erosion in support for U.S. policy
toward Iraq has been particularly pronounced within the Arabic-speaking world, despite the
hostility many Arab leaders feel toward Saddam Hussein.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, friendly Arab leaders have urged the United
States not to expand the current war against terrorism to target Iraq or other Arab countries.
At a summit conference in Beirut, Lebanon on March 27-28, 2002, Arab leaders adopted a
resolution that contained several clauses dealing with Iraq. The resolution welcomed
assurances by Iraq that it will respect “the independence, sovereignty, and security of the
state of Kuwait”; it called on Iraq to cooperate with Kuwait in identifying and returning
missing Kuwaiti persons and property; it called for lifting economic sanctions on Iraq; it
rejected “threats of aggression against some Arab states, particularly Iraq”; and it reiterated
a “categorical rejection” of attacking Iraq or threatening any Arab state. Among Iraq’s nonArab neighbors, Iran remains hostile to the Iraqi regime but opposes any western military
intervention in the region. Turkey, Iraq’s other non-Arab neighbor, has long opposed a
campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein because of fears that it might lead to a power
vacuum in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and encourage Kurdish separatism in Turkey
itself. However, there are emerging voices in Turkey who argue that Turkey should
participate in a move against the Iraqi regime in order to have greater influence over postSaddam arrangements in the region.
Some U.S. officials and commentators believe Arab leaders would secretly welcome
the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, notwithstanding public statements to the
contrary. On his return from a trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney told
reporters on March 21, 2002, that he had found regional leaders “uniformly concerned about
the situation in Iraq, in particular about Saddam Hussein’s failure to live up to the U.N.
Security Council resolutions, especially number 687, that he pledged to at the end of the war,
that said he’d get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction.” But news reports indicated
that the Vice President’s hosts expressed more concern over mounting Israeli-Palestinian
tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank territory than with issues related to Iraq.
After subsequent talks between President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah on
April 25, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal told reporters that “we see no need
for any military or other action” against Iraq, inasmuch as Iraq and U.N. representatives were
discussing the issue of re-admitting weapons inspectors. Other allied leaders, including
Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah, have spoken against
attacking Iraq. On the eve of a meeting with President Bush on August 1, King Abdullah
told the Washington Post that he thought it would be a “tremendous mistake” not to heed
warnings from abroad against a military campaign against Iraq and expressed fears that “a
miscalculation in Iraq would throw the whole area into turmoil.” Outside the region, leaders
of Russia, Germany, and France also voiced opposition to an attack on Iraq during late July;
French President Jacques Chirac expressed the view that such action would require a new
The issue of U.S. use of bases in neighboring countries to mount military operations
against Iraq is particularly sensitive. For some years, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have hosted
U.S. and allied aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq, but Gulf states in the main have
not permitted the use of bases on their territory for major direct attacks against Iraq. During
Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, according to contemporary news reports, Kuwait
and Oman allowed combat operations against Iraq from their territory; however, the other
four Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia) only allowed logistical support, including use of
air space and take-off and landing by refueling planes. According to a senior Administration
official, the subject of bases did not arise during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
to President Bush on April 25, 2002. News reports in early July that U.S. military officials
are planning to conduct military operations against Iraq from bases in Jordan were met with
denials from Jordanian leaders, including the Prime Minister. On July 9, the press quoted
Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher as telling reporters that “Jordan will not be used as a
launching pad, and we do not have any U.S. forces in Jordan.” King Abdullah also
dismissed such reports in an interview on August 1. Qatar, where the United States has
upgraded a local airfield and set up a new command and control facility, has been noncommittal about supporting future U.S. combat operations against Iraq. Elsewhere in the
region, on September 5, Turkey’s Foreign Minister said the United States has not yet sought
permission from Turkey to use its air bases for a strike against Iraq.
In September 2002, there were signs that some moderate Arab states may be softening
their previous opposition to allowing large-scale U.S. military operations from their territory
against Iraq, provided a military campaign were authorized by a U.N. resolution. When
asked about the availability of Saudi bases to U.S. military forces during a CNN interview
on September 16, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal said that if the U.N. Security
Council adopts a resolution authorizing military force, “[e]verybody is obliged to follow
through.” In an Associated Press interview published on October 10, however, Prince Saud
appeared to qualify this statement, saying that: “We are not going to join in the military
action, but if the United Nations takes a decision in this regard, we will cooperate with it....”
Plans and Alternatives
News media continue to describe an on-going debate among U.S. officials over the
feasibility, scope, and timing of possible military action against Iraq to achieve the
President’s objective of regime change and related objectives such as the elimination of
Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Some argue that the Iraqi regime has been seriously
weakened and would collapse with the application of minimal force, and that its demise
would be privately welcomed throughout much of the Middle East. Others are more
skeptical, believing that increased military pressure on Iraq might cause otherwise
discontented citizens to rally around their leadership, could destabilize the region, and would
entail major efforts and costs. Press articles cite a range of options under consideration,
including, but not limited to, the following.
Continued allied enforcement of the existing no-fly zones over northern and
southern Iraq, with calibrated responses to provocations by Iraqi air defense
units, supplemented by naval enforcement of sanctions, with the goal of
containing the Saddam Hussein regime and limiting his ability to support
terrorism. As a related option, some have advocated expansion of the
present no-fly zones to curtail further Iraq’s freedom of maneuver.
Covert action targeting the current Iraqi regime combined with expanded
programs to buttress the efforts of opposition groups in Iraq, with the goal
of triggering a coup.
A small invasion force of up to 70,000 military personnel, with the main
emphasis on air power, special operations forces, and Iraqi opposition
groups (akin to the Afghanistan model), with the goal of bringing down the
A heavy invasion force with a strong ground force component, perhaps on
the order of 200,000-250,000 military personnel. This option would require
permission from one or more of Iraq’s neighbors (Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, for example) to stage an invasion from their territory. The
goal would be to build a new regime and eliminate WMD programs.
An operation aimed at seizing Baghdad and several key command posts
through heavy air strikes and combined airborne and ground assault
operations at strategic sites. Such an operation would be designed to isolate
the Iraqi leadership and disrupt its command and control facilities, leading
to the collapse of the Saddam regime. (The New York Times, July 29, 2002.)
President Bush has said he hopes Iraq will foreswear WMD programs and fulfill terms
of other U.N. resolutions, thereby avoiding military conflict with the United States and its
allies; however, he has expressed skepticism that Iraq will do so. In the meantime, according
to an October 13 press report, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has ordered military
commanders to revise their military operations plans to emphasize speedier deployment,
make more effective use of intelligence, and exploit the advantages of precision weapons.
Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly said advances in war fighting capabilities could enable the
United States to achieve overwhelming force with fewer numbers of military personnel than
in the 1991 Gulf war because of the increased lethality of weapons available to U.S. forces.
Some commentators believe large numbers of personnel are still needed to demonstrate
American resolve, intimidate Iraqi forces, minimize allied casualties, and deal with
unexpected operational difficulties.
Besides the composition and scope of military action, debate has centered on other
factors including the timing of a possible attack. Press articles, not confirmed by official
U.S. sources, report divergent views between senior civilian Defense Department officials
and much of the uniformed military leadership, with the latter arguing for a longer period of
preparation before initiating any major military action. Earlier in the year, some press reports
indicated that depletion of arms stocks during operations in Afghanistan, coupled with severe
strains on U.S. active and reserve forces, could compel the United States to delay a
coordinated assault on Iraq. Analysts cited in particular the need to produce additional
precision bombs such as the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) used in Afghanistan.
Other media reports have suggested that forces on hand are capable of launching an attack
on Iraq in a short time frame and quoted Defense Department officials as saying that JDAM
production has been accelerated.
Still other questions have been raised by U.S. officials, observers, and Members of
Congress. How serious is the threat posed by Iraq to the United States and its allies? How
high are the likely costs and casualties that might result from military options? Are U.S.
forces likely to face large-scale urban warfare in Baghdad and other major population
centers? What kind of regime might replace the present one? How long would U.S. forces
have to remain in Iraq? What effect would major U.S. military action against Iraq have on
other U.S. objectives in the Middle East?
Table 2. Comparative Military Strengths and Inventories: Gulf States
International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2001-2002. (Note: Figures
shown here do not include materiel believed to be in storage and inoperable.)
* Includes aircraft flown from Iraq to Iran during 1991 Gulf war.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING
CRS Report RS21325. Iraq: Divergent Views on Military Action, by Alfred B. Prados.
CRS Report 98-386. Iraq: Post-War Challenges and U.S. Responses, 1991-1998, by Alfred
CRS Report RL31339. Iraq: U.S. Efforts to Change the Regime, by Kenneth Katzman.
CRS Issue Brief IB92117. Iraqi Compliance with Cease-Fire Agreements, by Kenneth