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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kosovo Crisis Covers Continued Bombing of Iraq




WASHINGTON -- It is the year's other war. While the nation's attention has focused on Kosovo, U.S. warplanes have methodically and with virtually no public discussion been attacking Iraq.


Over the past eight months, U.S. and British pilots have fired more than 1,100 missiles against 359 targets.


Pilots have flown some two-thirds as many missions as NATO pilots flew over Yugoslavia in 78 days of around-the-clock war there.


The strikes, including ones as recently as Tuesday, have done nothing to deter Iraqi gunners from firing on U.S. and British planes patrolling the "no flight'' zones over northern and southern Iraq.


The cycle of skirmishes has gone on so long that the administration is debating whether to intensify its attacks, according to senior Clinton administration officials.


U.S. President Bill Clinton has not made a decision, but within the administration, some officials have argued that more punishing strikes would deter the Iraqis and do more to weaken President Saddam Hussein's government, the officials said. On the other hand, a tougher stand could also draw attention to strikes that have generated little opposition at home and abroad.


The administration's policy toward Iraq is increasingly facing criticism. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of eight senators and congressmen sent a letter to Clinton scolding him for what they called "the continued drift'' in the administration's efforts.


While they expressed support for the strikes, they called on Clinton to give Iraq a new deadline to comply with UN inspections and threaten "serious consequences'' if Saddam refuses, including more potent airstrikes throughout Iraq and an expansion of the "no flight'' zones. They also called for increased support, including military aid, to Iraqi opposition groups.


Administration and Pentagon officials concede that the Iraqis have proved more resilient than expected. They have quickly repaired damage done to air-defense weapons and even rebuilt some of the sites destroyed in December's raids.


Of greater concern is Iraq's ability to rebuild its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, programs Saddam pledged to halt as part of the cease-fire that ended the Persian Gulf war in 1991. In their letter, the lawmakers said there was "considerable evidence'' that Iraq continued to pursue those weapons, though neither they nor their aides elaborated.


The administration and Pentagon officials maintain there is no evidence of that, but without international inspections, some acknowledged, there is little to stop Saddam's government from doing so.


That is why the administration is quietly supporting a draft UN Security Council resolution by Britain and the Netherlands to renew the international weapons inspections. That resolution, which would create a new inspection agency to replace the United Nations Special Commission, is expected to go before the council in September but still lacks support from France, Russia and China, which have veto power.


Without some inspections, the patrols of the "no flight'' zones remain the core of the administration's effort to contain Saddam.