The West's Forgotten ConflictBy David Usborne, The Independent, 23 June 2000
To us, it has become almost a forgotten war, but not so to Baghdad and to the regime of Saddam Hussein. For 18 months now, British and American jets have prowled the skies over the northern and southern sections of Iraq every day and routinely let fly bombs and missiles on to targets below.
This steady punishment of Iraq - calculated to amount roughly to one attack every three days - has been going on since December 1998. That is when Hussein decided to challenge the no-fly zones imposed nearly 10 years ago by the West, by firing at the allied planes that are dispatched to patrol them.
Since December 1998, the air combat in the zones has become most intense. According to the Iraqis, British and American planes have penetrated their air space 21,600 times. On the ground, people can hear their screeching, but cannot seem them. The pilots fly always at a safe altitude of 20,000 feet.
Only rarely are the tragic human consequences reported. A correspondent for The Washington Post wrote last week of the fate of Omran Harbi Jawair, 13. He was watching his family's sheep on 17 May when a missile landed within feet of him.
"Without warning, according to several youths standing nearby, the device came crashing down in an open field," the reporter, Edward Cody, wrote. "Four shepherds were wounded. And Omran, the others recalled, lay dead in the dirt, most of his head torn off, the white of his robe stained red."
While the orders from London and Washington are to destroy those weapons that threaten the planes, the toll in lost Iraqi lives continues to climb. Iraq is, meanwhile, stepping up its rhetoric, decrying the attacks and demanding that they be stopped.
Iraqi estimates, which have been partially confirmed by an independent UN survey, suggest that some 300 Iraqis have been killed and another 800 injured in the 18 months of intense bombings. Iraq says that at least two-thirds of those killed have been civilians.
Lieutenant-General Yassin Jasem, the Iraqi military spokesman, yesterday ridiculed as false the claims by the US and Britain that their planes attack only in response to threats against them. "American officials are nowadays producing lies in order to cover their failure and daily crimes in the so-called two no-fly zones," he declared at a news briefing in Baghdad.
The zones themselves were created in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War to protect minority Shia Muslims in the south of Iraq and a Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq from attack by Saddam's military forces.
The Pentagon says that nearly 280,000 sorties have been flown over the areas by American and British planes in the almost decade-long period of enforcing the no-fly order.