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The Unofficial War
June 28, 2005 5:08 AM   Subscribe

The Unofficial War: U.S., Britain Led Massive Secret Bombing Campaign Before Iraq War Was Declared
A U.S. general who commanded the U.S. allied air forces in Iraq has confirmed that the U.S. and Britain conducted a massive secret bombing campaign before the U.S. actually declared war on Iraq...Starting in late May to June of 2002 a flurry of activity began both in the United States and in the Middle East. In what appears to be an admission of covert activity, chief allied air force commander Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley divulged in a little-noticed quote in the New York Times that US/British aircraft flew 21,736 sorties between June 2002 and March 2003.
[Previously posted in a comment by ericb at 12:56 PM PST on June 27; more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (33 comments total)

 
In February 2002, Knight-Ridder reported that:
President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power and ordered the CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies to devise a combination of military, diplomatic and covert steps to achieve that goal.
The CIA proposed a plan that included "significantly more aggressive bombing of the 'no fly' zones over northern and southern Iraq;" although the president was "enthusiastic" about the plan, "it could not be determined whether he gave final approval."

Also in February 2002, then-CENTCOM C-in-C Tommy Franks proposed "spikes of activity" as part of the plan for the invasion of Iraq, according to his autobiography, American Soldier. In July 2002, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon was quoted in the Downing Street Memo that "the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime."

The spikes were intended to to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, and were illegal according to the UK Foreign Office.

The bombing escalation, known as Operation Southern Focus, was reported by the New York Times in July 2003 (which is where the "little-noticed quote" is from) and the Sunday Times in June 2005. (Both articles quote General Mosely as saying "more than 600 bombs," were dropped, not tons, but that seems to be an error, according to Raw Story and Michael Smith's Los Angeles Times essay The Real News in the Downing Street Memos.)

The escalation included a "huge air assault" involving approximately 100 US and UK planes in September 2002 that attacked Iraq's major western air defence installation (which was outside the no-fly zone).

Raw Story has a graph showing the number of days with bombings before the official start of the war, based on figures released by the House of Commons covering March-November 2002 and October 2002-March 2002. The Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace has a US Bombing Watch that lists media reports of bombings in 2002.

In a November 20, 2002, Pentagon briefing, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke confirmed that US pilots were "degrading air-defense facilities that the U.S. would have to take out if there were a war," and Rear Admiral David Gove, former deputy director of global operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said pilots patrolling the no-fly zones were "essentially flying combat missions." In December 2002, British defense officials "admitted privately that the 'no-fly' patrols, conducted by RAF and US aircraft from bases in Kuwait, are designed to weaken Iraq's air defence systems and have nothing to do with their stated original purpose of defending the marsh Arabs and the Sh'ia population of southern Iraq."

Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq in October 2002. On October 7, 2002, President Bush said "Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable."
posted by kirkaracha at 5:10 AM on June 28, 2005


October 2002-March 2003
posted by kirkaracha at 5:11 AM on June 28, 2005


One small nit to pick. The U.S. actually never officially declared war. Congress only approved the use of force. I believe the last time they actually declared war was 1941.
posted by trox at 5:53 AM on June 28, 2005


The US and Britain flew combat sorties over Iraq since the late '90s under the guise of "Operation SOUTHERN WATCH", which was intended (read in to that what you will) to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions. Initially these missions were meant to enforce the Southern No-Fly Zone (along with a similar mission up North).

Starting certainly as early as November 2002 when I arrived in the Middle East, these missions were clearly being used as an excuse to bomb select targets. The Iraqis were always doing something to violate the letter of the UNSCRs (nothing really significant, to be honest). We would be too slow to actually respond when, say, a MiG-25 violated the no-fly zone by 1 mile, so we would use this as an excuse to bomb a set of cable-repeaters, or something similar.

Within the targeting and intelligence community, it was very well understood that there was a conscious plan to escalate these "responsive strikes" as the planned date for war approached. Basically, each day prior to the war, there were pre-planned "response packages" of aircraft prepared to conduct a retaliatory strike in case the Iraqis broke a rule. Well, they always broke a "rule", so this was really more like the planned strategic bombing for the day. At first it would be a package of 2 F-16s with 4 JDAMs (bombs) or something similar. Later on, the "response package" would be 4 B-1s with dozens of JDAMs, or something similarly large. It was pretty obvious, at least from the inside.
posted by DAJ at 6:09 AM on June 28, 2005


How can overt conduct, widely noted in the news every time a bomb dropped, freely acknowledged by the administration as the "more inside" notes above, be a secret anything?

The U.S. actually never officially declared war. Congress only approved the use of force.

There's no functional difference in the international arena. The only real differences would be domestic, with respect to things like turning on rationing or not, and so on.

It was pretty obvious, at least from the inside.

From the outside too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:19 AM on June 28, 2005


How can overt conduct, widely noted in the news every time a bomb dropped, freely acknowledged by the administration as the "more inside" notes above, be a secret anything?

When the White House makes repeated statements that military force is the last resort while bombing the fuck out of Iraq.
posted by If I Had An Anus at 6:26 AM on June 28, 2005


...were justified publicly at the time as a reaction to Iraqi violations of a no-flight zone that the United States and Britain established in southern Iraq. ...

I remember that--it had the effect of making Saddam look aggressive and belligerent, while all the while we were poking them with a stick for no reason so that we could invade.
posted by amberglow at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2005


The US never stopped bombing Iraq after the first Gulf War. The bombing continued under Bush I, both terms of Clinton, and then under Bush II. If it was a crime for Bush II, surely it was a crime for the other two as well.

I believe the last time they actually declared war was 1941.

June 5, 1942
posted by scottreynen at 6:35 AM on June 28, 2005


trox writes "The U.S. actually never officially declared war."

Meh... war, approved use of force, police action... "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
posted by clevershark at 6:45 AM on June 28, 2005


scottreynen writes "The US never stopped bombing Iraq after the first Gulf War. The bombing continued under Bush I, both terms of Clinton, and then under Bush II. If it was a crime for Bush II, surely it was a crime for the other two as well."

I think you might want to read one of the articles. This was a lot more than a continuation of the enforcement of the no-fly zone.
posted by clevershark at 6:49 AM on June 28, 2005


scottreynen, read the damn post (not that I have :P, but I am already familiar with this particular story). The tonnage of bombs goes way way up starting in the summer of 2002. Blame Clinton for the 1998 wag the dog fiasco if you want, but it is absurd to paint the entire post Kuwait campaign with one brush.

Anyway, as ROU_Xenophobe says, it was widely known and reported by the fall of 2002, so calling it secret is fatuous.

(Note: My familiarity comes from coverage on As It Happens from June 23, 8:15 into part 2)
posted by Chuckles at 6:55 AM on June 28, 2005


The bombing escalated from "virtually none" in March and April 2002 to an average of 10 tons a month between May and August 2002, then increased to 54.6 tons in September 2002 and stayed at that level or higher until 2003.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe, remind me, when was it we saw news reports about 21,736 sorties over Iraq prior to the start of the war? You're downplaying a significant increase in use of force without Congressional approval.
posted by fleener at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2005


I hate to be an ass, but didn't everyone know this already? Not only that the No Fly zones were of dubious legality, but that Bush stepped them up to provoke Saddam?
I guess my sample may be off; I was in a Model UN class when this was happening and everyone there knew...
posted by klangklangston at 7:09 AM on June 28, 2005


There was something striking that Condi Rice said about the September 2001 Camp David meeting -- she said (and this was featured in Woodward's "Plan of Attack" and other news pieces) about the WH's post-9/11 priorities that the map of Iraq was put away and replaced by the map of Afghanistan for strategic planning purposes.

So essentially the planning phase of the invasion of Iraq seems to have started pretty much when Bush got inaugurated, with the invasion of Afghanistan being an inconvenience that had to be done in the meantime. That certainly explains why there are 10x the troops in Iraq as are stationed in Afghanistan (you know, the country who's at least partly responsible for actually attacking America) and also why, outside Kabul, life goes on pretty much as it did during the olden days of the Taliban, except for the increased opium production.
posted by clevershark at 7:12 AM on June 28, 2005


Well, for as much as I question the authenticity of the Downing Street Memo, it's clear, as pointed out in the many links above that things were slowly being put in place. And as Chuckles says, it was widely reported. So? Where was that liberal American Press? Where was the democratic party? It's monumentally frustrating to see this all happen as the majority of the American public sits around sucking up Access Hollywood because, "There's some really interesting stuff going on with Brad and Angelina".
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:36 AM on June 28, 2005


The "liberal American Press" was dutifully repeating every lie they told us, from WMDs to Mushroom clouds to how Saddam and Al Qaeda were buddies to that he was the worst dictator in history to flowers and candy from Iraqis to "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly, . . . (in) weeks rather than months."

Many millions protested and spoke out against all of it, but were called names or treated as unpatriotic, and not covered in the media.
posted by amberglow at 7:44 AM on June 28, 2005


When the White House makes repeated statements that military force is the last resort while bombing the fuck out of Iraq

That makes them two-faced schemers, but doesn't make the bombings anything close to secret.

ROU_Xenophobe, remind me, when was it we saw news reports about 21,736 sorties over Iraq prior to the start of the war?

Most days or at least weeks. "Today US warplanes bombed Iraqi communications facilities in response to [something]", "Today US warplanes bombed parts of the Iraqi air defense network in response to [something]," again and again and again. Usually the [something] would just be a plane getting lit up by radar, if that much. If you had NPR on during your commute, you got this more days than not (or at least it felt that way), and certainly at least once a week.

Doesn't mean I approve of it. But it was hardly secret. All sorts of other bad and unpleasant adjectives, sure, but not secret or hidden or anything like that. It was right there plain as day, with at most minimal fig-leafing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:45 AM on June 28, 2005


"There's some really interesting stuff going on with Brad and Angelina".

She may even be pregnant
posted by srboisvert at 9:27 AM on June 28, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe: All sorts of other bad and unpleasant adjectives, sure, but not secret or hidden or anything like that. It was right there plain as day, with at most minimal fig-leafing.

Not unlike the permanent US military bases that have been constructed in Iraq... The press and the politicians are still talking about when it will be possible to withdraw American troops, but that isn't actually in the plans at all - they plan to be there for at least the next 50 years.
posted by Chuckles at 9:34 AM on June 28, 2005


Downing Street Memo finally makes the front page of today's Washhington Post:
"In public, British officials were declaring their solidarity with the Bush administration's calls for elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But Straw's memo and seven other secret documents disclosed in recent months by British journalist Michael Smith together reveal a much different picture. Behind the scenes, British officials believed the U.S. administration was already committed to a war that they feared was ill-conceived and illegal and could lead to disaster.

The documents indicate that the officials foresaw a host of problems that later would haunt both governments -- including thin intelligence about the nature of the Iraqi threat, weak public support for war and a lack of planning for the aftermath of military action. British cabinet ministers, Foreign Office diplomats, senior generals and intelligence service officials all weighed in with concerns and reservations. Yet they could not dissuade their counterparts in the Bush administration -- nor, indeed, their own leader -- from going forward.

'I think there is a real risk that the administration underestimates the difficulties,' David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote to the prime minister on March 14, 2002, after he returned from meetings with Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, and her staff. 'They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it.'

A U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of the events said the concerns raised by British officials 'played a useful role.'

'Were they paid a tremendous amount of heed?' said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'I think it's hard to say they were.' "
posted by ericb at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2005


Link to Washington Post article.
posted by ericb at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2005


Many millions protested and spoke out against all of it, but were called names or treated as unpatriotic, and not covered in the media.

Are you talking about protests in the U.S.? Because they were covered, extensively.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 10:14 AM on June 28, 2005


Downing Street Memo also makes front page of today's Wall Street Journal:
'Downing Street Memo' Has Lingering Effect
Activists Use British Documents To Mount Media Campaign, Put Bush on Defensive Over Iraq.
posted by ericb at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2005


Downing Street Memo heads to the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night.
posted by ericb at 10:22 AM on June 28, 2005


Evidently the "secret" part of it consisted of the US and the UK pretending it was merely enforcement of the no-fly zones, while in reality they were bombing targets well outside the area of their mandate.

Not that this sort of blatant, joint violation of international law should raise too many eyebrows by now anyway.
posted by clevershark at 10:53 AM on June 28, 2005


Downing Street Memo heads to the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night.
So THAT's why Bush is speaking tonight!

Dennis, i rarely if ever saw antiwar people on tv talking, as opposed to the prowar. I should have worded that differently.
posted by amberglow at 11:30 AM on June 28, 2005


Evidently the "secret" part of it consisted of the US and the UK pretending it was merely enforcement of the no-fly zones, while in reality they were bombing targets well outside the area of their mandate.

Exactly. And the motive behind the increased attacks and the scale of the attack were not widely reported in the media. And the UK participation, at least, was illegal according to the British government. (Which probably has something to do with the Downing Street minutes being leaked.)

The 100-plane attack on the H3 airfield on September 5, 2002, wasn't widely reported; in fact, the airfield in mentioned as a potential target in this CNN story from September 11, 2002, in the context of Strategic Command "updating its list of targets."

Not unlike the permanent US military bases that have been constructed in Iraq

On a related note, what the fuck is the US doing spending $50 million to expand its prison facilities across Iraq? I thought they were a sovereign country, as of a year ago today. I'm not saying the prisons aren't needed (gotta put all those "foreign fighters" and "terrorists" and "dead-enders" someplace), but shouldn't a sovereign country build its own prisons?
posted by kirkaracha at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2005


In March 8, 2003, Bush said in his national radio address: "We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq"
posted by chaz at 12:42 PM on June 28, 2005


Global Policy:

The US-UK turned no-fly into an even more aggressive operation after 1998, when “more robust rules of engagement” have led to regular bombing of ground targets and substantial civilian casualties.

History Guy, on "The No-Fly Zone War (1991-2003)":

The estimated, unofficial cost of this war to U.S. and British taxpayers is around $1 billion per year. As of August 1999, over 200 military planes, 19 naval ships and 22,000 American military personnel are committed to enforcing the "no-fly zones" and to fighting Iraq.

Global Issues:

As mentioned above, since the US and UK imposed a no-fly zone (not a UN-enforced one), Iraq has been bombed anything from almost daily to every three days. That does not seemed to have stopped, as nearly two years on from the above, John Pilger reports (April 2002) that the "[British Royal Air Force] RAF and American aircraft have been bombing Iraq, week after week, for more than two years."

Voices in the Wilderness has been working on ending US aggresssion against Iraqi civilians since 1996.

I'm sticking to what I said before: the US never stopped bombing Iraq after the first Gulf War. Bush II may have increased it (after apparently decreasing it), but if my country were being bombed almost daily, I wouldn't be particularly concerned about the exact number of bombs.
posted by scottreynen at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2005


“Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out.” --George W. Bush to Condi Rice and 3 U.S. Senators. 3/2002
posted by spilon at 1:59 PM on June 28, 2005


“Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out.”

It can be so nasty when couples break up.
posted by telstar at 2:20 PM on June 28, 2005


12 more years?
posted by specialk420 at 6:20 AM on June 29, 2005


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