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Perry: Iraqi Statements on Kuwait ‘Rash’

September 12, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States will take all ``necessary and appropriate actions″ to defend its forces in the Middle East from any challenge posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Defense Secretary William Perry warned today.

A Pentagon official said the number of B-52s being sent to the Persian Gulf region was being increased from two to four. And as crews at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., readied eight F-117A stealth fighter-bombers for deployment, the U.S. Central Command responsible for the Persian Gulf region reported all quiet on the Iraqi front.

Speaking to reporters at a photo session in his office, Perry also criticized Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, for asserting that Kuwait committed an act of war by allowing the United States to bring in the F-117s.

``Those kind of rash statements are totally unacceptable,″ Perry said. ``U.S. military forces do not pose a threat to Iraq.″ But, noting that American forces moved into the area in force only after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Perry said: ``If there is any challenge to those forces, we have the responsibility to protect them. The United States will take all necessary and appropriate actions.″

Wednesday, in discussing Wednesday’s failed missile attack on two U.S. F-16s patrolling the ``no-fly″ zone in northern Iraq, Perry had used uncharacteristically harsh language. Saddam would face a U.S. response ``disproportionate to the provocations which were made against us,″ Perry said.

For his part, President Clinton voiced concern Wednesday about escalation after meeting with former Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in a Phoenix hospital. ``I think it is important not to let the word war spiral out of hand,″ he told reporters.

There was no lessening of Baghdad’s belligerent mood, however. The official Iraqi News Agency reported that batteries in southern Iraq fired three missiles today at U.S. warplanes and forced them to get out of the ``no-fly zone″ they were patrolling.

As it has with all other such claims this week except Wednesday’s confirmed unsuccessful missile attack, the Pentagon said it knew nothing of today’s claimed attack. ``We have no reports of any missile firings,″ Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Joe March said.

Retired Air Force Gen. Buster Glosson, who played a key role in planning the 1991 Persian Gulf air war, said the administration’s goal in the latest confrontation with Iraq is simple: Keep Saddam Hussein in his box.

``When Saddam Hussein steps out of the box, which I believe he will do periodically, we must force him back inside,″ he said.

Whether tougher air strikes being threatened would do that job is not known, of course, but experts say the risk of U.S. casualties rises as the air campaign against Iraq intensifies.

While the Pentagon remained closed-mouthed about specific plans, prompted by Wednesday’s Iraqi attempt to fire on U.S. aircraft in the region, the additional warplanes dispatched to the Persian Gulf pointed to a desire to significantly damage Saddam’s war-making capability.

U.S. forces have several options, said Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman, who testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. They could hit military headquarters, drop laser-guided bombs on command bunkers, destroy Iraq’s highly capable Mirage fighter planes on the ground, or hit manufacturing and storage sites for chemical and biological weapons.

But he warned: ``Any strategy toward Iraq must take explicit account of the possibility that Saddam will remain in power. Saddam Hussein has shown extraordinary resilience for nearly a quarter of a century.″

Also testifying before the committee, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the administration response to Saddam’s moves was too weak. ``Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force,″ Baker said. ``More to the point, it only seems to understand overwhelming force.″

The problem is, what next?

Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp said the administration failed to win broad international support for a tougher stance against Saddam ``because President Clinton’s policy is vague and uncertain.″

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry responded by repeating past calls for politics to stop at the water’s edge.

And on Capitol Hill, the flow of Republican criticism was, like Baker’s, that Clinton has not hit Iraq hard enough.

``I believe we need to conduct a very extensive series of raids that would hobble any air power, air defenses, communications and intelligence,″ said Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind. ``I would not put Baghdad off limits.″

House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the United States should not ``lower itself to a tit-for-tat game″ with Iraq. ``The U.S. looks like an isolated bully using very sophisticated weapons to no purpose. So we look arrogant and impotent at the same time.″

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