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Clinton: Hussein Must ‘Pay a Price’ for Aggression Against Kurds

September 3, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton sent a hailstorm of cruise missiles against military targets in southern Iraq Tuesday, saying Saddam Hussein must ``pay a price″ for his boldest aggression since the Persian Gulf War. With no sign of Iraqi retreat, the Pentagon warned it might strike again.

America’s allies watched from the sidelines, some of them voicing sharp criticism.

France, Spain and Russia objected, as did China. Saudi Arabia refused to allow Saudi-based U.S. planes to take part in the assault. Britain, Germany and Japan applauded Clinton’s action.

The attack _ the second against Iraq during the Clinton administration _ was intended to punish Saddam for his bloody siege of the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil.

``Our objectives are limited but clear: to make Saddam pay a price for the latest act of brutality, reducing his ability to threaten his neighbors and America’s interests,″ the president said in a nationally broadcast statement from the Oval Office.

Clinton said Saddam’s army still controlled Irbil and remained deployed for further attacks, despite claims it was withdrawing. Defense Secretary William Perry said Iraqi forces were moving toward two other Kurdish towns.

``We have given him a strong message,″ Perry said. ``We expect to see changes in behavior, we will be watching very carefully. We reserve the right to take future military actions.″

The White House sent a fresh warning Tuesday to Iraq; it had to be faxed because Iraqi officials refused to meet with Americans.

Clinton gave the ``go″ order for the attack at 8:11 p.m. EDT Monday in a telephone call from Air Force One as he returned from nine days of campaigning. ``We have to go forward. This is the right thing to do. This is a measured, very disciplined and firm approach,″ the president told chief of staff Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, according to White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

Two months from the presidential election, Clinton’s decision became grist for partisan criticism. Some Republicans charged that the president had been too slow to recognize the Kurds’ rapidly deteriorating situation and the movement of Iraqi troops.

Clinton briefed congressional leaders, and also called Republican rival Bob Dole. In a backhanded swipe, Dole said, ``I trust this is the beginning of decisive action to limit the power and arrogance of Saddam Hussein.″

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged Clinton to extend the air strikes to Baghdad, saying Saddam’s regime ``must finally be mortally wounded.″

Military actions often produce a rally-round-the-flag response among Americans that benefits the president, particularly when there are no U.S. casualties.

In all, 27 satellite-guided cruise missiles were fired at surface-to-air missile sites, radar installations and command-and-control installations in southern Iraq, where Saddam’s forces could threaten Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Flying from the Pacific island of Guam, two aging B-52 bombers fired 13 missiles. From the Persian Gulf, two Navy ships, the destroyer USS Laboon and the cruiser USS Shiloh, launched 14 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The weapons struck in the vicinity of the Tallil air base in southwestern Iraq, the nearby city of Nasiriyah on the Euphrates River, the city of al-Iskandiariyah just south of Baghdad, and al-Kut, a southern city on the Tigris River.

The Defense Department confirmed Iraqi reports of five Iraqi deaths but Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon rejected claims by Iraqi officials that a missile struck a housing complex.

Tightening pressure on Saddam, Clinton expanded the U.N.-enforced ``no-fly″ zone in southern Iraq, extending it from the Kuwaiti border north to the suburbs of Baghdad.

The president also put a freeze on a U.N.-brokered oil-for-food deal, saying he wanted assurances the food would reach the needy and not replenish Iraqi government resources.

There was no sign of White House anxiety about the attack. Clinton slept through it. Aides said there was no need to awaken him because he had ordered the strike and knew what would happen.

In a televised address, Saddam urged his soldiers to ``resist these aggressors″ and pay no attention to ``damned imaginary no-fly zones.″

Clinton said that ``limited withdrawals″ announced by Iraq ``do not change the reality. Saddam Hussein’s army today controls Irbil, and Iraqi units remain deployed for further attacks.″

The president appeared uncomfortable when asked about the refusal of some allies to endorse his decision.

``I believe we have historically _ at least in recent decision _ taken the lead in matters like this, and I think this was our responsibility at this time,″ Clinton said.

Clinton talked at length Monday night with French President Jacques Chirac. France did not endorse the U.S. strike, urging a political solution instead.

``We acted on our own interest,″ Perry said at the Pentagon. ``We expect most of our allies to be supportive.″

Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discounted Iraq’s claims that some U.S. missiles were shot down. ``We certainly have no evidence of that,″ he said.

McCurry said the United States put Saddam Hussein strongly on notice _ beginning Aug. 28 _ that there would be important consequences if he did not withdraw troops from Irbil.

He said the first warning, approved by Clinton while campaigning by train on his way to the Chicago convention, left ``absolutely no doubt in Saddam Hussein’s mind that there would be serious, grave consequences″ if Iraqi forces continued to pose a hostile threat to the Kurds.

``There was absolutely no ambiguity,″ McCurry said. ``Saddam Hussein was on notice that this was not an action he could take without paying a price.″

McCurry said that election-year politics played no part in Clinton’s decision. He said the president’s pollsters had not asked any questions about Iraq over the last week.

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