IRAQI AIR DEFENSE missile challenges to U.S. planes over the no-fly zone in northern Iraq were no surprise. Such clashes have happened occasionally since the no-fly zones were established in 1991 to prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq or Shiite Muslim Arabs in southern Iraq.
The U.S. retaliation, a rocket attack on the missile battery, is also part of the drill.
The U.S.-British bombing raid to degrade Iraq's military capability in mid-December brought no expectation of closure. For Iraq's dictator, the long-range goal is to end United Nations' involvement with his country, including economic sanctions, control of oil exports and limitations on his nation's weapons development and military movement.
He is focused and steadfast where his opponents might hope to solve a problem and move on. He will miss no opportunity to test resolve, to drive wedges between the United States and such countries as France and Russia, or to turn defeat into a claim of victory.
The United States and Britain say they intend to continue enforcing the no-fly zones, which prevent his military from striking at restless populations.
France took part in the aerial patrols until the bombing, which it did not support. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait allow their bases to be used by U.S. and British planes for aerial patrols. Keeping borders peaceful is in their interest.
The challenge to U.S. diplomacy is to keep other U.N. Security Council members, especially France and Russia, committed to sanctions until Iraq is seen to be free of weapons of mass destruction.
What nobody should expect is a quick solution to the problem that Saddam Hussein poses for the world. Though the Clinton administration says that it wants Saddam Hussein's regime to be replaced, no action that the United States is prepared to take is likely to bring this about.
Whether Saddam Hussein's motive in shooting at U.S. and British planes was to impress his own forces after the minimal air defense during the mid-December bombing, or to drive wedges between foreign powers, he was at least showing that he is still there. Such incidents are likely to recur.
Pub Date: 12/30/98