I’d like to say this was a standard new President making a mark thing but, unfortunately, I do think it’s slightly more complicated that that. From what I understand this is the position at the moment:
· We collectively flew around 7,000 missions over the zone last year and there was more Iraqi ‘counter-measures’ activity in January this year than in the whole of year 2000
· Saddam has recently developed a few new tactics to lure aircraft into traps including setting something up worthy of our interest and then using the novel idea of firing missiles before switching on the guidance system thus giving the pilots even less time to take avoidance action
· Bush has been under pressure from the UK to do something as the role of the no-fly zone has lost it’s original purpose and is waiting for the Marsh Arabs / Shiites / Kurds to form some kind of coherent opposition that can be protected. The policy is drifting and no one is happy with risking lives for no clear objective, the Brits are even less happy probably because the changeover in Washington naturally put the issue on hold within the Administration.
· The fact that Saddam chose January to up the ante ain’t no coincidence. Jan 20th was also an important day for the world ’s crackpots – wouldn’t be right if you didn’t test the new guys mettle.
· Despite his unfortunate stuttering public address style, Bush is determined to restrict Saddam and to send a clear message that the US remains stalwart.
So, in part – but only in part - the purpose of the raids was to take some of the growing pressure off the operational air-crews and, by so doing, making the ill defined current role of the zone more palatable for London. But the main issue remains unresolved.
Of course, the policy – originally designed (do we also mention close level surveillance ?) to prevent Saddam’s Air Force pounding the opposition - is a little tricky to justify when our NATO ally Turkey does the exact same thing to the Kurds in Turkey. And bombing Iraq only strengthens Saddam within the country.
But, hey, such is the nature of international relations.