US-UK Air Might Knocks out Iraq’s Air Force-Air Defense Front Lines

The importance of the massive US-UK air raid over Western Iraq Friday night, September 6, cannot be exaggerated. Although the Bush administration is bidding hard for broad international support for the US offensive against Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, debkafile‘s military sources report that, since last month, a combined American-British air blitz has been proceeding to systematically knock out the first line of Iraq’s air force and air defenses.
This week, the limelight moves to New York, where President George W. Bush prepares to address the UN General Assembly Thursday, September 12, the day after ceremonies marking the anniversary of the terrorist atrocities that struck New York and Washington. He is expected to give Saddam Hussein the option of accepting UN arms inspectors unconditionally or facing action against him, as well as warning unsupportive governments that American will go ahead on its own. Sunday, September 8, British prime minister Tony Blair, on his return from seeing Bush at Camp David, declared “total determination” to deal with Iraq.
US and European diplomats in New York are working on a joint draft resolution to put before the General Assembly, calling for a coercive UN inspection force to go into Iraq escorted by an international military force and be given a deadline for establishing finally whether or not Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction. However, Iraqi spokesmen have already rejected UN arms inspections without the lifting of sanctions, while Arab League Secretary Amr Mussa, has declared the whole Arab world supports Iraq’s position. On Saturday, September 7, he said no Arab government would brook outside interference in Iraq, even by the world body.
The diplomatic flurry and the White House bid for support at home effectively post-date the start of the US offensive against Iraq, which took place three months ago – not with a bang but by cautious, prefatory steps. Unlike the softening-up air blitz against Afghanistan’s Taliban and al Qaeda last year, US forces have been quietly filtering into Iraq (as debkafile informed its readers). To date, American and allied Turkish special forces have gained control of some 15 percent of Iraqi soil – mostly in the north. They are poised at a point 10-15 miles from Iraq’s two northern oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, together with pro-American Kurdish and Turkman paramilitary groups, with no Iraqi force in the way of their advance, if ordered to occupy the two towns.
The massive US-UK air raid last Friday, September 6, by 100 fighter-bombers, reconnaissance and air tanker craft against the Iraqi air base cluster known as H-3 and the al Baghdadi air installation was Strike Number Two against the first line of Iraqi air and air defense command structures, the tactical prelude to any US offensive. It was also the first blow to systems for delivering Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Strike Number One was carried out on August 5, when American and British bombers and fighter craft demolished the Iraqi air command and control center at al-Nukhaib, in the desert between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, 260 miles southwest of Baghdad. This strike disposed of Iraq’s southern air defense line and left central Iraq including Baghdad vulnerable to US air, missile and ground attack from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Strike Number two last week completed the destruction of Iraq’s air defenses in the west, leaving the Saddam regime exposed to attack from the south, the southeast, the west and the north, as well as a US troop presence actually inside northern Iraq.
debkafile‘s military sources sum up American tactical gains in Iraq thus far:
A. Hitting the H-3, site of the bulk of the ground-ground-missile batteries and air defense installations threatening Israeli, Jordan and US Eastern Mediterranean forces, as well as al Baghdadi, cleared the way for US special forces to begin heading across the border into Iraq from the West. Nothing now stops them from reaching as far as Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s tribal stronghold northwest of Baghdad, where the Iraqi ruler is believed to be hiding underground with his family and top officials. There too he has concentrated the bulk of the loyal units of the Iraqi army.
The first mission for the US units crossing in from Jordan will be, according to debkafile‘s military sources, to capture the bombed air installations and prepare them quickly for the use of US air force units and for more US and Jordanian special forces landings.
H-3 is designated their jumping off base for the next stage of the campaign.
B. Since August 5, the way for an American advance into Iraq is also clear from the south.
Therefore, the general contours of the next US steps begin to take shape:
1. A combined US-Turkish force, backed by local groups, will complete the capture of northern Iraq and its oil cities.
2. The combined US-Jordanian force will advance on Baghdad and Tikrit.
3. The heavy military and armored units massed on the Kuwait-Iraq frontier will advance north in two heads – one forking off to the east and heading for Basra, while the other makes for the Shiite towns of Najef and Karbala on the Baghdad highway.
C. Our sources report that the air strike against H-3 and al Baghdadi destroyed some of Saddam’s ground-to-ground missiles, reducing the missile threat to Israel, Jordan and US East Mediterranean forces, though not eliminating it. Also destroyed were some of the Czech-manufactured LA-29 trainer planes sighted at al Baghdad in recent months, with aerosols fitted to their wings that are capable of spraying poison substances on the ground like anthrax. Some of the LA-29 have been adapted for kamikaze missions.
D. No less important politically, debkafile‘s military sources stress, is that some of the US assault craft took off from and returned to the Saudi Prince Sultan air base, 35 miles northeast of Riyadh, as well as from Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.
As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in its last issues, the Bush administration is resolved to brush aside the public objections of Saudi leaders to the use of the kingdom’s bases against Iraq. American generals do not propose to heed the public declarations of rulers of lands where US bases are located, but to use them according to American military exigencies.

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