Top Iraqi leader vows to open fire on U-2s
November 8, 1997
Web posted at: 7:53 p.m. EST (0053 GMT)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A top Iraqi official says his country will not hesitate to shoot down American U-2 reconnaissance planes if they fly over Iraqi airspace.
Flights of those U.S.-piloted planes, conducting surveillance missions for the United Nations, are expected to resume Monday.
In an interview Saturday with CNN's Brent Sadler, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq had been notified by U.N officials in Iraq that there will be a nine-day window when U-2 flights could be operating over Iraqi territory.
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Aziz called that wide window of time "unacceptable," and he said Iraqi air defenses are now in a state of readiness and "would" open fire if the flights start.
A senior U.S. military official has previously said such an attack would be viewed as "an act of war."
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The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft.
Because of its high altitude mission, the pilot must wear a full pressure suit.
The U-2 is capable of collecting multi-sensor photo, electro-optic, infrared and
radar imagery, as well as performing other types of reconnaissance functions.
(Source: U.S. Air Force)
On Saturday, President Clinton and his top military, diplomatic and intelligence advisers held a two-hour meeting at the White House to review their options -- discussions characterized by administration officials as "sober."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking to CNN during a trip to a summit of Latin American leaders in Venezuela, said the possibility of avoiding a military confrontation is "really in the hands of the Iraqis."
"I think we have offered (Iraq) a ladder," Annan said. "If they seize the moment and use the ladder, I don't think we'll need to talk about (confrontation). So let's wait and see what happens on Monday ... One never knows."
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss the dispute between Iraq and the United Nations over weapons inspections.
The current standoff between Iraq and the United Nations began October 29 when Iraq announced that it would bar Americans from U.N. inspection teams, which have been in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War looking for evidence of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons or missiles.
Aziz: U-2 flights gather information for strikes
Aziz told CNN that Iraq believes that the U-2 flights are being used to gather intelligence information and select targets for a possible military strikes, a charge denied by the United States and United Nations.
The Iraqi deputy prime minister left Baghdad early Sunday for New York City, where he will address the Security Council on Monday. He said he plans to voice Iraq's concerns over the "balance" of the weapons inspection teams.
Iraqi officials have complained that there are too many Americans on those teams. On Saturday, Iraq barred two U.N. inspection teams with American members, the sixth consecutive day Baghdad has blocked weapons inspection teams with U.S. members.
Iraq also wants the United Nations to put pilots from countries other than the United States in the cockpits of reconnaissance flights over the country, which are also part of the U.N. weapons monitoring program. The Iraqis have suggested putting German or Russian pilots in those planes.
In his interview with CNN, Aziz reiterated that Iraq would go ahead with its threat to expel American inspectors from Iraq all together if the Security Council didn't respond to its grievances in a positive way.
"Nothing could be more dangerous for us than the current situation. We are in a dark tunnel," Aziz said. "There is no end in sight. We will not retreat from our position, unless the world listens to what we have to say and makes changes to the way these arms inspections are continued."
At the White House, U.S. officials said it would be up to the United Nations to decide if the makeup of the inspection teams should be changed. But in Monday's Security Council session, the United States will continue to insist that Iraq allow inspection teams already in the country to continue their work.
Iraq denies tampering with cameras
U.N. officials have claimed that Iraq has tampered with surveillance equipment installed in Iraqi facilities that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Iraqi officials reject those claims. On Saturday, they took CNN to a monitored facility in Baghdad, where they displayed a camera they said went black because of an electrical fault, not due to sabotage.
Mohammed Sudad, an official in the Iraqi agency involved in the monitoring process, said the charges of tampering were being made "to accuse Iraq and to provide justification for the Americans to make their military aggression against us."
On Saturday, Iraq's Babil newspaper, which is published by Odai Hussein, the eldest son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, accused the United States of "terrorism" for media criticism of mediation attempts by Secretary General Annan.
"U.S. terrorism has become, in reality, terrorism against the Security Council," the paper said in an editorial.
Also on Saturday, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad as part of week-long protests against the United States and the inspection teams.
"Down, down America," chanted the estimated 3,000 protesters who had gathered in the center of the city to show their support for Saddam.
"We see victory in the eyes of our president leader, Saddam Hussein," said a member of Saddam's ruling council at the rally.
And a 19-year-old student said he took part in the rally "to denounce the American aggression against Iraq and the American domination of ...the United Nations."
CNN Correspondents Brent Sadler and John King contributed to this report.