On Point

Iraq: The Fighting Never Stopped

by Austin Bay
January 15, 2003

"When's the war with Iraq going to start?" he asked.

"When do we attack?" she asked.

"No war," the septuagenarian bloke intoned. "If I were in San Francisco, I'd be marching for peace."

These are what I call "the church questions," the queries and commandments delivered over the shoulder in the pew or dropped in quiet conversation after Sunday School.

No, these questions and statements aren't limited to pew and pulpit, but in that venue they seem more thoughtful and reflective than political yammer at a yard party, more genuine than a hurried inquiry after the press conference, and certainly more sincere and deeply held than the stage combat Q&A on those Godforsaken cable TV talk shows.

Real answers begin with facts, and the biggest fact is the war with Iraq began August 2, 1990, the day Saddam's Republican Guard invaded Kuwait.

And the fighting never stopped.

Combat paused, though briefly. The U.S.-led coalition ended Operation Desert Storm in early March 1991, after meeting both the spirit and letter of the UN Security Council resolutions mandating the liberation of Kuwait.

Subsequent UN resolutions set behavioral criteria for Saddam Hussein's regime -- criteria that Saddam and his clique respected only when enforced with high explosive.

After Desert Storm, the war inside Iraq continued, as Saddam's troops savaged rebelling Shia Arab villages in southern Iraq. Washington hoped for Saddam's fall, but with Khomeini's militant Iran next door, no one in the Middle East wanted Iraq to fragment. So U.S. forces didn't move, and continued to respect the spirit and letter of UN resolutions that did not permit Saddam's removal as long as he gave up his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and posed no offensive threat to neighboring nations.

But threats continued. 1993: The Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at Baghdad after receiving information that an Iraqi hit team was out to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush.

September 1994: Two Iraqi divisions approached Kuwait, and the United States responded with troops. A true "slow war" began -- a kind of cold war, but with constant shooting in the north and south No Fly Zones (NFZ) of Iraq.

In those NFZs (implemented to protect Kurds and Shias struggling against the constant war of Baghdad's tyranny), "fast war" was daily duty. Talk to pilots, as I have, who've flown the missions. NFZ missions are combat missions. It's a testament to training and technology that the United States and Britain have as yet lost no manned aircraft to Iraqi fire.

August 1996: Saddam attacked a CIA-backed Iraqi dissident base in northern Iraq. There was no U.S. military reprisal. This is the point where what was left of the Gulf War political coalition withered. Subsequent air "enforcement attacks" by the Clinton administration were not sustained with the kind of focused politics it takes to lead an effective coalition.

Saddam began to win the "slow war." He succeeded in kicking out UN inspectors. Baghdad's nuclear acquisition clock, already ticking, began to tick faster.

September 2001: 9-11 illustrated to all but the most willfully blind and fundamentally anti-American what the ultimate penalty will be when terrorists acquire WMD.

"When do we attack?" she asked.

Late last summer, the USAF and RAF struck the Iraqi H-3 airbase complex in western Iraq, destroying its command facility. Saddam knows that air attack signaled a resurrected Storm.

Since 9-11, the United States has fought the slow, political war with finesse and has substantially rebuilt the Gulf War coalition. The United States is still playing for the ultimate outcome, a coup d'etat that begins the process of dismantling Iraqi tyranny.

Hence Bush administration pressure stratagems, like increased bombing, deploying military forces around Iraq while demonstrating the intent to use them and serious discussion with Saddam's Iraq opponents about governing Baghdad once Saddam's gone.

"War's wrong," the bloke intoned.

And losing a war to a terrorist tyrant is a far greater wrong.

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