- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

A decade of patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq has given coalition pilots intelligence and practical experience that could be helpful should the United States decide to go to war against Saddam Hussein.
U.S. and British pilots daily play a dangerous cat-and-mouse game as Iraq tries to shoot them down and they retaliate. The effort requires a commitment of crew, aircraft and $1 billion a year.
But the two operations in a northern zone and a southern zone have gone a substantial way toward checking any planned Iraqi aggression against neighboring countries and Iraqi dissidents, defense analysts say.
"They've been a cost-effective way of keeping [Saddam] in the box," the Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder said, adding that the zones also have curtailed training by Iraq's air force.
Together, the zones cover about two-thirds of Iraq.
"I think the zones are problematic," said the Cato Institute's Chuck Pena. He noted, as Saddam has long complained, that the zones seek to hamper his activities in large pieces of his own sovereign territory.
"But they obviously, in combination with sanctions and other actions, have pretty much kept Saddam Hussein at bay," said Mr. Pena.
Kurds in the north and Shi'ite Muslims in the south tried to revolt against Saddam at the end of the Persian Gulf war but were brutally put down.
So a humanitarian zone was set up in the north from 1992 through 1996, followed by the no-fly zone there in 1997 to protect the Kurds. The much larger southern zone was set up in late August 1992 to protect the Shi'ites.
Patrols for the northern zone fly from Turkey. Those in the south have flown from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.
In a challenge to the coalition, Saddam last year redirected commercial passenger flights into the zones. His forces also have been trying to shoot down coalition planes since 1998.
Coalition aircraft only retaliate a fraction of the time. But so far this year they have bombed Iraqi air-defense facilities eight times in the north and 19 times in the south.
Pentagon officials say Iraq's chances of hitting an aircraft are slim.
The Iraqis are so afraid of U.S. anti-radar missiles that they usually fire their missiles without turning on their short-range targeting radar, giving them little chance of hitting a plane, officials say.
No American or British planes have been shot down, but it's a constant worry.
"Ultimately, if you fly enough missions into harm's way, statistically, at least you are likely to suffer a loss at some point," the Cato Institute's Mr. Pena said.
He said the decadelong effort has benefited coalition forces in some ways: "It's good for observing troop movements and things like that."
Nearly 300,000 flights have been flown in the zones, including about 265,000 in the south since 1992 and 33,000 in the north since 1997. A number of flights make up each mission because the patrol planes are accompanied by others that provide radar, aerial refueling and so on.
Having the ability to overfly the northern zone, where Kurds have autonomy, also has allowed teams of intelligence, diplomatic and military officials to move in and out to conduct their business with Saddam's enemies.
"And it has given our aircraft a whole lot of operational experience over hostile territories" in the two zones, making crews "much better prepared to go fight a war against Iraq than if they had not been in the zones," Mr. Pena said.

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