- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Iraq was warned yesterday not to rebuild portions of a fiber-optic communications network bombed by U.S. and allied warplanes on Sunday.

Leaflets dropped by the U.S. military warned Iraqis they risk death if they try to repair the high-technology system that is used to target patrolling warplanes, defense official said.

A total of 240,000 leaflets were dropped over communications facilities in southern Iraq yesterday. One of the leaflets produced by the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, stated that any attempt to repair the underground fiber-optic cable "places your life at risk."

The fiber-optic communication system was detected last year as it was being installed with the help of Chinese companies in violation of a United Nations embargo on military goods.

Since then, the network has been bombed repeatedly by U.S. and British warplanes.

The latest bombing of the fiber-optic network was carried out Sunday, the Central Command said in a statement.

The Sunday raids came in response to "hostile acts" from Iraq against aircraft patrolling the northern air exclusion zone. The bombing involved precision guided bomb attacks against air defense facilities near Tallil and Al Basrah, a CENTCOM statement said.

A spokesman for the Central Command said in a telephone interview from command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., that 240,000 leaflets were dropped by aircraft near the towns of Al Kut and An Nasiriyah, about 125 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"The purpose is to discourage them from rebuilding the network," said Lt. Cmdr. Fran Zoni, the spokesman.

Cmdr. Zoni said there was no indication that the Iraqis had begun repair work on the cable. The leaflets were sent as a "preventative measure."

"Fiber optics give you a higher speed connection so more information can be sent," he said. "They are part of the command-and-control structure around the country."

It was not the first time the leaflets was dropped an indication that the Iraqis tried previously to repair the cable.

The Iraqis use the high-speed communications links to "queue" information used in targeting and firing anti-aircraft missiles, he said.

One leaflet showed a cartoon of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein holding a map of Iraq in his hand. Underneath the graphic, the leaflet stated: "Military fiber optic cables are tools used by Saddam and his regime to oppress the Iraqi people."

On the front, the leaflet stated: "Military fiber optic cables have been targeted for destruction. Repairing them places your life at risk."

A second leaflet warned: "For your safety: Stop repairing military fiber optic cable. You are risking your life."

The command statement said that the communications facilities use the fiber-optic cable to "aid in tracking and engaging coalition aircraft."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters in September that the Iraqis have been "putting in fiber optic, and they have been doing a whole series of things developing queuing techniques."

Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not know whether China's state-run companies were continuing to assist the Iraqi fiber-optic communications network. He noted, however that the Chinese firms "sure did for a long time."

It was the sixth time that forces from Operation Southern Watch, as the military calls the southern air patrol operations, had dropped leaflets.


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