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U.S. used cluster bombs in assault against Iraq
Weapons used in February attack 'will kill for years to come'
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
U.S. warplanes fired 28 cluster bombs--each equipped with 145 anti-armor and anti-personnel incendiary bomblets--as part of Washington's February 16 assault against Iraq. Dropped on the outskirts of Baghdad, the country's capital city, most of the bombs missed their target, despite the Pentagon's earlier claims of pinpoint hits by the satellite-guided weapons.
These facts have only come to light in the on-line edition of the Washington Post, in a February 26 article by William Arkin, a former Army intelligence analyst and consultant. The print edition of the paper did not carry the article, and the use of cluster bombs has been covered up in the big-business media.
The Bush administration also dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Mideast, with the purpose of explaining to regimes in the region U.S. government decisions to adjust the sanctions against Iraq--modifications made with the goal of more effectively sealing the borders and controlling the flow of goods and people in and out of the country.
Arkin explains the cluster bombs are antipersonnel weapons and have "no real aimpoint." As with cluster bombs used by Washington in its assault against the Iraqi people a decade ago, those dropped February 16 will "kill and wound innocent civilians for years to come," he writes.
Washington's choice of cluster bombs highlights the character of the 10-year aggression as a brutal assault on the people of Iraq. From the sanctions imposed in 1990, to the six-week bombardment and invasion, to the massacre of workers and farmers retreating from Kuwait on the road to Basra, to the burial in trenches of surrendering Iraqi troops, U.S. imperialism has sought to break the Iraqi people and strip them of their national sovereignty.
Arkin explains that the weapon used in the bombing, "still unnoticed by the American media, is likely to prove controversial." The bomb is called the Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW) and "was first used in combat in Iraq on January 25, 1999, when Marine Corps F-18 Hornets fired three weapons at an air defense site," he reports. The 1,000-pound, 14-foot-long weapon--each costing at least $250,000--disperses the bomblets over an area that is approximately 100 feet long and 200 feet wide. Twenty-eight of these JSOWs were fired by U.S. warplanes in the February 16 attack, along with guided missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Pentagon now admits that 26 of the 28 JSOWs missed their "aimpoint."
These bombs, which Pentagon spokes-people describe as "precision-guided weapons," can be launched from a range of 40 nautical miles and at altitudes of 20,000 feet. They then spray the bomblets from 400 feet above the ground. Six bombs fall in every 1,000 square feet.
The Post article further states, "The JSOW uses a gasbag to propel the sub-munitions outward from the sides. Once ejected, the bomblets, each the size of a soda can, simply fall freely at the mercy of local winds. A few almost always land outside of the center point of the football field size main concentration. On average 5 percent do not detonate. These unexploded bomblets then become highly volatile on the ground."
Kills for years to come
Washington used a similar type of cluster bomb during its assault on Iraq during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Iraqi civilians continue to be killed and seriously injured by these unexploded bomblets that detonate upon contact. A February 20 Agence France Press (AFP) report described the wounding of a shepherd near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq by one of these bomblets. Five days earlier, Reuters reported that two boys in western Iraq, also tending sheep, were injured when another cluster bomblet exploded. AFP also reported February 9 that a child was killed and six others were wounded by similar submunitions near Basra.
"Recently, U.S. Air Force engineers in Kuwait found an entire unexploded CBU-87 [cluster bomb] at an airbase that had been attacked during the Gulf War," Arkin writes. "The weapon had apparently malfunctioned and ripped open upon impact, burying bomblets up to six feet deep in the vicinity. To destroy them in place, a series of 10-foot high barriers had to be built inside a 700-foot wide safety cordon."
After initially presenting a glowing assessment of its February 16 bombardment of Iraq, Pentagon officials admitted several days later that most of the bombs dropped by the U.S. warplanes missed their target by an average of more than 100 yards. The Pentagon claimed they were aiming at 25 components of Iraqi radar stations, but confirm damage to only eight of these targets.
"Although the mission was to 'degrade' rather than destroy Iraqi air defense, all it degraded was our air force technology's reputation for accuracy," complained New York Times columnist William Safire in a February 26 op-ed piece.
U.S. warplanes continue to bomb sites in Iraq. Six days after the bombing near Baghdad, U.S. missiles were launched against targets in the northern "no-fly" zone.
U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell insisted in a February 12 CNN interview that Washington's decade-long policy of economic sanctions and ongoing military attacks by U.S. warplanes patrolling "no-fly" zones over Iraqi air space is really a humanitarian one. "What we have to do is make sure we continue to tell the world that we are not after the Iraqi people," he cynically stated.
Powell conducted a six-nation tour of the Mideast February 24-27, with stops in Egypt, Israel, the occupied territories, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. He discussed with leaders of the Arab regimes proposals for revamping and reinvigorating Washington's sanctions policy against Iraq. A headline in the Financial Times read, "U.S. toughens line on Iraq oil sanctions violations."
A February 25 article in the New York Times pointed to recent fraying of the sanctions, noting that at least "a dozen countries have broken the air embargo by flying planes belonging to their national carriers into Baghdad, and three, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, have begun scheduled flights." Several days before Powell's visit to Egypt, Cairo and Baghdad authorities also signed an accord to boost transportation links.
Washington is seeking to undercut criticism of the devastating impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi people, at the same time as it moves to tighten its grip on oil and the country's other major imports and exports. The Washington Post reported Powell's view that new U.S. proposals "strengthen the core sanctions by raising the idea that countries that violate them will face real penalties."
"Right now the consequences have less currency because things are in, I must say, a state of disarray," said the secretary of state.
In exchange for agreement on these more effective sanctions, Washington says it would be willing to discuss revamping the list of products that the United Nations prohibits or restricts for sale to Iraq. Currently about 1,600 contracts worth an estimated $3 billion are on hold because of objections, many from the U.S. government.
Powell won support from several governments for the plan. Syrian president Bashir Assad agreed to place Iraqi funds generated from the sale of oil being sent through a recently reopened oil pipeline in Syria under UN control, denying Baghdad any benefit from the oil exports.
In Kuwait City Powell was joined by former president George Bush and Norman Schwartzkopf, the U.S. commander in the Gulf War, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, for official ceremonies marking the end of that brutal offensive 10 years ago.
In Cairo, Powell also spoke with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov. Moscow is concerned about recent statements by top Bush officials that represent a step-up in threats against Russia. In mid-February, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Russia was "part of the problem." Recently, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said Russia was "a threat for the west in general and our European allies in particular."
Meanwhile, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service issued a report at the end of February claiming that the Iraqi regime may have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons in the Mideast region within three years. The secret police agency also charged that Baghdad may be able to hit Europe with missiles within five years.
The Wall Street Journal reported February 26 that "Israeli weapons experts responded with some skepticism" to this report. "It has very much to do with American internal politics," stated Yiftah Shapir, a weapons expert at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. He instead argues that Iraq would need another decade to produce nuclear weapons.
U.S. war against Iraqi people