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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

CRS Report

Iraq-U.S. Confrontation: 1997-1998

Alfred Prados and Kenneth Katzman
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Updated December 17, 1998





Early Events of the Crisis
.....Iraqi Provocations
..........The Autumn Challenges of 1997
..........Further Provocations
.....The February 23 Agreement
..........Further Developments

U.S. and International Reactions through mid-1998
.....Administration Reaction
.....Congressional Reaction
.....International Views
.....Basis for Using Force

Military Deployments and Options
.....Build-up in the Gulf October 1997-February 1998
.....Redeployments: May-June 1999
.....Further Tensions: Fall 1998
..........A New Build-Up
..........Planned Strikes, Cancellation, and Aftermath
..........Further International Reactions
.....December Strikes on Iraq
.....Plans and Alternatives
.....Other Options



Iraqi efforts to impede U.N. weapons inspections in 1997 have resulted in warnings and threats of further sanctions from the U.N. Security Council. Iraq responded in November by briefly expelling U.S. weapons inspectors (although they later returned) and in January 1998 by barring a U.S.-led inspection team from visiting an installation in Iraq. Both the U.S. Administration and the U.N. Security Council have warned Iraq of potentially serious consequences of its actions. The United States began to deploy additional forces to the Persian Gulf region.

In January 1998, the crisis intensified as Iraq again barred U.S. personnel from inspection teams and denied access by U.N. inspectors to an unspecified number of "presidential sites." After a month of intensive diplomatic efforts, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan signed an agreement on February 23 with Iraqi officials, providing for "immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted" access by U.N. inspectors throughout Iraq. Under the agreement, diplomats appointed by the U.N. Secretary General will be allowed to join U.N. weapons inspectors at eight designated "presidential sites." U.N. Security Council 1154 (March 3) warns Iraq of the "severest consequences" for violating the agreement Iraq observed the February agreement until August, when it began to challenge inspections again. A decision by Iraq to ban almost all U.N. inspections on October 31 precipitated a new phase of the confrontation between Iraq and the U.N. Security Council.

By late February, additional U.S. deployments had brought force levels to approximately 35,000 (in contrast to less than 20,000 before the crisis), including 2 aircraft carriers and approximately 275 combat aircraft. Brit ain also sent an aircraft carrier, and other western and European countries sent or promised small contingents. Within the Gulf region, only Kuwait and, according to some reports, Bahrain agreed to allow the United States to launch air strikes from their territory if the Administration had decided to use force. As the crisis receded, U.S. forces were gradually reduced to their earlier level of approximately 20,000, but a new build-up began as tensions mounted in October. On November 11, the U.S. Defense Department ordered approximately 4,000 more troops and 139 additional aircraft to the Gulf region. The Administration decided to abort air and missile strikes planned for November 14-15 after Iraq agreed at the last minute to resume cooperation with U.N. inspections. But, following a report on December 15 by the chief weapons inspector that Iraq was withholding cooperation, the United States began launching extensive missile strikes on Iraq the night of December 16-17.

Costs of the force build-up since October 1997 were estimated at $600 million as of February, and Congress appropriated $1.31 billion in supplemental funds to maintain expanded forces in the Gulf through out FYI 998, if necessary. Cost estimates for the November 1998 deployments are not yet available. In November, Members of Congress from both parties voiced support for military action to compel Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions.

Erosion of the former allied coalition and U. S. force constraints limit some military options, although allied support for allied military operations in late 1998 seems somewhat firmer than it was in February. Some - officials and analysts have called for expansion of no-fly zones over Iraq and covert operations to inflict damage on key Iraqi facilities and build a viable opposition to the regime.


On November 15, the U.S. Administration canceled planned air strikes against Iraq after the Iraqi Government agreed at the last minute to resume cooperation with UN. weapons inspections, however, Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned that US forces remained poised to attack Iraq without warning if it failed to honor its pledge to cooperate. On December 8, chief U N weapons inspector Richard Butler said Iraq was still impeding inspections, and December 15, Butler submitted a report concluding that Iraq was failing to cooperate in four out of five major areas of concern to the inspectors. On December 16 (early December 17 Baghdad time) the United States launched more than 200 cruise missiles from Navy warships against targets in Iraq. Officials would not say how long the attacks would continue, but media speculate they may last for several days. Secretary Cohen announced that has ordered a sharp increase in U S. ground and air forces in the Persian Gulf region to deal with the crisis.


This issue brief covers the confrontation with Iraq that began in late 1997, was temporarily resolved in early 1998, and emerged again late in the summer of that year. For information on the most recent phases of the crisis (since the summer of 1998), see the sections entitled "Further Tensions: Fall 1998" and "December Air Strikes" near the end of this issue brief

Since the cease-fire of March 3, 1991 that ended the Persian Gulf war (Operation Desert Storm), the United States has resorted on several occasions to the use or threat of force against Iraq. Some of these incidents resulted from Iraqi challenges to U.N. cease-fire terms that followed the war. Others resulted from bilateral issues between Iraq and the United States and its allies.

The most recent confrontation, which began in late 1997, was caused by Iraq's failure to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors. The inspection regime, established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 adopted on April 3, 1991, is designed to identify and dismantle Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare systems as well as missiles capable of delivering them. Two agencies are charged with conducting these inspections: the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), which deals with chemical, biological, and missile systems; and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which deals with Iraqi nuclear weapons programs. Since the inception of the inspection regime, Iraq has obstructed its work in various ways:

  • False, misleading, or incomplete responses to questions posed by inspectors
  • Interference by Iraqi escorts with the conduct of inspections
  • Denial of access to "sensitive" sites on grounds of national security
  • Removal of or tampering with material evidence of weapons programs
  • Attempts to exclude U.S. personnel from inspection teams

On seven occasions between 1991 and 1993, the U.N. Security Council found Iraq in "material breach of cease-fire terms"; however, the Council has not issued a finding of "material breach" since June 17, 1993, despite subsequent Iraqi provocations. According to news reports, some Council members are reluctant to agree to another such finding, which they think might provide the basis for an attack on Iraq.

Early Events of the Crisis

Iraqi Provocations

The Autumn Challenges of 1997. Between 1993 and 1996, U.N. inspectors were able to carry out their inspections of Iraqi weapons programs with relatively little interference by the Government of Iraq. Increasing attempts by Iraq in 1997 to impede U.N. weapons inspections prompted demands by the U.N. Security Council that Iraq cease its interference or face further sanctions. Iraqi officials complained that U.S. pressure on the Security Council and the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of dismantling Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was prolonging economic sanctions against Iraq. Divergent views among some Security Council members over responding to Iraqi provocations may have led Iraq to believe it could exploit divisions within the Council over implementing the sanctions. Some commentators also believe Iraq feared that U.N. inspectors were on the verge of uncovering chemical or biological weapons programs that the Iraqis had not previously acknowledged. Several crucial developments marked the early phases of the confrontation:

  • On October 23, the Security Council passed Resolution 1134, which demanded that Iraq cease interfering with inspections, and took preliminary steps to ban travel by Iraqi officials responsible for this interference.
  • On October 29, Iraq barred participation by U.S. personnel in UNSCOM inspections; demanded departure of all U.S. UNSCOM personnel within 7 days and termination of U.S. -piloted flights by U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.
  • On November 12, the Security Council passed Resolution 113 7, which demanded Iraqi compliance with previous resolutions, imposed a travel ban on Iraqi officials responsible for impeding inspections, and threatened unspecified "further measures."
  • On November 13, Iraq expelled U.S. inspectors, and chief UNSCOM inspector Richard Butler withdrew most of the other inspectors the following day. The Security Council issued a statement on November 13 demanding that Iraq revoke the expulsion of U.S. personnel.
  • On November 21, the inspectors including U.S. personnel returned to Iraq after a further diplomatic effort by Russia, which undertook to work for the speedy lifting of sanctions against Iraq and seek "balanced representation" on U.N. inspection teams. U. S. officials denied that they had agreed to any conditions in exchange for Iraqi compliance with U.N. demands.

Further Provocations. Iraqi officials continued to insist on their right to bar inspectors from an unspecified number of "presidential sites" on grounds of national sovereignty. U. S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said there were 63 such sites, and press has mentioned 78, including 47 "palaces." Further discussion began to focus on 8 presidential sites. U.N. officials, supported by the U.S. Government, took the position that all Iraqi territory must be open to the inspection regime. Iraqi officials continued to complain about the alleged predominance of U.S. and British personnel on inspection teams. On January 12, 1998, Iraqi officials declared three specific locations to be "sensitive sites" and off limits to U.N. inspectors seeking to visit them, although the Iraqis permitted access to them later in the day. On January 16, a U. S.-led team left Iraq after being barred for three days from conducting an inspection. Iraqi officials asserted that the team was unbalanced inasmuch as it consisted largely of Americans and British and that team leader Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine officer and veteran of numerous similar inspections, was engaged in spying on Iraq. U.N. and U. S. officials denied the accusations concerning Ritter and emphasized that Iraq cannot dictate the composition of U.N. inspection teams.

On January 14, the U.N. Security Council adopted a statement that deplored Iraq's decision to bar the inspection team as a clear violation of pertinent resolutions, along with Iraq's failure to provide "full, unconditional, and immediate access to all sites." Iraq responded with an announcement by President Saddam Hussein on January 17 that Iraq would expel all U.N. weapons inspectors if sanctions against Iraq were not removed within six months (apparently May 20, 1998-counting from a resolution by the Iraqi parliament on November 20, 1997). Also on January 17, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry criticized U.S. rejection of an offer by Russia to replace the U.S. U-2 reconnaissance aircraft with Russian planes. (The U-2 flights have continued despite an Iraqi threat to fire on them.) On January 18, the Iraqi Defense Ministry called on Iraqi citizens to register for military training beginning in February with the goal of creating a volunteer force of a million persons. Further talks between Chief U.N. Inspector Richard Butler and Iraqi authorities failed to resolve the impasse.

The February 23 Agreement

Intensive diplomatic efforts in early and mid-February centered on attempts to find a formula for inspecting eight "sensitive" sites under conditions that the United Nations and Iraq would accept. The United States insisted that two principles must govern any agreement on the conduct of inspections: full access by UNSCOM to sites throughout Iraq, and respect for the integrity of the U.N. Special Commission process. On February 17, the U.N. Security Council reportedly endorsed a plan that would give U.N. inspectors full access within Iraq, while allowing diplomats from U.N. Security Council member countries to accompany U.N. inspectors on visits to the eight "presidential" compounds. The presence of diplomats would serve as a face-saving gesture for Iraq by signifying international recognition of Iraq sovereignty. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan departed for Iraq on February 20 to present this plan to the Iraqi officials in a final effort to avert a military confrontation. Meanwhile, on February 18, a survey team commissioned by the United Nations finished mapping the eight "presidential" compounds to assist the negotiating parties in reaching an agreement.

On February 23, after three days of negotiations, Secretary General Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz signed an agreement with the following principal provisions:

  • Reconfirmation by Iraq that it accepts relevant U.N. resolutions
  • Commitment of U.N. member states to "respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq"
  • "Immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access" by UNSCOM and IAEA within Iraq, with respect for Iraqi concerns relating to "national security, sovereignty, and dignity"
  • Special procedures to apply to inspections at eight "presidential sites" defined in an annex to the agreement
  • Efforts to accelerate the inspection process, and an undertaking by the Secretary General to bring to U.N. Security Council members the concerns of Iraq over economic sanctions.

UNSCOM previously estimated that the eight sites comprise 1,500 buildings and cover 27 square miles, while the coordinator of the U.N. mapping team gave somewhat lower figures at news conference on February 25: 1,058 buildings and 12 square miles. The eight "presidential" sites apparently are separate from a larger number of so-called "sensitive" sites which, presumably, are open to regular inspections.

Under the special procedures governing inspections at the eight sites, the U.N. Secretary General established a "Special Group" comprising diplomats appointed by the Secretary General and experts drawn from UNSCOM and IAEA. Reports by the Special Group are to be submitted by the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM through the Secretary General to the Security Council. On February 26, Secretary General Annan appointed Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan diplomat with wide experience in arms control, as Commissioner of the Special Group. He also appointed an Indian diplomat, Ambassador Prakash Shah, as a special representative in Iraq to maintain contact with the Iraqi Government. On March 3, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1154, co-sponsored by Britain and Japan, which commends the initiative of the Secretary General in securing commitments from Iraq, stresses that Iraq must comply with its obligations, and warns that "any violation [of the agreement or other pertinent resolutions] would have severest consequences for Iraq."

Commentators cite several ambiguities in the agreement, particularly the role of the Special Group, its relationship to UNSCOM, and the precise meaning of the references to Iraq's concerns over "sovereignty, national security, and dignity." Those who oppose the agreement think the Special Group may usurp the role of UNSCOM and press for an overly lenient approach in conducting inspections of the eight presidential sites; moreover, they think Iraqis may try to use the formal recognition of their "sovereignty, national security, and dignity" to impose restrictions on the inspection teams. Those who favor the agreement say the establishment of the Special Group will not dilute the role of UNSCOM and describe the references to Iraqi concerns as "hortatory and inconsequential." They also note that for the first time since 199 1, Iraq has committed itself in writing to open access by U.N. inspection teams.

Further Developments. Members of the special group established under the February 23 agreement conducted inspections of the eight presidential sites between March 26 and April 3, 1998. According to press reports, the group found no evidence of prohibited weapons systems at the sites but the senior inspector was quoted as saying "It was clearly apparent that all sites had undergone extensive evacuation." The senior inspector also reportedly recounted statements by Iraqi officials that they viewed the February 23 agreement as being of limited duration, an interpretation at variance with the U.S. position. UNSCOM officials said Iraqi counterparts were generally cooperative during the inspections of presidential sites; however, on a few occasions, the Iraqis reportedly objected to attempts by inspectors to take pictures but agreed after UNSCOM personnel insisted on their prerogatives to do so.

In related developments, other inspections proceeded normally but questions remain about Iraq's weapons programs. In early March, a U.N. team headed by U. S. inspector Scott Ritter (whom the Iraqis had barred in January) inspected several other locations including two "sensitive" sites without any obstruction by the Iraqis; one of these sites was the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Moreover, on April 13, International Atomic Energy Agency reported that "Iraq has satisfactorily completed its undertaking to produce a consolidated version of its 'Full, Final and Complete Declaration' of its clandestine nuclear program." In his biannual report submitted in April, however, Chief UNSCOM Inspector Richard Butler reportedly said that his teams had made "virtually no progress" over the past six months in verifying that Iraq has destroyed other remaining weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological agents and missiles). Also, a technical evaluation team reported on April I that Iraq's disclosure statements on biological warfare programs were "incomplete and inadequate." On April 17, statements by Iraq's governing Revolutionary Command Council and ruling Ba'th Party called for complete lifting of economic sanctions and warned of a new crisis if sanctions continued however, Iraq's U.N. ambassador said the statement called for "movement" toward terminating sanctions and should not be viewed as a threat.

U.S. and International Reactions through mid-1998

Administration Reaction

President Clinton, in his state-of-the-union address on January 27, 1998, warned Saddam Hussein that "you cannot defy the will of the world" and that the United States is determined to deny Iraq the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction. On February 4, he said the United States is determined "one way or another" to stop Iraq from developing mass destruction weapons. On February 17, he told a Pentagon audience that the United States prefers diplomacy, but if Saddam rejects peace, 'the United States will use force to achieve two objectives: "to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program .... to seriously reduce his capacity to threaten his neighbors." Earlier, Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned on February 3 that if diplomacy fails, the United States will wage a "significant" military campaign against Iraq, "far more than what has been experienced in the past." Secretary Cohen warned on February 3 that if diplomacy fails, the United States will wage a "significant" military campaign against Iraq, "far more than what has been experienced in the past."

The Administration reacted to the February 23 agreement negotiated by the U.N. Secretary General with cautious approval. President Clinton described the agreement as a "step forward" and noted that Iraq had acknowledged its commitments under U.N. resolutions; however, he went on to say that "What really matters is Iraq's compliance, not its stated commitments." The President added that U.S. forces deployed to the Gulf will remain there until the United States is satisfied that Iraq is complying with its commitments. Secretary of State Albright described the agreement as "a useful one that needs clarification. The proof is in the testing." At a hearing before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on March 4, Secretary Albright described the agreement as a "step back by Iraq" and a "step forward for our policy of containing the threat posed by Saddam. Hussein." She pointed out that, should Iraq violate the agreement, there would be more international support for a forceful response. After the inspection of presidential sites in Iraq in late March and early April, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the real issue is not the presidential sites but positive compliance on Iraq's part in providing information to eliminate ambiguities concerning Iraq's weapons program. U.S. officials have described the latest Iraqi provocations in October 1998 as unacceptable (see below).

Congressional Reaction

On November 13, 1997, during the initial stages of the crisis, the House of Representatives passed H.Res. 322, which expressed that sense of the House that the United States should assure Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions; the resolution supported military action if diplomatic efforts were unsuccessful. Amid mounting support in Congress for a military response, especially among Republican Members, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called on February 4 for removal of Saddam Hussein and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said the United States must consider replacing Saddam's government with one that will accept U.N. inspections. On February 9, Senator Lott proposed several steps including U.S. support for a democratic opposition, a radio campaign against Saddam Hussein, and further restrictions on Iraqi aircraft and tank movements; Senator McCain suggested tightening economic sanctions against Iraq and using frozen Iraqi assets to support opposition groups. Meanwhile, on January 28, Senator Lott introduced a resolution (S.Con.Res. 71) with bipartisan support, urging the President to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons programs.

Some Members, however, have expressed concern that a resolution along the lines of S.Con.Res. 71 could provide the Administration with a "blank check" for military escalation. For example, Representative Roscoe Bartlett has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 226, which states the sense of Congress that the United States should not take military action against Iraq unless authorized by a law enacted after adoption of this resolution. Section 3002 of the House version of H.R. 3579, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, would ban offensive action against Iraq unless authorized by a law enacted after the passage of H.R. 3579. This provision was included in modified form as Section 17 in the enrolled bill signed by the President (P.L. 105-174, May 5, 1998); Section 17 states the sense of Congress that funds made available by this act should not be used for offensive operations against Iraq unless authorized by a subsequent law.

The February 23 agreement met criticism in Congress, particularly among some Republican Members. Senate Majority Leader Senator Trent Lott said the agreement "does not adequately address the threat posed by Saddam Hussein," described the negotiations as "contracting out U.S. foreign policy," and added that "It is not too late to reject a deal if it leaves Saddam. Hussein rejoicing." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jesse Helms expressed similar views as did some other Members. House Speaker Representative Newt Gingrich said he had no objection to the negotiations conducted by U.N. Secretary General Annan, but cautioned that an agreement reached by him has no bearing on the United States unless the United States decides to accept it. Some other Members from both parties expressed skepticism over Iraqi intentions but thought the agreement should be given a chance to succeed. Several Members have criticized statements imputed to the U.N. Secretary General that the United States would need further authority before taking military action against Iraq. The Secretary General has subsequently clarified his position (see below).

International Views

European and Arab allies agree that Iraq must honor U.N. Security Council resolutions, but most are opposed to using military force or would accept it only as a last resort. On February 7, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl offered the United States the use of bases in Germany if needed for an air campaign against Iraq, and Spain has reportedly made a similar offer. Russia, China, and India have strongly opposed using force against Iraq.

Middle East countries generally voice public opposition to military action against Iraq. A number of press reports, some quoting unnamed Arab leaders and diplomats, suggest that countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait might privately support U.S. military actions if they were designed to destroy Iraqi weapons production capabilities or undermine the regime of Saddam Hussein; they would not favor attacks that target Iraqi civilians or "pinprick" attacks that would irritate but not seriously affect the Iraqi regime. On February 3, at the conclusion of her mission to Middle East countries, Secretary of State Albright implied that the leaders she visited would accept military action as a last resort, she said she could report that "the U.S., Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Authority are of one mind on this crisis caused by Iraq's defiance of the Security Council." She added that "none of the Arab leaders, specifically, urged me to tell the President not to use force.".

Use of military facilities in the Gulf and other Middle East states by U. S. forces is problematical. During the crisis, only Kuwait, and according to some sources Bahrain, agreed to allow U.S. air strikes against Iraq from their territory, according to press reports, U.S. officials believe Qatar would also cooperate. (On February 17, Bahrain's Minister of Information said his country "has not allowed the use of its territories for any military action against Iraq," but some commentators speculate that this may not rule out military action in the future.) Oman has agreed to station U.S. support aircraft (five KC-10 tankers) on its territory. Saudi Arabia's Defense Minister said his country does not favor strikes against Iraq, and on February 9, Secretary Cohen said he would not seek permission to launch U.S. fighters or bombers from Saudi territory. Cohen did express hopes that Saudi authorities would allow U.S. non-combat aircraft (tankers, transports, radar jammers) to operate from Saudi Arabia. U.S. Defense officials left open two other possibilities: movement of U.S. combat aircraft based in Saudi Arabia to other Gulf states for employment in an air campaign against Iraq; or use of Saudi air space by U.S. combat aircraft based in other Gulf states. The King subsequently said he would not support military action that would affect the people of Iraq. Turkish officials say they will study any U.S. request to use bases in Turkey for air operations against Iraq, but have not received such a request so far. Turkey's Prime Minister has complained that the United States has failed to consult him sufficiently about the confrontation with Iraq.

World leaders widely welcomed the February 23 agreement negotiated by U.N. Secretary General Annan, although Germany and Japan expressed some skepticism about its durability. There were widespread expressions of relief in the Arab world, particularly from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Hussein, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat, and the Secretary General of the Arab League. In Kuwait, however, many people expressed disappointment that Saddam Hussein had gained a reprieve, and many Israelis expressed anxiety over a continued threat from Iraq. International reactions to Iraq's renewed challenges in August and October 1998 met condemnation in various parts of the international community, but no consensus has emerged on the use of force to compel Iraqi compliance, as noted below.

Basis for Using Force

If the February 23 agreement should collapse or Iraq should mount some new challenge, the Administration believes that it already has sufficient authority to use military force to compel Iraqi compliance. On February 3, Administration officials reportedly cited the joint resolution passed by Congress on the eve of the 1991 Gulf war (P. L. 102- 1) as the basis for this authority. Some Members of Congress, however, believe there should be further legislation before the use of force against Iraq, as noted above.

In the international context, the United States believes that two previous U.N. Security Council resolutions provide sufficient authority to use force against Iraq: Resolution 678 (November 29, 1990), which authorized military action after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and Resolution 687 (April 3, 1991), which made a cease-fire conditional on Iraqi compliance with various specified terms, including the inspection and dismantling of Iraq's lethal weapons programs. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1154 of March 2 (see above) does not specifically mention the use of force, but warns Iraq of "severest consequences" for violation. According to news reports, at least nine members of the Security Council including three permanent members (China, France, and Russia) believe this wording does not constitute an automatic trigger authorizing military force; apparently these countries, and some others, believe further U.N. action would be required before such a step. A senior U.S. State Department official, however, during a March 4 press conference expressed the view that automatic authorization already exists under Resolutions 678 and 687, if Iraq should violate terms of the agreement. Britain's Foreign Secretary expressed similar views as tensions mounted once more in the fall of 1998.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he thinks some sort of consultation with other members of the Security Council would be required on the part of the United States before taking future military action against Iraq. President Clinton and other U.S. officials have drawn a distinction between "authority," which they believe the United States already has, and "consultations," which the United States conducts on a regular basis. At a press conference with Secretary General Annan on March 11, President Clinton said "We believe that the resolution gives us the authority to take whatever actions are necessary. But, of course, we would consult. It would be unthinkable that we wouldn't do that. We do that [consultation] all the time anyway." Secretary General Annan said he agreed with what the President had said. Annan also warned Iraq that "... if this effort to ensure compliance through negotiation is obstructed by evasion or deception, as were previous efforts, diplomacy many not have a second chance."

Military Deployments and Options

Build-up in the Gulf: October 1997-February 1998

A U.S. force build-up in the Gulf region began in October 1997. For several months, the United States maintained two aircraft carriers in the Gulf In November 1997, during the early stages of the crisis, the United States sent six F- 117A stealth fighters to Kuwait, eight B-52 bombers to the Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia (British territory); and an Air Expeditionary Force consisting of 3 2 combat aircraft (12 F- 15 fighters, 18 F- 16 fighters, and 2 B-1 bombers) to Bahrain, accompanied by additional personnel to man a Patriot missile battery to protect the aircraft.

On February 4, as the crisis intensified, Secretary Cohen announced additional deployments to the Gulf region. According to subsequent press reports, these included the following: the 24' Marine Expeditionary Unit (approximately 2,000-2,200 personnel) to the Gulf, 6 more F-117A stealth fighters to Kuwait, 6 more B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia; 6 more F-16s and one more BI bomber to Bahrain; and additional U. S. Army troops to join 1,500 already in Kuwait. According to a subsequent order on February 16, the Army troops include approximately 5,000-6,000, comprising mechanized infantry units to complete a brigade, a 24- helicopter aviation unit, and communications personnel. These deployments brought U.S. force levels to more than 35,000 personnel, including 18,200 on ships, approximately 40 combat and support ships, including 2 aircraft carriers; and approximately 275 combat aircraft, including over 100 Navy fighters on aircraft carriers. This approximate force level was maintained from March through May. (According to a Defense Department spokesman on May 26, 1998, at one point during the crisis U.S. forces in the Gulf region peaked at 44,000. This strength figure probably was reached during a brief period in February when there were three aircraft carriers in the Gulf)

Meanwhile, Britain moved an aircraft carrier, the Invincible, with 19 Harrier jets to the Gulf, as well as 6 more Harriers and 8 Tornado fighters (12 Tornados are already in the region). At least ten other countries offered small contingents. A senior State Department official told reporters on March 4 that some 20 nations were ready to participate in a military coalition against Iraq, but did not name them; on March 17, Secretary of Defense Cohen said a total of 25 nations were ready "to be with the United States should military action become necessary.")

Redeployments: May-June 1998

During May, as the crisis continued to recede, Administration officials became increasingly concerned that the large-scale U.S. military presence in the Gulf was affecting U.S. force readiness and creating domestic problems for U.S. allies. On May 26, President Clinton ordered a reduction of U. S. forces, beginning with the return of one of the two aircraft carriers to the Pacific. Several other units were subsequently withdrawn: the Air Expeditionary Force in Bahrain (approximately 40 combat aircraft) in early June; "Stealth" fighters in Kuwait, a brigade and other ground force units in Kuwait, and some of the 14 B-52 bombers and support aircraft in Diego Garcia.

Defense officials said one aircraft carrier would remain in the Gulf for the foreseeable future, together with another one nearby in the Mediterranean. Also, they said the United States would maintain a task force of approximately 1,200 ground force personnel in Kuwait almost constantly to conduct training with Kuwaiti forces on equipment prepositioned in Kuwait, along with a multiple launch rocket system battery and additional helicopters. In addition, according to Defense officials, the United States will leave in the Gulf "a very powerful force of cruise missiles" that can be reinforced rapidly. Besides these forces, other contingents will remain in the Gulf to continue enforcing overflights of southern Iraq (Operation Southern Watch), maintaining maritime interception operations, and conducting training activities with Gulf allies. After the preceding withdrawals, according to Defense officials, U.S. forces in the Gulf returned to an average of approximately 20, 000 personnel, varying perhaps as much as 2,000 above or below that level. Allied countries also reduced or ended their Gulf deployments.

Further Tensions: Fall 1998

A New Build-Up. After a lull of several months, tensions mounted in August 1998, as Iraq began to challenge U.N. operations once more. On August 5, Iraq announced that it would no longer allow UNSCOM to inspect new facilities, and followed with a ban on all remaining UNSCOM activities on October 3 1. U.S. officials described Iraq's actions as unacceptable, as did some other members of the Security Council passed Resolution 1205, which demanded that Iraq rescind its bans on U.N. weapons inspection activities and resume full cooperation with UNSCOM. The resolution did not specifically mentioned use of force; however, U.S. officials emphasized again that all options are open including military force to compel Iraqi compliance. On November 11, the United Nations evacuated more than 230 staff personnel from Baghdad, including all weapons inspectors, as the United States warned of possible retaliatory strikes against Iraq. (See below. Also, for further information on the inspection bans and U.N. deliberations, see CRS Issue Brief 92117, Iraqi Compliance with Cease-Fire Agreements, by Kenneth Katzman, updated regularly.)

As the crisis worsened, U.S. force levels in the Gulf have begun to climb. In October, Secretary Cohen noted that U.S. forces in the Gulf region could be expanded to 37,00040,000 within 96 hours. He also noted that the United States has twice the number of cruise missiles that were on hand a year ago in the Gulf region. (Press estimates range from 2503 00 cruise missiles.) On November 10, a Defense Department spokesman noted there were 23,500 U.S. military personnel in the Gulf, along with 23 ships and 173 aircraft.

On November 11, Secretary Cohen signed an order to deploy the following additional forces, which are expected to arrive in the Gulf region with two weeks:

  • 139 aircraft, including 98 combat aircraft (F-15, F-16 fighters; F-117A Stealth fighters-, B I, B52 bombers; Marine F/A-18 fighters) and 41 support aircraft
  • Additional Patriot missile units and personnel
  • Approximately 4,000 Army troops, including a light infantry battalion and approximately 3,000 other Army personnel

Forty-two of the combat aircraft (12 F-15s, 24F-16s, 6 B-1 bombers) belong to an air expeditionary force that reportedly were to be deployed to one of the Gulf countries. The radar-evading F-117A Stealth fighters were believed to be headed for Kuwait, while the B-52 bombers were reportedly being sent to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

Planned Strikes, Cancellation, and Aftermath. As U.S. forces were on the verge of conducting air and missile strikes against Iraq on November 14, the Administration delayed them for 24 hours upon learning that Iraq had agreed to resume cooperation with UNSCOM. A letter to the U.N. Security Council from Iraq was rejected by the United States and Britain, however, because it contained an annex in which Iraq tried to impose conditions on its cooperation. On the following day, the Security Council received a follow-on letter from the Government of Iraq confirming its offer of unconditional cooperation and rescinding its ban on UNSCOM activities. The Administration then canceled the planned strikes; however, President warned that Iraq must fulfill its obligations.

On November 16, after cancellation of the planned strikes, Secretary Cohen said more than 50 of the. combat aircraft en route to the Gulf (including 12 F- I 17A Stealth fighters) will probably return to the United States from intermediate stops in Europe but will remain on alert. Similarly, more than 3,000 additional Army troops scheduled to deploy to the Gulf will remain at home bases in the United States until further notice. Bombers, however, including 7 B-52s at Diego Garcia and 4 B-Is in Oman, will remain in or near the Gulf region. Secretary Cohen went on to say that U.S. forces are posed to strike Iraq without warning if it fails to honor its most recent pledge to cooperate with UNSCOM. On November 17, a Defense Department spokesman said the Administration still plans to bring the aircraft carrier Eisenhower home after the scheduled arrival of the Enterprise.

Further International Reactions. As in February, support among Gulf and other Middle East allies for U.S. military action against Iraq is problematical, but seemed somewhat stronger as of mid-November than it was in February. A tour of Gulf states in early November by Secretary Cohen has not yet elicited public support by Gulf leaders for the use of force during the present crisis. According to a Saudi official on November 5, King Fahd told Cohen that Saudi Arabia does not approve of the use of its territory as a springboard for attacks against Iraq. Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan was quoted on November 15 as saying that Saudi Arabia will not allow the use of its territory and military bases to hit Iraq. Egypt's Foreign Minister has said the Arab world is not ready for a replay of the 1991 allied military campaign against Iraq, and a Jordanian official expressed hopes that escalation could be avoided.

Nevertheless, on his departure from Saudi Arabia, Secretary Cohen said he is "confident the U.S. will have the support it needs to take appropriate action" and the press has speculated that at least Kuwait will publicly support military strikes if needed. There are also unconfirmed reports that Gulf leaders have told U.S. and British officials that they would avoid public condemnation of allied strikes against Iraq. At a meeting on November 5, representatives of the Damascus Declaration countries (a loose alliance of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the five smaller Gulf countries) called on Iraq to resume cooperation with UNSCOM and warned that "the Iraqi government will be solely responsible for all repercussions resulting from its decision to block UNSCOM from carrying out its inspections transparently."

Outside the Middle East, Russia and France, who had been relatively sympathetic to Iraq during the February crisis, condemned Iraq's defiance of U.N. resolutions but did not call for use of force. Russia continues to oppose military action, however, and China has called for diplomacy as well. Only Britain expressed the view that existing U.N. resolutions provide the necessary legal basis for military force against Iraq, and voiced willingness to join in military action if necessary. Among western European countries, Germany seems the least inclined to support military options. European and Arab countries generally expressed relief that Iraq's last-minute decision on November 14 to resume cooperation with UNSCOM averted U.S. and British strikes.

December Strikes on Iraq

Despite its pledges on November 14-15, Iraq began to impede the work of U.N. weapons inspectors, according to statements by UNSCOM Chief Butler on December 8. On December 15, Butler submitted a report in which he concluded that Iraq had failed to cooperate in four out of five major categories of activity. Butler reportedly stated that Iraq blocked UNSCOM from inspecting suspect sites, restricted UNSCOM's ability to obtain necessary evidence, and refused to turn over requested documentation. Following this report, President Clinton directed U.S. forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. He described the mission as "to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors." Attacks began on December 16 at 5:06 p.m. EST (December 17 at 1:06 a.m. Baghdad time), as U.S. forces launched over 200 cruise missiles (officials declined to give an exact number) at Baghdad and other targets in Iraq, from the aircraft carrier US. S. Enterprise and other Navy ships in the region; according to some media reports, B-52 bombers (currently 15) based in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia took part as well. British forces also joined in the attacks. No damage assessments were available. U.S. officials declined to specify targets or likely duration of the attack. With regard to targets, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton said targets range from "everything from security to manufacture to delivery" of weapons. With regard to duration, both President Clinton and Secretary Cohen expressed understanding of the sensitivity of conducting attacks into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on the evening of December 18 or 19 (depending on sighting of the new moon) but did not rule out continuing the attacks beyond those dates.

Secretary Cohen also announced "a sharp increase in our forces in the Gulf " As of December 15, U.S. forces in the region consisted of 24,100 personnel, 22 Navy ships (8 carrying Tomahawk missiles), and 201 combat and support aircraft. Secretary Cohen and General Shelton said the United States would deploy a "crisis response force" consisting of nearly 60 additional Air Force and Marine jet fighters (including 10 F- I 17A radar-evading stealth fighters), additional Patriot missiles, elements of an Army brigade (some 2,700 troops), and a second aircraft carrier, the US. S. Carl Vinson with up to 60 Navy jet fighters, to the Gulf region.

Several European countries including Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Spain supported the strike, as did Japan, Australia, and Canada. France and China have been critical of the U.S./British strikes so far, and Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov called them outrageous. Arab reaction has largely been concerned or critical. The 55-member Islamic Conference Organization appealed for a halt to the attacks on Iraq, and the 22-member Arab League is considering a meeting on December 19 or 20 to discuss the crisis.

Some Republican Members of Congress have questioned the timing of the Administration's decision to launch the strikes and whether or not it was related to the now-postponed House vote on impeachment of the President. The President denied that this issue was related to his decision to launch air strikes. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he could not support the current military action because of the timing and the policy, but said he could support a future military option with well defined objectives including the removal of Saddam Hussein. According to media, resolutions supporting the U. S. military operation will be discussed in Congress on December 17.


The build-up of U.S. forces in the Gulf region during late 1997 and early 1998 resulted in a significant increase in costs of military deployments in the Persian Gulf region. According to Defense Department sources, the United States spent just under $600 million on Operation Southern Watch and related activities in FYI 997. The beginning of FYI 998 coincided with accelerated force deployments resulting from the Iraq crisis, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense told reporters on February 25 that the Defense Department has already spent about $600 million so far on the additional force deployments during the current fiscal year. On March 3, the Administration asked Congress for a supplemental appropriation of $1.36 billion to cover unanticipated costs of the build-up in the Persian Gulf and of keeping additional forces there through September 1998, if necessary. This figure is in addition to $680 million already for operations in the Gulf during FY1998. The House version of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, H.R. 3579, contained a slightly smaller amount, $1.31 billion, for this purpose (House Report 105-469, March 27, 1998), as did the conference report (House Report 105-504, April 30, 1998); the bill was signed as P.L. 105-174 on May 5, 1998.

A Defense Department spokesman told reporters on November 17 that the Administration has no cost estimates yet for the new deployments in November 1998, but expects them to be significantly lower than costs incurred during the build-up earlier in the year. (This estimate may change, however, after the missile strikes on Iraq that began on December 16-17.) He added that expanded military operations and crisis build- ups in the Gulf since the war in 1991 have cost a total of $6.9 billion; much of this figure represents costs of enforcing the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq. Following are costs estimates for some of the other principal crisis build-ups and retaliatory operations undertaken by the United States since 1991:

  • Troop movements and retaliatory strikes against Iraq, December 1992-January 1993: $400 million
  • Troop deployments to counter Iraqi force movements, October 1994 (Operation Vigilant Warrior): $257 million (partially defrayed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia)
  • Retaliatory strikes following Iraqi incursion into protected northern zone, AugustSeptember 1996 (Operation Desert Strike): $102.7 million
  • Early stages of U.N. weapons inspection crisis, October 1997-March 1998: $1.3 billion

Section 4 of P.L. 105-174 established a special account in the Treasury to accept financial contributions from allied countries to help defray costs incurred by the United States in this operation. According to press reports, several U.S. Senators visited Gulf countries in early May amid speculation that they were seeking financial support from U. S. allies to help cover costs of U.S. military deployments in the Gulf.

Plans and Alternatives

Military options present various challenges. Shipborne missile strikes against selected Iraqi targets incur relatively few risks and have the added advantage of not requiring overflight permission or logistical support from Gulf allies-, however, missile strikes have had only limited effects in the past. Supplementing missile strikes with a more massive bombing campaign might succeed in destroying some key military organizations, weapons production facilities, and command and logistical installations. A bombing campaign, however, would entail risks to U.S. pilots and aircrews, probably inflict more civilian casualties, and elicit significant opposition within the Arab world. A further limiting factor is the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to permit air strikes from their territory.

Some observers believe Administration strategy is emphasizing attacks by stand-off weapons such as Tomahawk missiles because of the lower risk and fewer diplomatic complications they entail. As noted above, during the summer and fall of 1998, U.S. Defense Department officials have made several references to the expanded force of cruise missiles the United States is maintaining in the Gulf region. Others noted that, while forces currently in the Gulf are heavy on cruise missiles, the newly deployed forces would be capable of attacking bunkers and other harder targets that may be hiding Iraqi lethal weapons facilities.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin has said the "goal of any military action would be to counter the threat Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbors ... by degrading his capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction." Possible targets would include Saddam's power base centered around his home district of Tikrit, his Republican Guards, other components of his security apparatus, weapons production centers, palaces, communications systems, and air defense sites. The aborted air and missile strikes scheduled on November 14 reportedly combined features of two attack plans developed by Defense officials. The smaller plan, based on the existing force in the Gulf (174 aircraft and 23 ships), would have mainly employed cruise missiles. The larger plan was designed for an expanded force also including B-1 and B-52 bombers, F- I 17A Stealth fighters, and a second aircraft carrier. Some commentators recall, however, that Saddam has withstood previous retaliatory strikes and doubt that options presently under consideration would be enough to force him to comply with U.N. resolutions. Some analysts feel that the most recent air strikes that began on December 16/17, though more extensive than any of the previous post-1991 confrontations, still represent a limited operation likely to produce limited results.

Ground action, which would probably be necessary if the U.S. Government should seek to overturn the Iraqi regime, would not be feasible without more widespread allied support than currently exists; neither Saudi Arabia nor any other neighboring country is likely to permit the United States to stage a ground invasion of Iraq from its territory. During the earlier phase of the crisis, on January 28, a Defense Department spokesman said that he would "not encourage anybody to think in terms of use of ground troops." Administration spokesmen have not alluded to ground action during the more recent phase of the crisis beginning in the fall, and it is uncertain whether or not such action is under consideration as a follow-up to missile and air strikes. A ground invasion would be costly, particularly if the object were to unseat the incumbent regime. Although officials estimates are not available, at least one analyst estimates that a ground force campaign to remove Saddam Hussein would require 300,000 troops, cost approximately $50 billion, and entail as many as 10,000 casualties. Some analysts, however, recall that estimates of U.S. casualties before Operation Desert Storm in 1991 were far higher than the actual losses sustained (147 killed in action and 121 killed in non-hostile activities including accidents).

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed support for military action against Iraq. Some have suggested that diplomatic efforts have been exhausted and that failure to retaliate will embolden Saddam to mount more serious challenges. At least one member has suggested the use of ground troops and piloted aircraft to supplement missile strikes.

Other Options

U.S. officials and analysts have suggested various other options that could be used in conjunction with or as a substitute for a conventional military attack. These options include further curtailments on Iraqi military activity, more emphasis on unconventional warfare, or more active support for anti-government militia or other opposition groups in their efforts to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. For example, the United States could consider extending the two no-fly zones imposed by the allies over northern and southern Iraq to cover the entire country, coupled with a ban on helicopter flights and imposition of "no-drive" zones forbidding movement of Iraqi armored forces in designated areas. To enforce such measures, however, the United States and its allies would have to allocate more assets, incur greater risks, and deal with further challenges by Iraq, possibly through another effort to obstruct the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. Another approach would involve covert action against the Iraqi regime, combined with an expanded program to buttress the efforts of opposition groups. (For more information, see CRS Report 98-179, Iraqs Opposition Movements, by Kenneth Katzman.) Many analysts believe the opposition is too fragmented and lacking in support within the Iraqi heartland to be effective, and cite the failure of previous efforts to build a viable opposition in Iraq. Others maintain that the United States has provided insufficient support to opposition groups and missed key opportunities to further their efforts.

Iraqi Military Forces
Active Duty Personnel 429,000
Reserve Personnel 650,000
Main Battle Tanks 2,700
Armored Personnel Carriers 2,000
Infantry Fighting Vehicles 900
Towed Artillery 1,800
Self-Propelled Artillery 150
Combat Aircraft 316
Armed Helicopters 120
Surface Combatant Ships 2
Coastal Vessels 6

Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1998-1999


CRS Issue Brief 92117. Iraqi Compliance with Cease-Fire Agreements, by Kenneth Katzman.

CRS Report 98-179. Iraqs Opposition Movements, by Kenneth Katzman.

CRS Report 98-114. Iraq: International Support for US. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman.

CRS Report 98-3 86. Iraq: Post- War Challenges and U S. Responses, 1991-199 7, by Alfred B. Prados.


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