Did the US and UK carry out bombing and other covert operations to destabilise the Iraqi regime in the run up to the war?

It has been alleged that before the war the US and UK governments sought to destabilise the Iraqi regime and degrade its defences by both covert special forces operations and aerial bomb attacks under the cover of the No-Fly Zones (NFZ).

The Inquiry will need to consider whether the UK government did take part in such operations and what it new of US actions.

The Downing Street memo records that at a meeting in July 2003 defence secretary Geoff Hoon said that the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the Iraqi regime.

Alleged US covert activity

In the book Hubris, Michael Isikoff and David Korn revealed the existence of a secret CIA plot codenamed Anabasis, to destabilise the Iraqi regime and stage an incident that could lead to war. Paramilitary CIA officers allegedly entered Iraq in April 2002.

Alleged abuse of the No Fly Zones

It has been alleged that US and UK forces that were ostensibly operating to enforce two “no-fly zones” in Iraq attacked Iraqi air defence systems in order to soften them up in advance of the invasion.

In 2003, in a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee Sir John Walker said that in his opinion there had been a noticeable change in the pattern of targeting in relation to the No Fly Zones. He wrote that the Iraqi air defence system was being attacked in its own right, not in reaction to the targetting of aircraft: “The NFZ operations appeared (on open source) to become more aggressive, more offensive. In military terms, it seemed to be less a campaign to protect the patrolling aircraft, as a campaign to prepare the battlefield.” He told the committee: “Such operations are not the figment, or the authorisation, of some underling . The policy would have been changed at the highest level.”

In his evidence to the Butler Review, Foreign Office diplomat Carne Ross said: “Reading the press in the months leading up to the war, I noticed that the volume and frequency of the attacks in the NFZs considerably increased, including during the period when UNMOVIC was in country inspecting sites (ie before even the UK/US declared that Iraq was not complying). I suspected at the time that these attacks were not in self-defence but that they were part of a planned air campaign to prepare for a ground invasion.”

Before the war, Hoon answered a number of parliamentary questions on the No Fly Zones. He repeatedly stated that “Coalition aircrew only ever respond in self defence against military targets.” He did however state in March 2003 that enforcing the No Fly Zones “has lately involved more frequent patrols and a broader range of aircraft.”

Operation Desert Fox

Operation Desert Fox was a four-day bombing campaign by the US and UK in 1998 after the UN had withdrawn its weapons inspectors following non-co-operation and harassment.

The campaign, which took place from 16-19 December 1998, followed the signing into law by US President Clinton of the Iraq Liberation Act. It has been alleged that US officials working as weapons inspectors deliberately provoked the Iraqi regime to provide a pretext for the attacks and that the attacks were intended to destabilise the Iraqi regime.
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