Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein is offering cash prizes to any air defense missile crewman who shoots down a U.S. or British warplane — $3,000 for an Iraqi and $10,000 plus a European vacation for a foreign operator and his family, reports the international intelligence agency DEBKAfile.
U.S. and British pilots report increased Iraqi ground attacks against their flights in recent days.
The report is likely to place increased pressure on the Pentagon to decide on the future of Allied air patrols in the no-fly zones created over Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. The zone north of the 36th parallel is designed to protect the Kurdish population of northern Iraq and the Turkish air bases serving U.S. and UK aircraft. The no-fly zone south of the 33rd parallel protects from Iraqi air aggression the Shiite minority of Southern Iraq, which is a hotbed of anti-Saddam dissent, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and UK warplanes patrolling the two zones fly out of bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The two U.S. commanders overseeing the two zones have recommended a sharp reduction in the air patrols, worried by the increasing threat of a plane being shot down by Baghdad’s air defenses, according to DEBKA. Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command, recommends reducing the number of patrols but maintaining a minimum number to keep an eye on Iraqi troop movements towards the Saudi and Kuwaiti borders.
Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, in charge of the northern zone, proposes halting the flights altogether. Most British generals agree with him.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources add intelligence data coming in all the time attests to large Iraqi acquisitions of anti-air missiles with foreign crews, especially Russians and Serbs. The Iraqis have repaired the slight damage caused their optical fiber-improved communications systems and air defense commands near Baghdad by the U.S.-UK Feb. 16 raid and have imported further batches of ground-air missiles in large quantities. Some come from Russia; other are bought for cash from East European countries, such as Hungary and Serbia, whence they are smuggled by train to Minsk in Belarus and on by military transport to Baghdad.
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