Bill Clinton photo

Remarks Announcing a Missile Strike on Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters

September 03, 1996

The President. Good morning. Three days ago, despite clear warnings from the United States and the international community, Iraqi forces attacked and seized the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil in northern Iraq. The limited withdrawals announced by Iraq do not change the reality. Saddam Hussein's army today controls Irbil, and Iraqi units remain deployed for further attacks.

These acts demand a strong response, and they have received one. Earlier today I ordered American forces to strike Iraq. Our missiles sent the following message to Saddam Hussein: When you abuse your own people or threaten your neighbors, you must pay a price.

It appears that one Kurdish group, which in the past opposed Saddam, now has decided to cooperate with him. But that cannot justify unleashing the Iraqi army against the civilian population of Irbil. Repeatedly over the past weeks and months we have worked to secure a lasting cease-fire between the Kurdish factions. The Iraqi attack adds fuel to the factional fire and threatens to spark instability throughout the region.

Our objectives are limited but clear: to make Saddam pay a price for the latest act of brutality, reducing his ability to threaten his neighbors and America's interests. First, we are extending the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. This will deny Saddam control of Iraqi airspace from the Kuwaiti border to the southern suburbs of Baghdad and significantly restrict Iraq's ability to conduct offensive operations in the region. Second, to protect the safety of our aircraft enforcing this no-fly zone, our cruise missiles struck Saddam's air defense capabilities in southern Iraq.

The United States was a cosponsor of United Nations Security Resolution 986, which allows Iraq to sell amounts of oil to purchase food and medicine for its people, including the Kurds. Irbil, the city seized by the Iraqis, is a key distribution center for this aid. Until we are sure these humanitarian supplies can actually get to those who need them, the plan cannot go forward, and the Iraqi Government will be denied the new resources it has been expecting.

Saddam Hussein's objectives may change, but his methods are always the same: violence and aggression against the Kurds, against other ethnic minorities, against Iraq's neighbors. Our answer to that recklessness must be strong and immediate, as President Bush demonstrated in Operation Desert Storm, as we showed 2 years ago when Iraq massed its forces on Kuwait's border, and as we showed again today.

We must make it clear that reckless acts have consequences, or those acts will increase. We must reduce Iraq's ability to strike out at its neighbors, and we must increase America's ability to contain Iraq over the long run. The steps we are taking today will further all those objectives. Time and again, Saddam Hussein has made clear his disdain for civilized behavior. He brutalized his own people, attacked his neighbors, supported terrorism, and sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Our policy is equally clear: When our interest in the security of our friends and allies is threatened, we will act with force if necessary. That is what we did this morning in Iraq.

I know the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with our military men and women who are conducting this mission. God bless them and the Nation they are serving.

Q. Mr. President, why do you think that only Britain is supporting our move? Why have the allies all retreated from any support?

The President. Well, I believe that—first of all, you have to ask them their position. But I believe that we have historically, at least in recent history, taken the lead in matters like this, and I think this was our responsibility at this time. I talked to quite a large number of our allies, and I am satisfied with their response. And I believe that we will be able to go forward with this mission, and I think others feel that at this time there may be, for their own domestic purposes, some limits on how much they can do.

But I think it's important to move now. We have not seen any withdrawal of Saddam's forces from the area, and we know that he has a history of seeing how far he can go, taking a little and then doing a little more, taking a little and doing a little more. So I can only tell you what I believe is right and that I have done my best to cooperate with others.

Q. Is this the end?

Q. Mr. President, he appears unbowed. He says that he's not going to recognize the nofly zones anymore. He says that there has been only minimal damage to Iraqi assets, and that he urges his troops to resist strikes. Is this over, or is there going to have to be more?

The President. Well, as always with Saddam Hussein, it depends entirely on what he does, not on what he says but what he does. And we were trying to have very limited damage to human beings and trying to take an action which would show our resolve and would protect our planes as they fly in an expanded nofly zone. That's why the targets were picked, to make it clear what we thought and to secure the safety of the planes that will be flying the expanded no-fly zone.

Q. Mr. President, at this stage do you see any other troop movements that alarm you?

The President. The present deployments and the things that we have seen in support of them convince me that at least he has maintained the potential to take further military action in the region. That is the problem. He said, "Well, we took our soldiers out of Irbil." That's true, but look where they are and look what they're doing. And the latest reports this morning are not encouraging.

So again, I will say to you, let's look and see what he does, and that is, I think, what should drive our actions. The words are not important; the actions are what matter.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:07 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Announcing a Missile Strike on Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives