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Iraqi no-fly zones

Iraqi no-fly zones
Part of the aftermath of the Gulf War and the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict

No-fly zone detail
Date 1991–2003
Location Iraq
Result Coalition victory
 United States
 United Kingdom
 France (1991–1998)
 Saudi Arabia
Commanders and leaders

John Shalikashvili
T. Michael Moseley
George H. W. Bush (until 20 Jan. 1993)
Bill Clinton(20 Jan. 1993 – 20 Jan. 2001)
George W. Bush(from 20 Jan. 2001)
John Major
Tony Blair
François Mitterrand
Jacques Chirac
King Fahd

Prince Abdullah

Saddam Hussein
6,000, Around 50 aircraft and 1,400 personnel at any one time Various Iraqi air defense forces
Casualties and losses
2 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters shot down (friendly fire, 26 killed)
19 USAF servicemen deployed as part of the operation were killed in the Khobar Towers Bombing
5 RQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft shot down
Unknown number of air defense systems destroyed
1 MiG-25 Foxbat shot down
1 MiG-23 Flogger Shot down
2 Su-22 Fitters shot down

The Iraqi no-fly zones were a set of two separate no-fly zones (NFZs), and were proclaimed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France after the Gulf War of 1991 to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south. Iraqi aircraft were forbidden from flying inside the zones. The policy was enforced by U.S., British, and French aircraft patrols until France withdrew in 1998. While the enforcing powers had cited United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 as authorizing the operations, the resolution contains no explicit authorization. The Secretary-General of the UN at the time the resolution was passed, Boutros Boutros-Ghali called the no-fly zones "illegal" in a later interview with John Pilger.[1][2]


  • History 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Still photograph from a videotape of an Iraqi surface-to-air missile, believed to be an SA-3, launched at a coalition aircraft in July 2001.

From 1992 to the United States-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were two NFZs in Iraq. The NFZ in the north of Iraq was established shortly after the Gulf War, extending from the 36th parallel northwards. In August 1992 the NFZ in the south to the 32nd parallel was established,[3] but in 1996 it was expanded to the 33rd parallel.[4] The northern NFZ was initially part of Operation Provide Comfort relief operations to a persecuted Kurdish minority in Iraq, and was followed on by Operation Northern Watch. The southern NFZ was maintained by Operation Southern Watch.

When Operation Desert Storm ended in 1991, the safety of Kurds who were fleeing during the uprising from Iraqi persecution became an issue, and Operation Provide Comfort began. This operation essentially created a Northern NFZ to Iraqi military aircraft. The operation provided the Kurdish population with humanitarian aid and reassurance of safe skies.

However, this was marred by a friendly-fire incident on 14 April 1994 when two United States Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter planes mistakenly shot down two United States Army Blackhawk helicopters, killing 26 Coalition military and civilian personnel.

Operation Provide Comfort officially ended on 31 December 1996. Following Operation Provide Comfort, the United States continued to watch over the northern skies with the launching of Operation Northern Watch on 1 January 1997. Operation Northern Watch continued to provide air security to the Kurdish population in the north. By 1999, the Department of Defense had flown over 200,000 sorties over Iraq.[5]

American and British aircraft continuously maintained the integrity of the NFZ, receiving anti-aircraft fire from Iraqi forces almost daily. The operation ran until its conclusion on 1 May 2003. In the south, Operation Southern Watch was underway to watch over the persecuted Shi'ite populations. This operation was launched on 27 August 1992 with the mission of preventing further human rights abuses against civilian populations. Iraq challenged the no-fly zone beginning in December 1992 when a USAF F-16 fighter plane shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat fighter which had locked onto it in the Southern no-fly zone. The next month Allied planes attacked Iraqi SAM sites in the South. Baghdad eventually halted firing on patrolling Allied aircraft after August 1993.

In the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, Iraq announced it would no longer respect the no-fly zones and resumed its efforts in shooting down Allied aircraft. Saddam Hussein offered a $14,000 reward to anyone who could accomplish this task, but no manned aircraft were ever shot down by Iraq. Air strikes by British and American aircraft against Iraqi claimed anti-aircraft and military targets continued weekly over the next few years. In the early 2000s (decade), the U.S. developed a contingency plan, Operation Desert Badger for dealing with pilots shot down over Iraqi no-fly zones.

The operation continued until it transitioned to Operation Southern Focus in June 2002. They began to carry out offensive sorties, not only against targets that had fired on them, but upon installations that had demonstrated no hostile intent. The U.S. claimed that these increased attacks were the result of increasing Iraqi provocations, but later, in July 2005, the British Ministry of Defense released figures showing that the number of provocations had actually dropped dramatically prior to and just after the increase in allied attacks. Their records indicate that in the first seven months of 2001, there had been 370 provocations on the part of Iraq. In the seven months from October 2001 into May 2002, only 32 such provocations were recorded.[6] General Tommy Franks later acknowledged that the dramatic increase in offensive sorties was an attempt to destroy the Iraqi defenses in much the same way as the air strikes at the beginning of the Gulf War had.[7] The U.S. and British operations had the (apparently intended) effect of reducing Iraqi ability to counter air strikes prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[8])

In purported retaliation for the Iraqi's now-daily air defense attacks on coalition aircraft, the September attacks included a 5 September 100-aircraft attack on the main air defense site in western Iraq. According to an editorial by Michael Smith for the New Statesman, this was "Located at the furthest extreme of the southern no-fly zone, far away from the areas that needed to be patrolled to prevent attacks on the Shi'a; it was destroyed not because it was a threat to the patrols, but to allow allied special forces operating from Jordan to enter Iraq undetected."[9]

The NFZs effectively ceased to exist with the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003, since air superiority over the country was quickly attained by the coalition. The NFZs were officially deactivated right after Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

See also


  1. ^ A People Betrayed ZNet, February 23, 2003
  2. ^ ITV - John Pilger - Labour claims its actions are lawful while it bombs Iraq, starves its people and sells arms to corrupt states
  3. ^ BBC News | FORCES AND FIREPOWER | Containment: The Iraqi no-fly zones
  4. ^ 2nd Cruise Missile Strikes in Iraq
  5. ^ U.S. Counters Iraq's Increased Aggression, Department of Defense News Brief
  6. ^ Michael Smith, "RAF Bombing Raids Tried to Goad Saddam into War," Sunday Times, 29 May 2005
  7. ^ American Soldier [2004] p. 342
  8. ^ The unofficial war: U.S., Britain led massive secret bombing campaign before Iraq war was declared,
  9. ^

External links

  • Full-text of Resolution 688
  • Operation Northern Watch
  • Operation Southern Watch
  • Robert Dryfus article about illegality of NFZs
  • The Embarrassment and Illegality of the No-Fly Zones
  • No-fly zones: The legal position
  • Estimates of Iraqi deaths during sanctions
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