Despite the parades and the books written to celebrate our victory in the Gulf War, there was one detail overlooked: The troops came out, but the mission never ended. As soon as the guns went silent in 1991, the U.S., Britain and France established “no-fly zones” over parts of Iraq. Allied aircraft patrolled the zones every day to keep the Iraqi military out.
These military operations caused some deaths, as all military operations eventually do. In 1994, for example, 26 people died when the Air Force accidentally shot down two Army helicopters. It’s impossible to say how many Iraqi civilians were killed during the 12 years we enforced no-fly zones, although Saddam Hussein’s government claimed in 2001 that 300 people had been.
During those years, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries and radar stations frequently targeted the allied aircraft. Whether we liked it or not, they were in a shooting war with us. It was probably just a matter of time before Saddam’s soldiers managed to bring down an American plane.
And let’s not forget that three presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ordered airstrikes against Saddam’s Iraq. American taxpayers spent tens of millions of dollars delivering destruction to Baghdad and environs. During the 1990s the U.S. military enforced economic sanctions that didn’t seem to harm Saddam (he had his choice of presidential palaces) but made life more difficult for ordinary Iraqi citizens.
In 2003 we finally changed our approach.
Now we have actual troops on the ground, and they’re fighting alongside a growing Iraqi army to kill terrorists. Instead of pretending it’s enough to use the military to keep Saddam “in his box,” we’ve used it to remove him and his regime and replace them with a democratically-elected government. Meanwhile, we’ve helped stave off the Iraqi civil war that’s supposedly just around the corner.