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WashPost: Feb. 16 Iraq attack included cluster bombs

Washington Post columnist William Arkin is reporting that the Feb. 16
attacks outside the no-fly zone used cluster bombs, one of the most
indiscriminate - and controversial - weapons in our arsenal.  ((Note that
Arkin's column appears in the online version of the Post, and that this
report hasn't yet made the print media.  Let's get the word out.))

In broader historical conext, Human Rights Watch has estimated 24 to 30
million cluster bomblets were dropped during the Gulf War; between 1.2 and
1.5 million did not explode, leading to 1,220 Kuwaiti and 400 Iraqi civilian
deaths.  See  <> and

Thanks to Lionel for the original post.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


America Cluster Bombs Iraq 

By William M. Arkin
Special to
Monday, February 26, 2001; 12:00 AM 

News media reports last week that 50 percent of the weapons fired at Iraqi
military installations missed their so-called aimpoints obscures a more
disturbing facet of the Feb. 16 attack: The U.S. jets used cluster bombs
that have no real aimpoint and that kill and wound innocent civilians for
years to come.

This is not merely some insider detail. The choice of cluster bombs, still
unnoticed by the American media, is likely to prove controversial. The
weapon that was used in Iraq is formally known as Joint Stand-off Weapon
(JSOW,pronounced jay-sow). It was first used in combat in Iraq on January
25, 1999, when Marine Corps F-18 Hornet's fired three weapons at an air
defense site. 

The missile is described by the Navy, its primary developer, and Raytheon
Systems, its manufacturer, as a long-range glide bomb. Acting Pentagon
spokesman, Navy Rear Admiral Crag Quigley primly calls it an "area
munition," doggedly avoiding the scattershot reality conveyed by the term
"cluster bomb." 

Weapon of Choice
Twenty eight JSOWs were fired by Navy aircraft in the in the Feb. 16 attack,
along with guided missiles and laser-guided bombs. Pentagon sources say that
26 of the 28 JSOWs missed their aimpoints. 

The 1,000 pound, 14-foot-long weapon carries 145 anti-armor and
anti-personnel incendiary bomblets which disperse over an area that is
approximately 100 feet long and 200 feet wide. In short, this weapon, which
Quigley describes as a "long-range, precision-guided, stand-off weapon,"
rains down deadly bomblets on an area the size of a football field with six
bombs falling in every 1,000 square feet. So much for precision.

The JSOW has quickly become a top weapon of choice for Navy and Marine Corps
airplanes in the no fly zone mission for at least four reasons. It has as a
range of more than 40 nautical miles when delivered from high altitude
(20,000 feet about ground level). The dispersal of bomblets inflicts more
lasting damage than a small warhead on an anti-radiation missile. Pilots can
reprogram target coordinates right up to the moment of launch. And because
the JSOW is guided by satellite, the delivering aircraft can "launch and

"With JSOW we can attack SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] from well outside
the threat rings and destroy rather than suppress" the target, a Navy
document notes. In other words, years of bombing in Iraq have had less than
spectacular results of Iraq's air defenses and the U.S. military is looking
for some way of causing more permanent damage to the country's military

Launch and Leave
Pilots may launch and leave, but the JSOW, like other cluster bombs, is
unforgiving once aircraft deliver them. The JSOW releases its sub-munitions
about 400 feet above its target. These bomblets are also used in the most
prevalent modern U.S. cluster bomb, the CBU-87. But unlike the CBU-87, the
JSOW does not spin to disperse its bomblets. Rather the JSOW uses a gasbag
to propel the sub-munitions outward from the sides. Once ejected, the
bomblets, each the size of soda can, simply fall freely at the mercy of
local winds. A few almost always land outside of the center point of the
football field size main concentration. On average 5 percent do not
detonate. These unexploded bomblets then become highly volatile on the

Recently, U.S. Air Force engineers in Kuwait found an entire unexploded
CBU-87 at an airbase that had been attacked during the Gulf War. The weapon
had apparently malfunctioned and ripped open upon impact, burying bomblets
up to six feet deep in the vicinity. To destroy them in place, a series of
10-foot high barriers had to be built inside a 700-foot wide safety cordon. 

Already this month, there has been one Iraqi civilian death and nine
injuries from unexploded cluster bomblets, presumably all left over from the
1991 Gulf War. On Feb. 20, Agence France Press (AFP) reported that a
shepherd was wounded near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq when an unexploded
bomblet detonated. On Feb. 15, Reuters said two Iraqi boys in western Iraq,
also tending sheep, were injured by a cluster bomblet. On Feb. 9, AFP
reported a child was killed and six others were wounded by sub-munitions
near Basra. 

February, it seems, is a fairly typical month for cluster bombs inflicting
damage on innocent civilians. 

A Degrading Policy
"What we have to do is make sure we continue to tell the world that we are
not after the Iraqi people," Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN on
Feb. 12. That is a tough task given the use of a weapon which has unique
civilian impact. 

Saddam Hussein relishes the cat and mouse game in and around the "no-fly"
zones, almost welcoming bombing and civilian casualties if they will
contribute to Baghdad's strategy of breaking the international consensus on
sanctions and inspections. The use of cluster bombs against minor
out-of-the-way targets, far from doing anything to "degrade his capacity to
harm our pilots," as President Bush said at his Feb. 22 press conference,
actually helps Iraq to achieve its foreign policy goals. 

"We think we've accomplished what we were looking for in the sense to
degrade, disrupt the ability of the Iraqi air defenses to coordinate attacks
against our aircraft," Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, director of
operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Pentagon on the day of
the strikes. 

The vague objective "to degrade" is straight out of the go-nowhere Clinton
playbook. We bomb, and even if virtually of the JSOWs miss their aimpoints,
the United States proclaims: "mission accomplished." After all, some level
of degrading of Iraqi capabilities occurred.

I give the use of cluster bombs a D grade.

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