No-fly zones in Iraq

France, Great-Britain and the United States established successively, in 1991 and 1992, two zones in Iraq from which all flights by Iraqi fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft were excluded. When they were established, these zones were patrolled by France, British and American combat planes based, for the northern zone, at the Incirlik base near Adana in Turkey, and, for the southern zone, at bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The first zone was situated north of latitude 36° N. It was established on 7 April 1991, six weeks after the end of the first « Gulf War ». It covered notably the city of Mossoul.

The second air exclusion zone was established south of latitude 32° N on 27 August 1992 and included the southern city of Basra. In September 1996 de United States and United Kingdom enlarged this zone up to the 33th degree of latitude while France distanciated itself from this measure and never patrolled this new area.

The two zones covered more than half Iraqi territory but were never formally established by a UN Security Council Resolution.

The three western allies said they wanted to protect the Kurdish and Shia populations in the North and in the South and invoked Resolution 688 of the Security Council of 3 April 1991 requesting Iraq to stop repression of its civil population. But contrary to other Security Council resolutions, resolution 688 was not adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Chapter that allows the use of force.
The Iraqi governement under Saddam Hussein constantly protested against this violation of its sovereignty but complied in fact with the existence of the two exclusion zones. After the American-British bombing campaign from 17 to 20 December 1998 Iraq started (on 28 December) challenging American and British aircrafts patrolling the zones.

Disagreement amongst the three western allies started in September 1996 when France did not agree with the enlargement of the southern no-fly zone and did not send its planes above the 32th degree of latitude. It became even more obvious after the bombings of December 1998 when France, which has not patrolled the northern zone since 1997, decided also to keep its planes out of all the southern exclusion zone.

Military data:

Operation Northern Watch (ONW) officially began on 1 January 1997 and was based at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Three countries were taking part – the United States, United Kingdom and Turkey – and provided approximately 45 aircrafts. The Turkish parliament reviewed and renewed semi-annually the ONW mandate in June and December. Until the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, most of the aircrafts in operation over Iraq in ONW were US Air Force’s F-15E and F-16CJ and US Navy’s EA-6B, using laser guided bombs GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-24; AGM-88 « HARM » (800 pound high speed anti-radar missile, from F-16 and EA-6B only) and AGM-130 (3000 pound air-to-ground missile, from F-15 only).

Operation Southern Watch was the equivalent of ONW over Southern Iraq. The United States and United Kingdom provided the aircrafts, based in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait. The British aircrafts took an active part in the operation, with 13 tactical reconnaissance Tornado GR1A of the RAF No. 13 Squadron based at Ali Al-Salem Air Base (Kuwait) and 13 air defence Tornado F3 of the RAF No. 11 Squadron based at Prince Sultan Air Base (Saudi Arabia), supported by the tankers VC-10 of No. 101 Squadron based in Bahrain. The Tornado GR1A were equipped with radar-guided medium-range air-to-air Skyflash missiles and infra red-guided short-range AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles while Tornado F3 generally carried high explosive 1000 pound bombs Mk20 GP (General Purpose) or its laser-guided development Paveway II or the latter 2000 pound version, Paveway III.