From the Prime Minister's press conference earlier today:Q: ...There has been confirmation that in the run-up to the war, in the autumn of 2002, there was an increase in bombing activities in Iraq by both the USAF and the RAF, either to provoke or to prepare for the coming war, did you authorise that and if so why?
Prime Minister: ...No as far as I am aware the No Fly Zone, which of course had been operating over Iraq for ages, continued as it was. Of course as the tension rises, inevitably there may be more missions flown, but this wasn't part of a sort of policy decision to go and ramp it up or provoke or anything else.
OK, just to refresh everyone's memory, in the July 23, 2002 meeting summarized by the DSM, UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the US had begun "spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime." We also know that in May of that year, Donald Rumsfeld greatly expanded
the parameters of the No-Fly Zone patrols to include offensive strikes against communications facilities. The evidence of these raids is made plain by the RAF's own bombing statistics
Maybe Mr. Blair was out of the loop in 2002, but it's clear that his military was taking part in the same covert air war that the Americans were waging.
Let's keep in mind that the purpose of the No-Fly Zones was to prevent Saddam's military from attacking Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. And that's all they were for. Pilots had specific orders to engage only when engaged, to attack only those radar or antiaircraft installations that targeted or shot at them.
But in May 2002, this defensive mission was turned on its head when Rumsfeld issued orders to allow the UNPROVOKED attack of "command and control" facilities. Of paticular interest was Saddam's newly installed fiber optic communications network. Since the lines themselves were underground and impossible to locate, the bombing was directed at the repeater stations. Small problem with that, though--some of these probably shared space with civilian phone networks. That might explain
why every so often a telephone exchange would suddenly explode.
The truth is, the US and UK started fighting their war against Saddam in 2002. The "official" start of the war in March of 2003 was just the beginning of major troop movements into the country. By that time, the air campaign--like the one that began the Gulf War--had softened up Iraqi air defenses and allowed special forces units to move into Iraq undetected.
The difference between this and Gulf War I is that Bush and Blair had no authorization for what they were doing--not from Congress, not from the UN, and certainly not from the people, who were kept in the dark about the change in character of the no-fly zone missions.