1990s: No-Fly Zone Bombings and Economic Sanctions in Iraq

Joe Biden supported the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam and the most sweeping regime of economic sanctions in modern history.

Poverty-stricken Iraqi children scavenging in garbage dump (re hunger, disease & hard economic times linked to sanctions).  (Photo by Barry Iverson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Iraqi children scavenge in a garbage dump on Oct.14, 1995. Photo: Barry Iverson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Throughout the eight years of the Clinton administration, Joe Biden’s rhetoric on Iraq became increasingly belligerent. President Bill Clinton began bombing Iraq five months into his presidency, and in June 1993, he ordered strikes on Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. Among those killed in the strikes, which were aimed at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters, were the Iraqi painter and Arab feminist Layla al Attar and her husband. Within months of the attacks, the story of the alleged assassination plot began to unravel, and according to the New Yorker, an internal CIA report “suggested that Kuwait might have ‘cooked the books’ on the alleged plot in an effort to play up the ‘continuing Iraqi threat’ to Western interests in the Persian Gulf.”

Clinton would go on to relentlessly bomb Iraq under the guise of the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. While the policy was supposedly aimed at protecting Kurdish and Shia populations, many civilian deaths resulted from the attacks. In a 1999 strike, 11 civilians were killed and dozens wounded in a U.S. bombing of the overwhelmingly Shia city of Basra. Biden was a supporter of these bombings, which at times were conducted on average once every three days under Clinton. It was the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since the Vietnam War. “The cruel reality is that people are dying as a result of these no-fly zones,” said the former top United Nations official in Iraq. Biden also supported the brutal U.S.-led U.N. economic sanctions, which killed at least 500,000 Iraqi civilians during Clinton’s time in office.

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