August 4, 2002
Lack of aid leaves Bush short in plans for Iraq
After gulf war loss, Hussein not global threat, experts say
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – President Bush's frequently stated goal of
removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power faces the
problem cited by the early Greek scientist Archimedes, who
claimed he could move the Earth if he had a long enough lever
and a place to stand.
Analysts agree that U.S. military power gives Bush the lever he
needs to forcibly move Hussein out of his Baghdad palaces.
But a glaring lack of international support for military action
against Iraq gives the president no place from which to
effectively wield that power.
The president restated his position on Iraq and the reasons for it
during a White House session with King Abdullah of Jordan on
The policy of his administration "is regime change, for a reason:
Saddam Hussein is a man who poisons his own people, who
threatens his neighbors, who develops weapons of mass
destruction," Bush said.
Earlier in the week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
discussed the threat in general terms.
"In the 21st century, we're dealing with weapons of mass
destruction – chemical, biological, nuclear, radiation – that can
kill not just hundreds or thousands, but they can kill hundreds of
thousands or millions of people," Rumsfeld said.
That greatly elevated Iraqi threat may mean that rather than
waiting for an attack, leaders will be forced to "take a step that
would prevent that," he said.
Yet a number of critics argue that after his defeat in the 1991
Persian Gulf War, Hussein is not an international threat and
would use his weapons of mass destruction only to prevent his
John Isaacs, an arms control expert with the Council for a
Livable World, said he does not believe Iraq "is a direct threat to
the U.S., or a threat to its neighbors. I don't think he has
anything that warrants a full-scale attack to overthrow the
Bush's goal to oust Hussein "smacks too much of trying to
redeem his father's agenda," Isaacs said, referring to the
criticism that former President George Bush failed to capture
Baghdad during the Gulf War.
In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, a
former engineer in Iraq's nuclear program and three former
officials of a U.N. commission that tried to dismantle Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction program agreed that Hussein has
chemical and biological weapons and is trying to develop
Khidir Hamza said Iraq could produce enough bomb-grade
uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005. Others said Iraq
had produced weapons-quality anthrax and might have even
more deadly biological agents, including ebola, plague and
Those experts and other witnesses disagreed as to whether that
capability warranted military action to remove Hussein.
Furthermore, no foreign leader, except British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, openly supports U.S. plans.
Although the United States probably would not need allied
forces to defeat Iraq, it must have bases in some neighboring
nations from which to start a war.
Saudi Arabia, which was the main staging ground for Desert
Storm, wants no part of a new attack on Iraq because of
An equally nervous Kuwait probably would allow U.S. forces to
operate from its soil, but it has only two good airfields and its
small border would severely limit U.S. tactical maneuvering.
U.S. warplanes probably could use airfields in some other
Persian Gulf nations, such as Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. But if
Saudi Arabia would not grant over-flight rights, attack jets flying
from these bases would be funneled through Kuwait, making
Iraqi defense easier.
The same problem would confront U.S. carrier-based aircraft.
Without Saudi cooperation, the Navy could not launch strikes
from carriers in the Red Sea, as it did in 1991, forcing all
sea-based missions to fly from the congested Persian Gulf and
channel through Kuwait.
Turkey, another key asset in Desert Storm, has been openly cool
to a new conflict because of its internal economic and political
problems and fears that war would create a Kurdish state on its
border and reignite a civil war with its own Kurdish population.
However analysts believe Turkey probably would again allow
use of Incirlik air base for attacks from the north.
Analysts estimate that after the beating they took in the Gulf War
and 10 years of embargoes on military hardware, the Iraqi
armed forces are about half as big and less capable than in 1991.
But in a detailed assessment, defense analyst Anthony Cordsman
said that despite its problems, "Iraq is still the most effective
military power in the gulf."
Most of the estimated 424,000 Iraqi troops are in regular army
divisions, which did not fight well in Desert Storm. But they are
bolstered by six divisions of the elite Republican Guard and a
Special Republican Guard division.
The Special Republican Guard and about 130,000 men in
various security units are dedicated to the protection of Hussein
and are massed in Baghdad. Defeating those troops in the heart
of a sprawling city of more than 1 million, where U.S. air power
would be severely constrained, could make a fight to take down
Hussein much more costly than Desert Storm, Cordsman
Cordsman particularly warned about Iraq's air defenses. Those
defenses are particularly strong around Baghdad, with many of
the systems located among buildings where attacks on them
could cause extensive civilian casualties.
The U.S. armed forces are about one-third smaller than they
were in Desert Storm but are much better in many areas.
Perhaps the biggest improvement is in precision air attack. In
1991, only a few Air Force planes could carry precision
munitions, and those were laser-guided bombs that are hindered
by smoke and clouds. Today, virtually all of the U.S. fighters and
bombers can drop a range of precision weapons, including
satellite-guided bombs that work in almost all conditions.
In Desert Storm, the only stealthy aircraft able to penetrate
Baghdad's defenses in the early days were about 40 F-117s,
which could carry two bombs. Today, they could be joined by
about a dozen stealthy B-2s, which can carry 16 or more
The Navy's Tomahawk cruise missiles, which would initiate any
air attack, also are more accurate.
Military leaders say the U.S. military also is more experienced in
combat after two conflicts in the Balkans, the Afghanistan war
and nearly 10 years of "no-fly" operations over Iraq since Desert
Gen. John Keane, the Army vice chief of staff, also noted that it
would take much less time to get combat forces to the Persian
Gulf than 12 years ago, when the United States had few military
personnel in the area.
Today, there are about 30,000 U.S. troops from all the services
in the Persian Gulf region.
Even more important, Keane said, are the large stocks of the
Army's heavy weapons, munitions and equipment stored in
Persian Gulf countries and the even larger amounts of Army, Air
Force and Marine equipment and supplies in ships based in the
Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Troops could be flown to the Persian Gulf to activate those
weapons in a few weeks, instead of the months it took to get
heavy forces to Saudi Arabia in 1990.
Analysts warn that despite the United States' unquestioned
military superiority, an attack on Iraq could have enormous
international political and economic impact.
Cordsman and others believe Iraq has some of the modified Scud
missiles it used to attack Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Gulf
War. And they warn that with his rule, and probably his life, at
stake, Hussein would not hesitate to put chemical or biological
warheads on them to spread death, panic and political turmoil
throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf region.
Even countries not hit by such diabolical weapons could be
affected if the war provoked massive riots by Muslim radicals.
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan are cited as possible
victims of such outbursts.
Members of Congress and outside analysts also warn of the
massive burden the United States would inherit in a
post-Hussein Iraq. Those critics demand that while drafting a
war plan to oust the brutal dictator, the administration must
prepare a plan for establishing a functioning government in a
nation that has never known democracy and is riven with
religious, ethnic and tribal rivalries.
One regional expert told the Foreign Relations hearing that
occupying and rebuilding a post-Hussein Iraq could take more
than 75,000 troops and cost $16 billion a year. And U.S. forces
probably would have to stay for a decade.
The Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden,
D-Del., said he supports the goal of removing Hussein's deadly
weapons or removing him from leadership, but Biden said he
needed to know "how we do it and what we do after we succeed."
Despite the barrage of news stories about possible plans for the
war on Iraq, most analysts believe military action is unlikely
before next year.
For one, it would be best to fight during the winter to avoid
heat-prostration casualties among ground troops encased in
impermeable chemical protective suits.
And it would take time to rebuild precision munition stocks
depleted in Afghanistan and get the necessary forces to the
But the biggest reason for a delay is the need to build support for
the war among the U.S. public, members of Congress and foreign
leaders who would have to cooperate to make any attack
Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.