US ready to hit Iraq
By Rowan Scarborough
WASHINGTON: The US military would be prepared to strike Iraq within weeks if Saddam Hussein violates the terms of the new UN resolution, military officials say.
“If the president decides that military action is an appropriate course of action, then the US military will be prepared to move and to move quickly,” Victoria Clarke, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said on Friday.
Hans Blix, who heads the weapons-inspection team, plans to enter Iraq on Nov. 18 and start work around Nov. 25. The unanimously approved resolution calls on him to “immediately” report “any interference by Iraq,” which the United States could cite as justification for an attack. If interference by Saddam occurs this winter, then the Pentagon will quickly build up a sizable force near Iraq ready to carry out Army Gen. Tommy Franks’ battle plan. Gen. Franks, who heads US Central Command in Tampa, Fla., has presented President Bush with several war options. “We’d be in place by about the first or second week in December,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis. “That’s given the assumption the president is going to activate the Reserve and Guard to provide domestic security.
“Saddam has plenty of agents inside this country, and they are ready to create domestic disturbances to detract attention from what’s going on over in Iraq. That won’t be activated until Saddam sees hostilities are imminent.”
Military sources say war options range from 50,000 to 200,000 troops. All plans would rely on lightning-fast air and ground assaults, some indigenous forces and assurances that some Iraqi generals will turn on Saddam.
By December or January, the United States could have four carrier battle groups in the region, giving Gen. Franks roughly 260 aircraft and hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Air Force is positioning B-2 stealth bombers in England and on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. Military sources said as many as 16 of 21 B-2s would participate in the war’s early stages, dropping satellite-guided bombs on key command and communications centers. A major aim would be speed and stealth to achieve victory as soon as possible, thus keeping civilian casualties at a minimum.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush said of his war plans: “I also want to remind you that should we have to use troops, should it become a necessity in order to disarm him, the United States, with friends, will move swiftly with force to do the job. You don’t have to worry about that. We will do what it takes militarily to succeed.”
Pentagon civilian policy-makers, the hard-liners who have pushed the administration to confront Saddam, have little confidence in Mr. Blix, a career diplomat. They say he will be fooled by Saddam’s long-standing denial and deception techniques. They also say Mr. Blix is not likely to stand up to Iraqi forces or report to the Security Council as required when Baghdad blocks his team’s work.
“Blix is not a hard-nose guy. He’s a diplomat,” said Col. Maginnis, a Washington military analyst. “Saddam is going to put weapons in residential neighborhoods. Vans cart stuff around. They have perfected the art of sanitizing these areas.”
An important date in the new UN resolution, the 17th on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, is Dec. 8. By then, Saddam is required to account for all his prohibited weapons of mass destruction, materials to make such weapons and delivery systems, such as ballistic missiles and unmanned vehicles.
“That list is not going to be worth the paper it’s written on,” Col. Maginnis said. A bogus list could prompt Mr. Bush to act, or the administration may wait for a series of violations, take its case back to the Security Council, then start an attack to disarm Saddam, with or without UN approval.
All the while, the buildup will continue. The United States continues to move supplies into the region. There are now enough tanks, armored vehicles and supplies to equip four Army brigades. Units likely to head to Kuwait are the 101st Airborne Division and 1st Cavalry Division based in the United States, and the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry divisions based in Europe.
“We’re not going to put a big footprint over there until we know we’re going to do something,” Col. Maginnis said. —TWT