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Attacking Iraq - Military Options

President Bush labeled Iraq part of an axis of evil -- a rogue state intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction and thus posing a threat to the United States and its allies. Mr. Bush has since made it increasingly clear that he wanted to see a change of government in Baghdad. The president said he had not decided on any specific course of action or timetable.

In mid-December 2001 President Bush decided against immediately launching a war to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the next phase of the US-led war on terrorism. With the al-Qaeda terrorist network vanquished in Afghanistan, speculation had been growing that Bush would turn his sights on Hussein.

There was also considerable international opposition to any possible American military action against Baghdad. American armed forces reportedly created a top-secret code name for the planning -- Polo Step -- with highly restricted access [according to William Arkin "Gulf War Redux" The Los Angeles Times Jun 23, 2002].

Equipment for two reinforced army armored brigades was already in the region, stored in 37 huge warehouses in Kuwait and Qatar. Each country held in storage about 115 M-1A1 Abrams tanks, 60 M-2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles, 100 armored personnel carriers, 25 mortars, and 20 155mm howitzers. The 9,000 troops needed to man the equipment could be airlifted in and ready for action in 96 hours. Equipment for another armored brigade from the army and one from the U.S. Marine Corps is afloat on ships in the region.

By mid-2002 the US was sending weapons and other supplies to the Middle East that could be a critical part of the war stocks if President Bush decided to attack Saddam Hussein. The Pentagon hired two giant cargo ships in August 2002 to carry armored vehicles and helicopters, among other war fighting materiel. The US Air Force was stockpiling weapons, ammunition, and spare parts, including aircraft engines, at depots in the Persian Gulf region and the US. Arsenals of air force and navy precision-guided weapons, which proved devastating in Afghanistan, should be fully replenished by the fall. Senior Pentagon officials said the logistical movements did not represent a secretive deployment and should not be interpreted as evidence that a campaign is imminent, or even a certainty.

One of the ships contracted moved troop-carrying combat vehicles from Europe and the U.S. to the Gulf to join equipment for four armored brigades already stored there. Another will carry similar vehicles, helicopters, and ammunition to an unspecified Red Sea port (believed to be the Jordanian port of Aqaba) for a military exercise later this year.

Amid reports about the pre-positioning of US forces and mobilization of military reserves, some observers wondered why it was taking so long to move against Iraq. An American attack on Iraq could have a negative effect on the US economy because the United States would pay most of the cost and bear the brunt of any oil-price shock or other market disruptions. If consumer and investor confidence remained fragile, military action could have substantial psychological effects on the financial markets, retail spending, business investment, travel, and other key elements of the economy. The administration has not begun to consider the cost of a war because it has yet to determine the type and size of a military operation. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Persian Gulf War cost $61.1 billion, of which $12.7 billion was paid for by the United States. The House Budget Committee's Democratic staff estimated that a war with Iraq today would cost around $79.9 billion.

It was reported in early August 2002 that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Washington that Israel would retaliate if attacked by Saddam Husseyn. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had begun to deploy the Arrow antiballistic-missile system near the town of Hadera, while IDF planners were formulating a set of military options to respond to Iraqi conventional and nonconventional warheads. Other preparations include providing smallpox vaccinations to the public, and preparing for an anthrax attack. Jordanian military officials acknowledged that Israeli Air Force radar experts are stationed at Jordan's H-5 air base near the Iraqi border. Sharon's office denied that Israel was preparing for a retaliatory strike on Iraq.

Iraqi Responses

By late July 2002 authorities had intensified air defenses around Baghdad. Anti-aircraft guns can be seen over multi-storey buildings and government offices across the capital. It was reported that scores of balloons were hoisted each night over the presidential complex and other sensitive areas in Baghdad. Iraqi air defense officers believed the balloons were capable of hindering flights by US special forces helicopters over Baghdad. The hoisting of the balloons came amid increasing speculation the the United States has gone a long way in planning a military attack which analysts believe may come sooner than later. The balloons remained over Baghdad skies throughout the night and sometimes until early morning. Residents said they reminded them of 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war when the authorities resorted to the same method in the hope of hindering wave after wave of Iranian air attacks. According to reports, Saddam personally ordered the launching of balloons following a meeting he held with his air defense command in June 2002.

By early August 2002 it was reported that Saddam Hussein had instructed regional government officials that he aimed to defeat a US invasion by avoiding direct military engagements in the open, instead concentrating the Iraqi resistance in major cities where civilian and American casualties would be highest. Hussein's strategy centered on drawing US forces into Baghdad [and other urban area], where Iraqi equipment and troops would not be as exposed to American airpower.

In August 2002 it was reported that Iraqi authorities were planting iron rods and barbed wire in large areas around the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a measure they believed would help thwart a possible landing by US paratroops. Thousands of tons of steel, hundreds of trucks and an army of workers and engineers were reportedly involved in the campaign which has fueled fears among Baghdad's nearly five million people that a US attack was imminent. The rods were said to rise at least one meter above the ground and are densely planted to avoid air landing by soldiers or movement by non-mechanized infantry.

In August 2002 it was reported that earthmovers were digging positions for mechanized infantry in the outskirts of Baghdad while the army was trying to spread out heavy equipment to make it more difficult for the US warplanes to target. The Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard corps, the backbone of President Saddam Hussein's loyal troops, were reportedly digging trenches along the shores of the Tigris river in Baghdad. The trenches covered the area opposite the Presidential complex in Baghdad, known as Abu Nawas and once famous for its Mazkouf or grill fish restaurants. Abu Nawas, a popular summer retreat for millions of Baghdadis, was totally under the control of Saddam's troops. Pedestrians and picnickers were not allowed to walk in its parks and its fresh fish-mongers had been sent away. Abu Nawas restaurants and hotels have been turned into military barracks as fears mounted of a massive US military attack.

In August 2002 it was reported that militias of the ruling Baath party and the force known as Saddam Commandos had been told to stockpile on food and fuel. The regime was banking on street fighting to repel the Americans if they attack. Reports from inside Iraq said that the authorities had issued more guns and rocket-propelled grenades, or RPG's, to their supporters. Most of the preparations currently under way were similar to those the regime took prior to the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.

American military planners expected Iraqi army regulars to make a stand in the constricted geography around the town of Karbala. They were braced for a fierce fight in dangerous terrain. But quite unexpectedly, the offensive launched April 2 by the Third Infantry and the 101st Airborne divisions sailed through the ominous straits of the Karbala Gap. The troops swept on toward Baghdad with surprising ease.

Mark Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down," observed that "the kind of urban fighting that members of Task Force Ranger faced in 1993 would little resemble such fighting in Baghdad.... Any assault on Baghdad would almost certainly take place at night after severing electric lines, giving advancing American forces with their night-seeing devices a huge technological advantage. .. Nevertheless, fighting it out with Hussein on the streets of Baghdad would exact a terrible cost.... It is always possible that the Iraqi military will refuse to fight for Hussein, but this is wishful thinking. A foreign army will be invading their capital city. It is far more likely that they will fight, and tenaciously." ["Urban War, The Right Way" Los Angeles Times August 30, 2002]



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