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Agence France Presse March 22, 2003

Will Saddam use chemical, biological weapons?

By Jean-Louis Santini

The great uncertainty of the Iraq conflict is whether Saddam Hussein will resort to using chemical or biological weapons against coalition forces or his own people.

US President George W. Bush and many military experts are convinced the Iraqi regime possesses such weapons, and they say it is plausible Saddam could use them as a last resort once he sees that the end is near.

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have used public addresses in recent days to urge Iraqi officers to disobey any orders to use such weapons -- warning they will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if they comply. If Saddam has chemical or biological weapons and the ability to use them, "he is going to wait until the very end to use them," said Charles Pena of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.

"I don't think those weapons would be terribly effective against our troops" in the desert, Pena said.

But if intensive air strikes do not topple the Iraqi regime, combat in Baghdad will ensue, a scenario the Pentagon would like to avoid.

At that point, facing certain downfall, the Iraqi leader could use chemical or biological weapons in Baghdad, to "create a humanitarian crisis at the same time we are trying to fight the nastiest type of war there is, which is a battle in a city.

"Since he is a man who doesn't care about his own people what does he have to lose by engaging in that type of tactic," Pena said.

According to Philip Gordon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, units of the Republican Guard deployed in Baghdad identify closely with the Iraqi leader and "are fully capable of using these weapons."

"My guess is that once we are at that point, public opinion won't mean very much for Saddam Hussein, because he'll be desperate," Gordon said.

The use of chemical and biological weapon would make the battle for Baghdad "very costly," he noted.

"The question is whether the Americans have another strategy going into Baghdad. The strategy could be simply sitting on the outside of the city, like a siege ... to avoid an urban battle."

Pena, noting that allied troops are "two or three days" from Baghdad, noted that "We are engaging in this attempt to cause the regime to collapse without having to go in and have a battle in Baghdad."

"So far it hasn't worked," he said. And, "at some point we will run out of targets" for air strikes.

"We cannot use our air power to level the city if we are liberating the civilians inside," he noted.

In the last instance Saddam Hussein could fire chemical artillery against US troops around Baghdad, and "I think we are rapidly approaching that scenario," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a military consulting firm.

"He is not a fool, he has a lot of these weapons," Pike said.


Copyright 2003, Agence France Presse