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Springer Journal: So Then, What About Iraq?

Posted July 23, 2002 2:06 a.m. EDT

— So then, what about Iraq? Is an attempt to replace Saddam Hussein really being considered seriously? What would justify such an attempt on the part of the United States and its coalition partners? And, just who would join that coalition anyway?

How many and what kind of forces would be necessary to launch -- and succeed -- if an attack were to take place? What is the better timing for such an attack?

All of these questions, and many others for that matter, are being bandied around in the media and among the think tanks which concentrate on defense and foreign policy issues. They are obviously also being discussed daily within the highest levels of our government. There is no shortage of opinions on the issues being discussed.

There is little question as to whether a "regime change" in Iraq is being considered. The objective is the ouster of Saddam Hussein. President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and many leading members of Congress have stated so publicly. While there is near unanimous agreement within our government that Saddam must go, there is less unanimity about what justification would be necessary for such an attack on Iraq.

Those who are more hawkish on the issue note that Saddam's developing, manufacturing and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons is adequate justification given his history of using such weapons of mass destruction even on his own people. These same ""hawks" on the issue will cite Saddam's continuing goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon which could be employed within the region.

There are others involved in these significant discussions who believe that the international community should try one more time to have full and unfettered inspections by the United Nations. These inspections, similar in scope to those of the 1990s, would help determine whether and just how much Saddam is really doing in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

We have become conditioned to fighting within international coalitions. Our most recent conflicts, such as Desert Storm in 1991, the Balkan conflicts throughout the 90s, and the war on terrorism with a major focus on Afghanistan, have all enjoyed the benefit of coalition partners. A coalition not only provides military, logistical, financial and other support to America's effort, but, quite importantly, it enhances the moral support and justification for such military engagements.

Publicly, there has not been an overwhelming show of hands on any proposed attack on Iraq. Great Britain has been supportive. Most European countries have been less supportive unless there is a clear provocation on the part of Iraq. Some Arab nations have voiced strong objections to an attack on another Arab state such as Iraq. Of course sometimes these public utterances are for domestic purposes and conceal the true government positions.

If there were a direct linkage to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there would be more support from many nations. To date there has been no such linkage made public. Should Saddam refuse to accept United Nations inspectors some of the doubting nations may then choose to support a coalition effort to oust Hussein.

A few nations would be key to any military attack on Iraq. Turkey to the north and Kuwait to the south -- both fairly solidly in the American camp would be critical for coalition air and ground forces. The Saudis may quietly permit some military operations from their country. They would most likely agree to provide bases for support of non-lethal weapons. In other words, we could launch reconnaissance sorties, air refueling missions, and the Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), but not fighters and bombers. Of course, naval air from our carrier decks would be essential.

The big question being debated is how many and what type of forces would be necessary to insure success. Several media outlets have reported an allegedly leaked US Central Command plan suggesting upwards of 250,000 military members would be needed for an attack on the Saddam Hussein led Iraqi forces.

Others suggest that the Afghanistan model of airpower significantly enhanced by covert special operators on the ground and a heavy dose of precision-guided munitions (PGM) would require only a small percentage of the larger 250,000 member force. To be sure, there would probably not be an indigenous counter force such as the Northern Alliance provided against the Taliban and al Queda in Afghanistan.

Timing of such an attack is also an issue. Clearly, with all that has been publicly aired to date, we should not rely on the element of surprise which we military folks would always prefer.

Political considerations will override military considerations on timing. Politically, whether or not UN inspections are agreed upon will influence potential coalition partners. Here at home the November elections loom large as a major consideration. (Do we want to be at war during the important mid-term elections?) Many also feel it is imperative that the administration condition the American public prior to any major "regime change" conflict in the Middle East?

Militarily, the major consideration is logistical support -- how and when can we get the necessary forces and their equipment in place to commence the attack. There is an old saying that goes something like this: "amateurs discuss strategy and tactics, professionals discuss logistics."

Weather is always a major military factor in timing, consider for example D-Day in 1944. The summers in the Middle East are intolerably hot ... especially so if you have to wear chemical warfare suits to protect against any potential use of chemical weapons by your adversary. And, as a commander of forces attacking Iraq, chemical warfare would be high on my list of concerns.

So what is the bottom line to all these questions? There is a very high likelihood that some military effort will be undertaken to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. There exists adequate justification to do so. His disregard for UN inspectors, his progress on developing chemical and biological weapons, his belligerent attitude towards his neighbors, and his support for terrorist organizations validate his unwelcome role as a national leader.

While there is presently no groundswell for support from European and Arab states, I believe that support will materialize as Saddam refuses UN inspections and other intelligence is provided to these nations, And, quite importantly, from a military standpoint I am convinced we could do it unilaterally if we needed to and the stakes were high enough.

As an airman I support the lighter more lethal aerial attack on Iraq's centers of gravity such as the leadership, command and control, air defense weapons, chemical and biological weapons, communications facilities, etc. Take out their ability to fight and wage war. In fact, take out their ability to inflict casualties on our ground forces which will be key to the final outcome, Ground forces will be needed in much fewer numbers after days or weeks of aerial bombardment, I do not foresee the need for a force of 250,000 or so to insure a successful engagement.

What is the proper timing of such an engagement? I will withhold judgment on timing. It may no longer be possible, but my military mind would still like to see at least some element of surprise.