War Plans and Pitfalls | The Nation


War Plans and Pitfalls

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Once Saddam and his top associates are dead or in custody (or otherwise rendered powerless), the US command will invite surviving Iraqi military units to surrender--or face obliteration by US aircraft and armored forces. These units will be cut off from their senior commanders and sources of supply, so it is expected that their capacity to fight back will be limited.

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Michael T. Klare
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the defense correspondent...

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If all goes as expected, Operation Desert Cyclone will be over in a matter of weeks. American troops will control Baghdad and other key cities, and the destruction of Iraqi WMD facilities will be under way. A provisional government--headed by US-backed dissidents based in Europe--will be installed in the capital by American patrons and protectors. The UN embargo will be lifted, the Kurds and Shiites will be granted limited autonomy in their respective regions, and most Iraqis will express heartfelt gratitude for their "liberation" from Saddam.

But will it really work out this way? Nobody, of course, can assume any given outcome in an undertaking this complex and risky. Certainly there are reasons to believe that the Pentagon strategy will bring a swift and decisive outcome, especially if it results in the early death or capture of Saddam Hussein. But there is also an enormous risk factor involved: If the Iraqis put up greater than expected resistance, or if some elements of the battle plan go awry, the relatively small US invasion force of about 50,000 combatants could become bogged down inside Iraq and come under attack from larger and more heavily equipped enemy units. This would require the US command to bring in additional troops from afar--a move that would take several weeks or longer, during which time the original invasion force could suffer heavy casualties.

The risk of heavy US casualties and other unwanted effects will be greatly compounded if the American invaders are halted at the outskirts of Baghdad and Iraqi troops elect to defend the city by means of house-to-house fighting. In this situation, US ground troops will be compelled to call for punishing air and missile strikes on occupied neighborhoods, killing many civilians and provoking outrage in much of the Muslim world--especially if, as expected, cameramen from Al Jazeera and other independent networks are there to record the carnage.

There is also a risk that US air and missile attacks will fail to destroy all of Iraq's remaining ballistic missiles and Saddam Hussein will succeed in launching a few at Israel. (Iraq is thought to possess a dozen or so Scud missiles not found by UN inspectors in the early 1990s, but not to be capable of arming these missiles with chemical or biological dispensers.) Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared that Israel will respond to such moves by striking back at Iraq, presumably through air and missile attacks on Iraqi cities. This would no doubt spark massive protests throughout the Muslim world, and possibly threaten the survival of those Arab governments--Jordan's, Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's among them--that provided bases to US troops or otherwise colluded in the invasion of Iraq.

A bloody struggle for Baghdad would undoubtedly produce alarm and discomfort in the United States, undermining popular support for Bush and his policies. It would also inflame passions throughout the Muslim world, especially if many Iraqi civilians are killed by American or Israeli forces. And it would greatly complicate the task of governing Iraq once US forces smashed their way into Baghdad's center, leaving much of it in ruins.

Given these dangers, it is absolutely essential that Congress and the American people thoroughly debate the wisdom of attacking Iraq and the likely costs and benefits of the Administration's favored invasion plan. Anyone who can remember or has studied the onset of the Vietnam imbroglio knows this much: The United States entered Vietnam without a national debate on the merits and methods of engagement, and the end result was a sheer, unmitigated catastrophe. We must not let this happen again.

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