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Target Hussein

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 18, 2002


Amid a continuing series of leaks about U.S. military plans for invading Iraq, published reports say removing Saddam Hussein, rather than defeating the Iraqi army, is at the heart of a plan presented to President Bush by Gen. Tommy Franks earlier this month. Pentagon planners seem to be envisioning a mix of conventional forces and quick Special Forces strikes aimed at ousting or killing Hussein. In this scenario, warplanes and cruise missiles strike command centers and weapons depots deep inside Iraq, isolating the country's leadership. The airstrikes would be followed by combined airborne and ground assaults on strategic targets, including the capital city of Baghdad.

Amid a continuing series of leaks about U.S. military plans for invading Iraq, published reports say removing Saddam Hussein, rather than defeating the Iraqi army, is at the heart of a plan presented to President Bush by Gen. Tommy Franks earlier this month. Pentagon planners seem to be envisioning a mix of conventional forces and quick Special Forces strikes aimed at ousting or killing Hussein. In this scenario, warplanes and cruise missiles strike command centers and weapons depots deep inside Iraq, isolating the country's leadership. The airstrikes would be followed by combined airborne and ground assaults on strategic targets, including the capital city of Baghdad.

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TARGETS: In addition to Saddam Hussein, targets would be ground troops, security forces, other leadership targets like the Republican Palace in Baghdad (above), communications centers, depots, weapons of mass destruction sites, airfields, air defenses and roads and bridges.

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GOAL: The aim would be to kill or isolate Hussein and to pre-empt Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction, whether against an incoming force, front-line allies or Israel. The hope is that once U.S. troops neutralize Hussein, opposition forces within the country would arise and topple the rest of his regime. Losses by Hussein's forces near the capital could encourage other Iraqi units to surrender or to stay out of the fight.

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U.S. PERSONNEL: Reports estimate 80,000 to 100,000 troops would be needed for this operation. Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says trying to pinpoint the number of troops needed is meaningless until war plans are finalized.

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AIRSTRIKES: At least two, and as many as five, U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups would launch waves of fighter-bombers. Cruise missiles also could be launched from ships and submarines.

Long-range bombers, such as B-52s, could travel from Diego Garcia, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and B-1 bombers can actually travel to Iraq from their base in Missouri.

With Saudi Arabia publicly and privately saying it won't allow the United States to use the Prince Sultan air base near Riyadh to launch attacks on Iraq, attention has turned to Qatar.

At Qatar's al-Udeid air base, a 13,000-foot runway has been added, as well as ammunition dumps and a tent city able to house thousands of troops. Military analysts say the base could serve as a command post for any U.S. attack on Iraq.

Reports also say military equipment has been moved from the Saudi base to bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Other reports have said Jordan might also provide bases or allow U.S. planes to refuel in and fly through its air space. Jordanian officials say Jordan wouldn't participate in any capacity should the United States attack Iraq.

Bases in Turkey, such as Incirlik, are also mentioned by analysts as possible staging areas for airstrikes.

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GROUND TROOPS: Once the airstrikes have been successful, up to 50,000 ground forces could invade. They could include airborne troops, mechanized infantry and Marines. Presumably, a force would move in from Kuwait. The ground forces would push northwest 360 miles along the Euphrates River to the suburbs of Baghdad to draw Iraqi troops into the open where they would be vulnerable to airstrikes. These troops could be joined by paratroopers and by Special Forces personnel. Some British troops might be used as well.

Psychological warfare broadcasts would warn regular Iraqi army troops to remain in their barracks or face possible slaughter.

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TIMING: It's still pure speculation, but some recent reports have said an assault could come in November. Weather plays a factor. Any earlier and it's too hot for U.S. troops to wear protective bio-chemical suits. In December and January, temperatures get cold enough to freeze diesel fuel. By November, the military would have time to replenish bomb stocks depleted in the Afghan fighting. Planners could have as many as five U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups ready for deployment by the end of the year. The British carrier, Ark Royal, is also expected to be in the area in early November. An invasion, however, is unlikely before the midterm elections on Nov. 5. John Pike, a leading defense expert, says Pentagon war planners could be given the go-ahead in early November and operations could commence at the end of the month. "Whether they will, in fact, do so is a completely different question," Pike said.

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RISKS: Targets are predictable and in areas with significant civilian populations. Baghdad has a population approaching 5-million and Hussein could use the civilians as "human shields." Unintended civilian casualties could reduce already minimal international support for the mission.

Baghdad is ringed by Hussein's most elite forces, and the city itself is filled with antiaircraft batteries. Hussein also has constructed an elaborate warren of underground bunkers and escape routes. It may be impossible to find him, much less kill him. If he is cornered, Hussein might try to use weapons of mass destruction on advancing troops or on neighboring countries, including Israel.

The modern American military has never fought the kind of dangerous and complicated urban battles that might be needed to oust the Hussein government. U.S. soldiers would likely have to slog through Baghdad's streets wearing chemical weapons suits and carrying extra equipment.

Unlike the coalition of U.S. and allied troops used in the Persian Gulf War, the United States would be going it alone this time with the exception of some help from Britain.

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AFTER THE WAR: If Hussein is deposed, one of the fears is that Iraq could disintegrate -- splitting into separate countries along ethnic and religious lines. Without a strong U.S. presence, those factions could slip into anarchy, looking for retribution for age-old feuds. Col. Scott Feil, a retired Gulf War veteran and former head of the strategy division at the Pentagon's joint staff, estimated that the United States would need a security force of 75,000 troops in Iraq for at least one year after ousting Hussein, at a cost of $16.2-billion annually. At least 5,000 U.S. troops might need to remain for as long as 10 years as peacekeepers.

IRAQ'S MILITARY STRENGTH

Military personnel: 424,000

Reserves: 100,000

Tanks: 2,200

Armored vehicles: 3,800

Major artillery: 2,400

Attack helicopters: 100

Combat aircraft: 316

Surface-to-air missiles: 1,000

Antiaircraft guns: 6,000

Missiles: Up to 20 Scud launchers and missiles and unknown number of short-range missiles.

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

Many analysts are convinced Iraq has been rebuilding chemical and biological weapon stockpiles, and there is strong concern that Iraq could create nuclear weapons in several years. Because U.N. weapons inspectors were kicked out of Iraq in 1998, disagreements arise over how extensive the weapons program is, how serious is its threat, and whether Iraq has reliable methods to launch such weapons.

Biological

Iraq has admitted to creating biological agents such as anthrax; botulinum toxin, a bacteria that can eventually cause respiratory failure; and aflatoxin, a mold that causes jaundice, internal bleeding and liver cancer. It also said it prepared missile warheads and aerial bombs carrying biological agents.

Chemical

Iraq has used chemical weapons before. It used mustard gas and nerve agents in its war with Iran and against the Kurds in northern Iraq. The Defense Department says that since the Gulf War Iraq has rebuilt key portions of its industrial and chemical production facilities.

Nuclear

Analysts think Iraq currently does not have nuclear weapons. If it did receive fissile material, they say, Iraq could construct a nuclear bomb in five to 10 years. Vice President Dick Cheney said earlier this month that if Hussein is "left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not too distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons."

Delivery systems

CIA director George Tenet told Congress in February that the agency thinks Iraq continues to pursue ballistic missile capabilities prohibited by the United Nations and that it could flight-test a longer range ballistic missile within the next five years. He went on to say Iraq may have the ability to deliver biological or chemical agents using modified aircraft or other unmanned aerial vehicles. Analysts also say Iraqi could use terrorists to smuggle biological and chemical agents into other countries.

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SOURCES: Center for Strategic and International Studies, GlobalSecurity.org; Periscope, International Institute for Strategic Studies, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, United Press International, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, the Mirror.

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-- Graphics by DON MORRIS, research by RON BRACKETT of the Times staff

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