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Iraq Reaction To Attack Unknown

by Sanjay Suri and Ferry Biedermann

"It is very unlikely that this can be a bloodless war"
(IPS) -- Iraq was beaten effortlessly in the Gulf war of 1991, and it is now weaker. U.S. smart bombs are supposedly smarter, American might is mightier.

Can this be a swift and bloodless war?

Some top military experts disagree.

A report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), by analysts Arleigh Burke and former Pentagon official Anthony Cordesman, says:

Iraqi forces would be beaten quickly even if President Saddam Hussein orders chemical or biological attacks.

They estimate that Iraq has about half the battle tanks and aircraft it had before the Gulf War, and that only half of these are battle- ready.

"Iraq's inability to modernize its forces means that much of its large order of battle is now obsolescent," the report says.

But on the other side of the Atlantic, an analyst sees it differently.

"It is very unlikely that this can be a bloodless war," Gary Samore, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, told IPS.

"Smart bombs are now undoubtedly smarter, but smart bombs can be only as effective as the information the military has," he says.

"To the extent that they are launched with precise information and they can identify their military targets, they could be delivered with very little collateral damage," he says. "But if there is uncertainty about what appear to be military targets, even the smartest bombs will not necessarily spare collateral damage."

The casualties in a ground war are difficult to predict, Samore says. "It will depend on how hard the Iraqi forces fight, and where they fight, whether in cities or in areas where civilians are not located."

The British and the Americans are hoping they will not have to enter Baghdad, and that "once they surround it, the regime of Saddam Hussein will collapse from within," Samore says. "It is likely that most of the Iraqi military will surrender without much of a fight. But there could be a core of Republican Guards and Special Republican Guards that is likely to put up a fight."

Saddam Hussein clearly has his own plans, and he knows now what can happen when you take on a better-equipped army in open terrain. Many of the regular Iraqi troops, encircled in the desert, surrendered in 1991 after firing only a few token shots.

Samore believes the Iraqis will try and fight the British and American forces on the streets of Baghdad. "How long they can manage to hold out is not very clear," he says. "But I don't think it will be a victory as quick as in 1991. It will not be over in days, it would take at least a few weeks."

Inevitably, the stronger the resistance and the longer the battle, the higher would be the number of civilian casualties.

Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has told the Congress that "if hostilities begin, Saddam is likely to employ a 'scorched earth' strategy, destroying food, transportation, energy and other infrastructures, attempting to create a humanitarian disaster significant enough to stop a military advance."

He said also that Saddam would strike attacking forces with weapons of mass destruction but that the impact of such an attack was unpredictable.

"We do not know Saddam Hussein's doctrine for WMD [weapons of mass destruction] usage," said Jacoby. "We assess, however, based on his past patterns and availability of weapons in his inventory, that he will, in fact, employ them. And the assessment is that he will employ them when he makes the decision that the regime is in jeopardy."

While experts assess the strength of Iraqi resistance, there are few signs of it in Baghdad.

Some key installations and ministry offices have been reinforced with sandbags, and small fortifications set up on roads north and south of the city. But these are unlikely to challenge an invading Western force.

The military has begun to move short-range missiles to the southern border close to Kuwait this week. Artillery positions in the north are being reinforced. But all these fall under the no-fly zones imposed by the U.S. and Britain, and many of them could easily be spotted and destroyed.

The apparently inefficient war preparations beg the question how the regime plans to defend itself should an attack take place. Iraqis are looking at two scenarios: one that hard-core military supporters of the regime will wait to take on U.S. troops in house-to-house combat. Secondly, that faced with extinction Saddam Hussein will use chemical and biological weapons.

The regime has not moved its Republican Guard units into Baghdad so far, and the chemical and biological weapons scenario looks the more likely one. Either way, there would be casualties.

"The U.S. has warned about a disproportionate response if its troops are attacked with such weapons," says Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli strategic expert. "But we don't know what the impact of such a threat will be if the regime feels it is fighting for its survival."

The key to ending a war quickly will be to cut off the leadership from the armed forces, "so that they know they don't have to fear the regime any more," says Steinberg. It would be imperative to achieve an unassailable strategic position quickly so that it becomes clear that an allied victory is inescapable, he says.

There is very little doubt within Iraq about that. "The U.S. as a superpower cannot afford to withdraw in the face of a Third World dictatorship," said one academic. Families are seriously worried about their relatives serving in the army, he said. Such fears are likely to be shared by the conscripts themselves and may contribute to a speedy end to a war.

Samore says war could drag on because of the political conditions in which it would be launched. "Saddam Hussein is likely to make enough concessions to the UN to keep the Security Council divided, but not enough to satisfy Tony Blair and George Bush," he says. "This would be war under the worst possible conditions, with the Security Council and NATO divided." Such a situation could put fight in at least some of Saddam Hussein's forces, he says.

The number of casualties will also depend on the aftermath of the war, Samore says. They would arise from lack of food and spread of disease. "There is also considerable tension among different ethnic and sectarian communities," he says. "And this will include efforts to settle scores with government representatives and members of political groups."

People in Baghdad streets are already talking of settling accounts with members of the military and the ruling Baath party.

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Albion Monitor February 28, 2003 (

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