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Planning The Invasion Of Iraq by Jonathan Reingold

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, a United States invasion of Iraq is by no means inevitable.

Tactical disputes within the administration, major reservations on the part of major U.S. allies, the political impossibility of launching a major attack while Israel and the Palestine Authority are still at war, and other U.S. military commitments around the world are among the factors holding back the Bush administration's march to war. These factors should give critics of intervention some time, and some political traction, to make their case to the public. Time is still of the essence, but an invasion of Iraq is not a foregone conclusion.

The Washington-based Center for Defense Information's recent report "Iraq: Washington Prepares for Another War" makes it clear that Pentagon planners have been busy indeed. A U.S. invasion could take place as soon as mid-fall of this year or more likely, in early 2003, by CDI's estimate. That is, if pesky weapons inspections don't get in the way. The CDI report discusses several other political complications, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kurds in northern Iraq, inspections, and U.S. military preparedness problems, in addition to lingering operations in Afghanistan.

CDI maintains that there is not yet consensus within the Bush administration as to whether to go ahead with an attack, but the think tank cites three potential scenarios that would mute any in-house bickering:

1) if a major terrorist attack occurs against the U.S. or another country with hard evidence linking Iraq to the attack;
2) if a similar attack is uncovered and thwarted;
3) if an inspection "crisis" precipitates a U.S. surgical strike on WMD facilities or possibly the use of Special Forces to invade and conduct their own inspections to prove to the world what Saddam Hussein's regime has been developing in secret for years.

The report also presumes that because the U.S. is under no illusions that it will receive help from any other country, besides Britain, it will have to use overwhelming force and every asset in its inventory. Because of logistical reasons and precisely because all conventional assets are needed, CDI argues that the U.S. needs more time to rebuild weapons reserves that have been depleted in Afghanistan.

For example, The Seattle Times reported in early April that Boeing is under contract to increase monthly production of its JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), which can convert "dumb" bombs into precision-guided munitions using a kit, increasing their accuracy by up to 90%. Even with workers cranking out bombs 24 hours a day it will take until about September to produce enough for an extensive bombing campaign. Also it will take time to amass the necessary manpower; 100,000 U.S. troops and 25,000 ground personnel would be required in the region for a large-scale invasion. Already, CDI says U.S. Central Command has finished preliminary preparations, with commanders from each service stationed at their forward headquarters along with 1,000 war planners, logistical and support specialists.

And as veteran defense analyst William Arkin noted in an opinion piece in the Sunday, May 5th edition of the Los Angeles Times, there is considerable disagreement within the military services over Gen. Tommy Franks plan to put major ground forces into Iraq early on in a potential invasion, to create "shock and awe" among Iraqi forces. Apparently Franks' plan, which has been cleared with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was not fully discussed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The argument within the military is not whether to invade Iraq, but how to go about it. Airpower advocates suggest that a longer period of bombing prior to invasion could cut down the need for a massive troop commitment. None of the military planners seems to have given much thought to what happens when and if Saddam Hussein is toppled -- what kind of government would be established, and would U.S. troops have to occupy the country for the long haul (unlike the intervention in Afghanistan, the move against Iraq would like widespread support from other governments, thereby foreclosing the option of handing off post-war stability and peacekeeping chores to other nations).

In additional to these tactical and strategic concerns, political hurdles there are also numerous political hurdles that could threaten jeopardize the success of a U.S. invasion, according to CDI. For one, Saudi opinion believes sanctions on Iraq severely punish Iraqi citizens and that an attack on Iraq might provoke chaos in the entire region, in no small part due to the power vacuum left by Saddam's absence. The Saudis are extremely reluctant to let the U.S. use its bases in the Kingdom to stage an attack.

As for Turkey, home to the key NATO base at Incirlik, the government remains wary of an invasion causing trouble amongst its 12 million Kurdish minority. The Kurds in northern Iraq, for their part, are hesitant to trust the U.S. given the United States' history of betraying them along with Shi'ites in the south. Several recent Wall Street Journal reports have indicated that as a result of revenues provide through the UN's "oil for food" program, Kurds in Northern Iraq have better living standards and a more stable way of life than they have enjoyed in many years, a situation that has resulted in considerable opposition to the idea of a U.S. invasion to dump Saddam Hussein. CDI suspects the U.S. will have to promise autonomy for the Kurds to secure their cooperation as well as a firm U.S. commitment to go all the way this time and unseat Saddam.

Given the past history of U.S. betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds, these assurances may not be enough to secure significant cooperation from groups beyond the Iraqi National Congress, which is ridiculed in Northern Iraq as being a group that exists to hold press conferences and hang out in hotel bars, not a serious opposition movement. Also, there is the problem of the majority Shi'ites in southern Iraq whom the U.S. and Saudis fear would take over any future Iraqi government and align the country with Shi'ite fundamentalists in Iran.

What was not covered extensively in the CDI's April 30th report was the rift in the Bush administration over Iraqi policy between the State and Defense Departments. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have both been vociferous in condemning the inspections as useless. Rumsfeld has said he simply cannot imagine any inspection regime intrusive enough to alleviate everyone's fear of what the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein is up to.

Besides publicly lashing out against inspections, on April 20th the administration successfully led a bid to remove Jose Bustani, the Brazilian director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The administration accused Bustani of financial mismanagement and making politically motivated decisions contrary to the wishes of most members.

Supporters of Bustani question the motives of the Bush administration and point out that Bustani oversaw the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and two-thirds of the world's chemical weapons facilities during his tenure. Not to mention, that due largely to his work, the number of countries that have signed the chemical weapons convention has increased from 87 to 145, and he was unanimously reelected in the U.N. two years ago. Bustani's principal "crime," from the Bush administration's skewed perspective, appears to be that he was in the process of negotiating a new inspection regime for suspected Iraqi chemical weapons sites, an undertaking which could have undercut U.S. efforts to portray an invasion as the only way to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction being developed in Iraq.

In mid-April, the Washington Post reported that Wolfowitz had asked the CIA to investigate the key UN inspections official, Hans Blix, Swedish head of U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, the replacement for UNSCOM. Wolfowitz told the CIA to examine Blix's performance as chief of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspected Iraq's declared nuclear power plants from 1981 to 1997. The CIA reported to Wolfowitz in January that Blix's inspections were "fully within the parameters he could operate." The Washington Post further noted that a former official at the State Department who knew of the CIA report said Wolfowitz, "hit the ceiling" presumably since it did not accomplish the mission of discrediting Blix and consequently the new UN weapons inspection program.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is on the record as favoring a more cautious approach to invading Iraq, supporting an invasion only after inspections fail. For their part, the Vice President and the Defense Department want to derail inspections and invade Iraq as soon as possible, in part to avoid waiting until the end of Bush's term when a war could prove more risky politically.

Another factor is the advice the administration is receiving from conservative strategists such as Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board; "We shouldn't wait. We should go after Iraq...The removal of Saddam would be a tremendous step forward for the [Middle East] peace process. We need to take decisive action, and when we do and are successful, it will greatly strengthen our ability to do other things in the region," Perle told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.

Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, another conservative think tank that has considerable clout with the Bush administration takes a different approach to same objective. In a March decision brief, titled, "What Not to Do About Iraq: Send in Inspectors," CSP discussed Iraq's successful campaign to delay inspections.

The brief cites David Kay's testimony before Congress, the first chief inspector to enter Iraq after the Gulf War; "The Iraqi complaints concerning UNSCOM related to its insistence on unrestricted access to anything in Iraq it deemed relevant to determining the scope of Iraq's WMD program and an equal insistence that they would not accept any time limit on how long it might take to accomplish this objective. If UNMOVIC were to compromise on either of these, we might end up with Iraq begin declared free of WMD, when if fact all that would be certain is that UNMOVIC could not find any evidence of WMD." CSP argues that the very act of allowing weapons inspections in Iraq will add to international opposition to an American invasion of Iraq.

An important American ally that opposes invading Iraq is Saudi Arabia. Terry Eastland, in the Weekly Standard last week underscored two ways in which the removal of Saddam could be detrimental to the House of Saud. First, "A post-Saddam Iraq no doubt would return that nation's oil fully to market, thus reducing the Saudis' ability to set oil prices and upsetting its oil-dependent economy, which already is in a deep slump. With an ever worsening economy, the unemployment rate (30 percent) would grow--as would popular discontent with the regime itself," and second, "the very demise of Saddam Hussein, resulting as it would in greater freedom for the Iraqi people, would send a signal to the people of Saudi Arabia, as it would to citizens of other Muslim countries, that regime change is possible." (Although unless the United States were to threaten to invade Saudi Arabia, its hard to see how U.S.-induced "regime change" in Iraq would offer hope to Saudi dissidents; nor is it automatically the case that a regime that succeeded Saddam Hussein would be a model of freedom, democracy, or the rule of law).

From the plethora of conservative pundits, presidential advisers and competing departments all that is clear is that no final decision has been made yet to invade Iraq, although all necessary preparations are being made and many are in place. War hawks are doing their best to avoid political entanglements, but the Middle East has a knack for providing just that. Ultimately, President Bush will have to decide if the alleged benefits of an attack on Iraq are worth the enormous potential costs. Of course that presumes that the administration does an balanced analysis of the risks involved, and doesn't simply adopt the policy platitudes of influential neo-conservatives like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Most importantly of all, the American public must be heard before a decision with such wide-ranging consequences is made on their behalf.

Jonathan Reingold is an intern for the Arms Trade Resource Center (ATRC). To contact him and/or receive ATRC updates visit or e-mail ATRC Research Associate Ms. Frida Berrigan at:

Jonathan Reingold

Thursday, May 9, 2002

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