Jewish World Review March 26, 2002 / 13 Nisan, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Saddam watch coming to an end? | War with Iraq may be coming sooner rather than later. Saddam Hussein expects us to hit him in the first week in April, says Debkafile, a private intelligence service based in Israel.

"(Iraqi) emissaries told Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad that the Iraqi estimate of the offensive's date was based on deductions from the tracks left by the small U.S. Special Forces contingents already inside Iraq," Debkafile said.

Most military experts don't expect an American offensive before early summer. But Vice President Dick Cheney's recent trip to 11 Muslim countries, and President Bush's public criticism of Israel could be signs conflict is imminent. The United States must appear more even-handed in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to provide cover for Arab states providing passive support to an offensive against Iraq.

There are just two nations whose support - or, at least, whose acquiescence - is required if an attack on Iraq is to be successful. The leaders of Turkey and Russia both have publicly cautioned against an attack on Iraq. But there are signs both are prepared to go along.

Turkey's cooperation can be obtained by pledges not to support an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and if Turkey can be guaranteed a supply of reasonably priced oil from the Kirkuk fields.

Russia appears prepared to abandon its past support for Iraq. Russian military advisers have been brought home from Baghdad, and the Iraqi military delegation has been asked to leave Moscow, Debkafile reports.

The price of Russian cooperation is, apparently, a guarantee that a new Iraqi regime will honor the $6 billion to $9 billion that Iraq owes to Russia for military and economic assistance in the past.

"Russia doesn't have any particular reason to support Saddam Hussein," Vyachelslav Nikonov, head an influential Russian think tank, told the news service Interfax last week.

The announcement last week that 1,700 crack British troops will be sent to Afghanistan could be another sign of impending conflict. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a steadfast and articulate ally of the United States in the war on terror. But an attack on Iraq would be divisive within Blair's Labor Party. If the Royal Marine Commandos perform in Afghanistan missions that heretofore were being performed by U.S. troops, the American soldiers would be freed for use elsewhere.

Most military experts think that far less force will be required to defeat Saddam this time, but that the participation of some U.S. conventional ground combat troops is essential.

Saddam has made Iraq coup proof. Military commanders must obtain permission from the secret police and from Baath party officials to draw gasoline or ammunition for training exercises. But the same measures that make it harder for Iraqi generals to overthrow Saddam also make it harder for those generals to resist an American attack.

According to Debkafile, Saddam fears the U.S. is in contact with a number of high-ranking officers in the Iraqi armed forces. While Saddam's security measures effectively would prevent those officers from launching a coup themselves, these officers, if they were in charge of military bases, could order their troops not to resist a U.S. attack, in the same way that Vichy French forces in North Africa, nominally allied with Nazi Germany, offered only token resistance when the U.S. invaded in 1942.

These Iraqi troops, supported by American ground troops and American air power, could then form the base of a rebel army of liberation. This would be the "Afghan" model of conflict on a larger scale.

Prof. James Robbins of the National Defense University thinks the best way to fight the war would be for U.S. conventional forces to carve out a "liberated zone" in southern Iraq, to include the oil port of Basra. This would deprive Hussein of oil revenues, while providing a safe haven for rebel forces.

Establishment of a liberated zone would put excruciating pressure on Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam. If they moved, they'd be vulnerable to air strikes. If they didn't, rebel forces would swell.

It is doubtful the U.S. would attack before or during the Arab League summit scheduled for March 28-29 in Beirut. But after that, all bets may be off.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly