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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
US maps out Iraq invasion
US soldiers heading for Iraq during 1998 air strikes
The plan would involve thousands of soldiers
A document leaked to the New York Times has detailed the logistics of a possible all-out invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The BBC's defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, reports.

The US Central Command document cited in this report is not a final war plan - rather a concept of operations.

It sets out in broad terms what the battle to topple Saddam Hussein might look like and, once approved, it would form the basis for much more detailed planning.

The US military seem to be envisaging a sort of Desert Storm II - similar in some ways to the original Gulf War which drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

This would be a vast operation involving a concerted air, sea and land assault from the north, the south, and the west - according to a report in the New York Times.

Complex operation

The report quotes a source who is familiar with the planning under way at US Central Command in Florida - the headquarters that would oversee preparations for any such operation.

US soldiers examining Iraqi weapons cache at the end of the Gulf War
The prospect of biological or chemical attack concerns US military strategists

The plan proposes a full-scale invasion of Iraq involving tens of thousands of marines and soldiers supported by hundreds of warplanes operating from bases in a variety of countries.

This is in some ways a more complex operation than the original eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait - an operation the Iraqi leader famously dubbed the "mother of all battles".

But the strategic options in terms of avenues of attack are much greater and the Americans clearly intend to overwhelm Iraq's defences by a well co-ordinated attack from a variety of directions.

One would expect the operation to open with a significant air campaign just as in the first Desert Storm.

Nonetheless, there are some important embellishments.

Political context

The possibility that Iraq still has chemical or biological weapons ready for use in a last-ditch defence worries American planners.

Few people doubt that the US could invade Iraq and topple its rulers, the real question remains: What then?

So the US attack would be accompanied by covert operations on the ground inside Iraq to try to destroy laboratories or storage sites.

One factor that is not seemingly addressed in any detail is the wider political context of any operation.

Such large-scale military activity would require months of preparation and the co-operation of a number of countries in the region that would have to provide staging bases from which the attack would be mounted.

It is also unclear if this is seen as essentially a US operation - perhaps with one or two key allies - or whether there is to be a credible military contribution from a wider coalition.

Such a coalition is far from essential in military terms but could well have some diplomatic value.

Military dissatisfaction

This is certainly a rare glimpse into the inner thinking of America's military planners.

Iraqi workers pass a portrait of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
Could the world create a new Iraq if it crushed Saddam Hussein?

But it prompts the question as to why this sort of detailed planning has emerged into the public domain at all.

One factor may be the Bush administration's own desire to keep the pressure up on Saddam Hussein - a demonstration that President George W Bush's threats to unseat the Iraqi leader are not mere empty rhetoric.

But there are also hints that the leaking of the report reflects some dissatisfaction within the US military.

There is a feeling that more than a decade after the first Desert Storm, while the US has become stronger and Iraq dramatically weaker, the Pentagon's war plans still betray too traditional a form of strategic thinking.

There is a faction in the military world which argues that the advances in technology over the past 10 years mean that American planners should be able to devise a much more innovative and elegant battle-plan.

No 'Afghan option'

But the military options for Washington if it is serious about unseating Saddam are probably limited.

There is no real "Afghan option" - the use of special forces in concert with well-motivated local opponents of the regime such as the Northern Alliance.

However, few people doubt that the US could invade Iraq and topple its rulers.

The real question remains: What then?

Re-building Iraq both politically and in practical terms would be a huge task.

And while America may fight the war largely on its own, it would need the concerted help of all the major economic powers to set about the task of creating a new Iraq once Saddam's military machine was crushed.

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