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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Analysis: US options on Iraq
British Tornado jet in file photo
US and British planes patrol no-fly zones over Iraq

When the leaders of the most powerful country in the world remark that they seek "regime change" in Iraq, the rest of the world must believe them.

For "regime change", read the removal of Saddam Hussein. It does not necessarily mean an invasion. It does mean a result.

President Bush said recently that the United States would "use all tools at our disposal" to get that result.

And the Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz has said in Turkey that Saddam Hussein "presents a danger we cannot live with indefinitely".

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein has crushed previous revolts

Mr Wolfowitz has been urging action on Iraq since the attacks of 11 September.

At a meeting at Camp David on the Sunday after the attacks, however, it was decided to put Iraq on the shelf and Mr Wolfowitz into a box.

He is now out.

Anthony Cordesman, a former US Government official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, says that many people outside the United States "feel we are crying wolf".

The United States is not crying wolf. It is crying Wolfowitz.

Don't say later there was no warning.

History is full of such warnings being ignored.

Sabre rattling

They are often dismissed in advance as "sabre rattling". Saddam Hussein was so accused when he moved troops up to the border with Kuwait in 1990. Then he invaded.

In 1973, the Israelis ignored signs from Egypt that it intended to attack across the Suez Canal.

Britain thought that Argentina was "sabre rattling" over the Falklands in 1982. It was not.

The United States itself was taken by surprise at Pearl Harbour in 1941.

But if the end is now clearly laid down, the means are not. Note that the American statements refer to "regime change" not to "invasion".

It is just possible the Iraqi leader will back down and allow UN weapons inspectors back in. But even that it is now unlikely to assuage Washington. George Bush has a wider agenda.

Three options

The United States has basic three options:

  • A coup
  • A popular uprising
  • The large scale use of military force, either to invade or force a collapse

The problem for Washington with the first two options is that they have been tried before. Saddam Hussein's opponents, encouraged by the CIA, tried to overthrow him in 1996. But he struck first.

Iraqi parliament in session on Monday
Iraq's parliament discussed the US threat on Monday

Earlier, in 1995, the opposition-in-exile, the Iraqi National Congress, drew up a "Three Cities" plan. Popular revolts would take over the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in the North and Basra in the South. They would be used as bases for further assaults.

The plan went ahead without American support. It fizzled out.

Earlier this year the CIA was authorised to have another go against the Iraqi president.

A coup or internal collapse would obviously be preferable to an invasion.

And the latest thinking includes the possibility that the threat of an invasion, or the assembly of an invading force, might itself do the trick by getting the Iraqi military, faced with overwhelming odds, to turn against Saddam.

At a meeting in London over the weekend, exiled Iraqi officers almost to a man predicted such a collapse if the Americans deployed forces in the field.

That might be wishful thinking. But it is a result many are wishing for.

Such a result is not expected to come without the actual deployment of forces. So planning is going ahead.

And if it does not work, then an invasion is likely to go ahead.

Battle plans

According to the New York Times, the US Central Command has drawn up initial plans for such an invasion, using 250,000 soldiers and marines.

Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz
Wolfowitz: Hawk on Iraq

There would be extensive air attacks first and commando raids to try to destroy suspected sites where biological or chemical weapons might be held.

Such an attack is not imminent. The French foreign minister said after meeting the US Secretary of State Colin Powell that "a military intervention is not a question currently under consideration".

But there is plenty of time for that consideration. A decision could be taken in the autumn with troop movements following soon afterwards.

Actual combat would probably not take place until early next year during the cool of the winter.

A sure sign of impending action would be the large scale transfer of US aircraft, soldiers and marines to the Persian Gulf. No such movement has yet taken place.

But there is now an inevitability surrounding the whole issue.

Major-General Patrick Cordingley, who commanded a British armoured brigade during the Gulf War, told a meeting in London recently that Saddam Hussein faced "inevitable consequences" if he did not allow the weapons inspectors in.

General Cordingley did not think that the Iraqi armed forces would present much trouble, once Iraq's air defences had been dealt with.

It is therefore not really a question of whether, but how and when.


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