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B92B92 Focus

B92 Focus, January 2003.


Nukes, chemicals and collateral damage

War in Iraq: sooner or later
| January 21, 2003.

Radio B92’s Miodrag Vidic looks at Washington’s new project in Iraq in the light of the 1999 attacks on Yugoslavia. Along the way he speaks to George Freedman, the director of Texas information marketer Stratfor, Belgrade political commentator Ejub Stitkovac and Reuters cameraman Fedja Drulovic, currently on assignment in Kuwait.

George Freedman is director of Stratfor, the Texas-based analysis centre which sells political predictions.  He believes that the war with Iraq could begin before spring, despite diplomatic efforts.

FREEDMAN:  The likelihood of an American attack on Iraq in the next sixty days is extremely high, approaching to a certainty, unless something happens in Baghdad to change that course, and that something would be if there was the resignation of Saddam Hussein and his moving into exile and the creation of a completely new government that was from the American point of view favorable.  But unless Saddam took that course it would be my expectation that the war would go forward. There will certainly be a ground offensive accompanying the war.

In 1999, the Euro-Atlantic community expected the fall of Slobodan Milosevic within seven days of the first bombs on Yugoslavia.  Yet the bombing lasted 78 days and Milosevic remained firmly in power.  We asked Freedman to comment

FREEDMAN:  Well, you know, everyone always believes that the war will be short, and then the world discovers how long it will actually take.

There was never an intention on the part of NATO to occupy Serbia.  The war was not intended to create an occupational government.  There is an intention on the part of the United States to occupy Iraq, and therefore it is a completely different sort of war. 

In the Serbian war the intention was to use air power to put sufficient pressure on Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo - that was achieved - and to topple the Milosevic Government - that was not achieved, or at least not achieved in the time frame that was expected. 

In Iraq there is a completely different intention which is the actual physical occupation of the country. Iraq is the most strategic country in the region, and not because of oil, but because it borders critical countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. 

If the United States occupies Iraq it becomes an extraordinary powerful Middle Eastern power."

Remember that the primary purpose of this war is to destroy Al-Qaeda.  The first interest of the United States is to make certain that no further attacks take place.  That requires the destruction of Al-Qaeda. 

That requires the cooperation of government like the Saudis who have not been particularly cooperative. 

Victory in Iraq will mean that the northern border of Saudi Arabia will be occupied by multiple American armoured divisions and the assumption is that the Saudis will behave differently under those circumstances than they do now.

Ground advantage for the home team
FREEDMAN: The expectation would be that it would begin with an intense air war, much more intense than was seen in the Balkans. 

The attacks would probably be more effective than they were in the Balkans because of the weather and the terrain. 

And accompanying that would be an increasing tempo of military operations on the ground, but beginning with the US special forces and followed by our main battle forces, some of which may not even be in the country when the air war starts but will be arriving later."

There’s a great unknown and that unknown is the quality and morale of the Iraqi forces. 

A fundamental assumption of American war planners is that the Iraqi forces will behave in 2003 very similarly to the way they behaved in 1991, where of course, in Kuwait, they collapsed under the weight of the aerial bombardment, and the United States [and its allies] were very effective. 

We simply don’t know whether these assumptions about Iraqi troops are true again.  They may be and if they are then the world will see a very short war.

 If in fact some or all of Saddam’s troops are able to mount an effective resistance then it may turn out to be a longer war.

Belgrade commentator Ejub Stitkovac, an expert in Middle East politics, believes the US will not risk ground combat.

STITKOVAC:You have to bear in mind that Iraq has a strong army, and army which has been trained not in manoeuvres but in wars, almost since it was established.  It’s a very organised, very strong army which in its day has managed to defeat Iran which has three times the population, and we should not forget this fact.

We must also not forget that there will be a lot of volunteers from Arabic countries in this war, just as their were in the Iran-Iraq war.  These volunteers, especially people who are technically educated, specialists as we often refer to them – there is a rather more specific expression in Arabic – can be counted on.

If ground intervention really ensues, the American allies and the Americans themselves must count on huge losses.

The configuration of the terrain, which you know about if you’ve ever visited Iraq and seen some of its regions, is such that the Americans have nothing similar in which they could train for such conflict.

"Cool" Spartans in scorching desert
After OperationDesert Storm in 1991, army camps were established in Kuwait, in which preparations for a military invasion are now under way. 

We found a cameraman from Reuters Television, Belgrader Fedja Drulovic who is no in the field in Kuwait, filming US special forces manoeuvres.

DRULOVIC:I am approximately six kilometres from the border with Iraq, together with the US troops.  The Americans have built a base which looks like a small town.  We’re talking about a simulation of close combat.  They’ve used various kinds of weaponry, from tanks, to anti-aircraft weapons to, of course, infantry, elite “ranger” troops. 

These belong to the Second Brigade which calls itself the Spartans.  I don’t know what America has to do with Sparta, but they obviously like the name, because they use everything they consider “cool”.

This is a unit trained in Florida and Arizona, in high temperatures.  So it’s a close combat unit, for face to face with the enemy.

They’ve even used long range snipers, what our people call the “black arrow”.

They’re very well trained, they look good, morale is high.  I think that, if there is a war, the Iraqis will face a serious enemy.

Fedja Drulovic also talked about some of the lesser know details he has learnt from the US soldiers.

DRULOVIC:I think they have problems because they don’t know and they’re not sure whether there’s going to be an intervention at all.  They could burn out waiting.

There’s a clear desire, especially among the younger soldier, to experience close combat.  This is based mainly on their wanting to tell their friends when they get back home that they’ve been in a war – because if there’s no shooting, they haven’t been in a war.

What are they doing here in the first place.

However, now it looks more likely, it will happen sometime in September or October.  The hot weather is approaching here and, when I say hot I mean fifty or sixty degrees, which is unbearable.

A soldier who was here in June last year told me today that they had to wear gloves in that heat because their rifles were too hot to hold.

But there are things they absolutely refuse to talk about, about their origins, and they refuse to speak any other language than English or Spanish, which is interesting, because there are many people from Latin America.

By the way, they’re all very well paid and the financial satisfaction is obvious.  I even learnt that senior officers are paid seven thousand dollars a month, while ordinary soldiers have between four and five thousand, which not even our generals have, I think.

According to Ejub Stitkovac, if Saddam Hussein is broken, internal conflict will ensue and neighbouring Iran, in which anti-US sentiment is, if anything, even greater, will emerge as the most powerful country in the region. 

However, what people fear most is a possible nuclear crisis.

STITKOVIC:  If Iraq has chemical or atomic weapons, for example, although so far this is only talk and speculation, I believe that the first target this time would be Israel, because Iraq wants to settle the score with the Americans through Israel, because in the Arab world, not only in Iraq, Israel is considered an advocate of US policy, their strongest ally.

The wars between the Israeli and the Arabs are well known.  In this case, Saddam Hussein would again score very important points in the Arab world as the only ruler to stand up to America and Israel and defend Arab national interests.

In that case, I think that the US and its allies, who will of course take part in the war, could suffer a long-term defeat.

Maybe Saddam can be crushed with a series of offensives, but even so the syndrome among the southern Slavs of the creation of a myth of one man is even stronger among the Arabs.

I’m not talking here about Saddam’s qualities, his traits, or my personal view of his dictatorship – and it is a dictatorship, it can’t be described any other way.

I’m saying that hostility to America would deepen and put down deeper roots that way.

And this would automatically extend to European countries as well, those prepared to take part in the war.

Hi-tech death
George Freedman has only cold comfort to offer in the face of the possible nuclear threat from Washington’s latest folly.

FREEDMAN: The United States has no intention of using nuclear weapons unless it turns out that the Iraqis have nuclear weapons and use them, or if they widely use chemical weapons on the battlefield and the United State determines that the only way to counter that action is with what’s called tactical nuclear weapons or small nuclear weapons. 

That would be the only circumstance under which nuclear weapons would be used.  The United States at this point, barring surprises from Iraq, envisions this war as an entirely conventional war

Fedja Drulovic says that the US troops in Kuwait don’t believe that Iraq will restrict itself to conventional weapons.

DRULOVIC:  The greatest fear among the Americans, among the allied forces as a whole, is the fear of chemical and biochemical warfare.

That fear is all the greater because this weaponry doesn’t have to be noisy, these could be silent explosive devices, buried deep in the sand.

After they explode, they contaminate a certain area and troops are poisoned en masse.

Of course journalists also fear this because we have the least experience of it, we’ve had no example of it, at least not in the Balkans or other wars, no one has used biochemical weapons except tear gas, which is completely irrelevant in this case.

Dying abroad to save lives at home
For, perhaps, the first time since the Vietnam War, the US appears prepared to begin a conflict which could result in heavy casualties on its own side.  Is the American public ready for that?

FREEDMAN:I think there is an awareness that casualties are possible, that they are even likely. 

I think that there is an assumption outside the United States that the United States is incapable of taking casualties, that they want wars without casualties. 

Obviously we want a war with as few American casualties as possible, but I think the country is quite prepared for substantial casualties if that’s what it takes. 

Remember, we are sitting here, after September 11, waiting for the next attack in which thousands of Americans may die. 

So from our point of view the question is: casualties on the battlefield of Iraq and other countries, or waiting for Al-Qaeda to strike again. 

So it’s not a question of whether or not we will accept casualties: it’s how to prevent them.

As Washington fine-tunes its strategies to minimise its own casualties, will there be any concern at all about preventing civilian casualties within Iraq? 

Or, as in Yugoslavia in 1999, will these simply be accepted as “collateral damage”, this time of the Euro-Atlantic community’s determination to protect its oil supplies.

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