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Saddam's infrastructure of revenge?


It's been nothing short of amazing to watch two divisions of the Republican Guard break up after less than a week of concentrated bombing. It was never wise to assume it would happen so painlessly, but now that it has, the new new conventional wisdom is that they never had any fight in them to begin with. Yet the Guards certainly hung together last time, in retreat if nothing else, and after a much lengthier air campaign. It seems that target-spotting and bomb-damage assessment with new UAVs makes for a massive force multiplier.

But there's another aspect of this battle that raises a worrisome question. Whatever happened to the long-awaited attack with chemical and biological weapons?

It would have made strategic sense. It was certainly reasonable to expect that a CBW attack, if it was ever going to happen, would have happened when U.S. forces reached the outskirts of Baghdad. After all, what was the point of positioning the Republican Guards there if not to create chemical-biological killing fields? Otherwise, digging in around Kut and Karbala would not differ dramatically from "hunkering down" in Kuwait, as in the last war.

It would have been consistent with what we know about Iraqi doctrine. Former arms inspector Charles Duelfer has reported that in 1995, the Iraqis explained to UNSCOM that they considered chemical weapons to have been the "silver bullet" that saved Saddam twice: first by stopping the Iranians during the Fao campaign, and later by deterring an American march on Baghdad in 1991. Much more recently, the Iraqis have dropped hints that the U.S. could expect the same approach to regime preservation. Following that logic, this would have been the right time and the right place.

There is circumstantial evidence that the Guards were preparing for a CBW attack. Recent reports (here's one) claim that dead Iraqi soldiers spotted along the road to Baghdad were carrying their gas masks.

This mystery could be explained by an early and persistent breakdown in command and control. It may be that a planned CBW attack failed to come to pass because those responsible for conducting it never received final authorization, were disorganized, were in the wrong place, could not communicate, had been killed, etc., etc. When we compare this puzzling absence to other seemingly inexplicable Iraqi failures -- to torch more than a handful of oil wells, to succeed at blowing up any bridges or dams, to launch a significant retaliatory missile campaign, or to put any planes in the air -- it all looks of a piece.

(An aside. Iraq's apparent inability to destroy bridges is especially damning, since heavy U.S. ground forces have been able to cross the Tigris and Euphrates without any great complications or delays. This may mark one of the low points in the history of defensive warfare. I imagine American combat engineers shaking their heads and tsk-tsk'ing as they check bridges captured either intact or with modest damage only.)

Still, it's too soon to be sanguine. There is another, more troubling explanation: Saddam may have reserved his arsenal of nasty stuff as a key piece of an infrastructure of revenge designed to deter his enemies, or at the very least to enhance his posthumous glory.

The idea of an undisclosed plan for vengeance from beyond the grave should bring to mind Dr. Strangelove's bewildered question to the Soviet ambassador: "Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world?" But it also may be consistent with past behavior. During the last war, Saddam's Scud operators supposedly had orders to fire everything they had left at Israel in the event that the regime fell. In this scenario, shortly after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi commanders will unleash their CBW at Israel (or at less appealing but more accessible targets) using any planes or missiles that can fly.

Whether Iraqi commanders would be able or willing to execute such a plan remains unknown. But there should be little doubt about Saddam's interest in the idea. In his most recent televised statements, the Iraqi dictator has signed off with variations on "Long live Palestine! Long live Iraq!" Keeping his history in mind, it should not be surprising if Israel turns out to be Saddam's target of choice for another sort of sign-off message entirely.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000050.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Editor @ 02:02 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 2 comments


Posted by Mildred @ 04/07/2003 08:20 PM CST

You have no reason to believe me, but for what it's worth, special forces and intelligence agencies from the U.S. and other Coalition (and non-Coalition) forces have been operating in Iraq since the last Gulf War. It's entirely possible that much of the ability to launch WMD was thwarted even before the start of GWII. Combine that with thesis the author describes above, and the potential for a WMD launch was lessened even more. I suspect the picture of hussein's plans will be clearer a year from now. Then again, we may never know the real plan. What does it matter in any case. The fact is, the world is a better place without the likes of saddam hussein. At least in free countries, you get to kick bums out of political office without personal retribution.

Posted by Fred @ 04/09/2003 06:17 PM CST

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