Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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February 24, 2003

Saddam Moves Again to Determine Agenda on Conflict

Analysis. With input from several GIS stations. Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein began — during the February 17-23, 2003, timeframe —  undertaking a series of steps to regain control of the agenda of the anticipated conflict with the US-led Coalition. These included steps which could lead to:

Pres. Saddam has few options open to him, and determining the timetable for commencement of the conflict gives him some measure of influence over how the war will be fought, and with whom.

As a result, it is possible that Iraq could move to initiate conflict before the US was ready. This could mean before the night of March 3, 2003, considered an optimal date for attack because of lunar conditions — it will be a dark night — or, if it appears that the US forces are delayed until mid-March 2003 by political and readiness issues, at some time in the first half of March 2003.

Significantly, Pres. Saddam has been receiving discreet encouragement from Egyptian sources to initiate early and in the direction of Israel. This would, some Egyptian sources believe, be catastrophic for Iraq in the long term, but would possibly cause the US to require — once again — Egyptian basing and support. There are concerns in Egypt that, should the US determine and win a war against Iraq on Washington’s terms, Iraq would then become the centerpiece of US policy and investment in the future, diminishing Egyptian pre-eminence in the region and as a US ally.

But perhaps more significantly, Iraq has been playing up the Palestinian cause during the week of February 17, 2003. Even in the midst of what appeared to be its own crisis with the United Nations and the US, the centrally-controlled Iraqi media highlighted a letter sent from Palestinian Authority Yasir Arafat to Pres. Saddam on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, in which Arafat called for Iraq to save the Palestinian people from annihilation. Iraq attention to this call from Arafat — something which had been pre-arranged — was designed to give legitimacy for Iraqi westward action against Israel.

This has been discussed extensively by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily over the past six months and more, including the liaison between PA Chairman Yasir Arafat and Pres. Saddam on broadening any war between a US-led Coalition against Iraq to one which is essentially an Arab-Israeli war, but attempted to be writ large, or portrayed, as a Western war against Islam.

It seemed likely that Iraq could initiate such action against Israel (ostensibly in support of the Palestinians), initially using only ballistic missiles and aircraft. The week of February 17, 2003, saw a major upsurge in the movement of Iraq missiles and aircraft westward to the H2 base area in the Iraqi Western desert, within striking range of Israel. Iraqi officials know that for their troops to cross the Jordanian border, en route to Israel, would be considered by Israel as casus belli, bringing about an immediate Israeli military response. But what they are also conscious of is the fact that another “red line” has been delineated by Israel inside of Iraq; if Iraqi forces were to move out of H2 westward, an Israeli strike would occur even before they reached the Iraqi border.

It seemed likely that a follow-up deployment of Iraqi ground forces, then, against Israel would occur only if and when missile or air strikes against Israel seemed to trigger an appropriate tide of Arab support.

An indicator of the prospect of Iraq taking up this long-discussed option would be if there was a massive upsurge in Palestinian activities designed to provoke a broader Israeli military response. This would be seen as triggering an Iraqi military action to support the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the UN had given Iraq until March 1, 2003, to dispose of its fairly extensive stocks of al-Samoud-2 short-range ballistic missiles, on the grounds that they violated the agreed range for defensive systems. In fact, the al-Samoud-2s substantially exceed the range; with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) warheads (chemical, predominantly), which are lighter than high-explosive (HE) warheads, the range is believed to be in excess of 200km. Given the fact that the US had said that disposal of the al-Samoud-2s constituted only one demand, it was clear to most Iraqi officials that destruction of the missiles would not, in any event, stave off a US-led attack on Iraq.

As well, Iraqi acceptance of the UN demand to destroy those missiles would, in fact, imply de facto recognition that Iraq had violated the UN accords which, in itself, then provided casus belli for a Coalition attack. Iraqi officials have therefore appeared to have decided that there was no point in destroying the missiles which would be vital in a war situation. This provided yet another argument for an Iraqi initiation of the conflict before the US was ready. It is known that most of the al-Samoud-2s are deployed close to Kuwait, and that the deployment includes at least one battery of chemical warhead variants of the system.

And while the US and Turkey have been “negotiating” over whether US ground forces could stage through Turkey, the Turkish Army itself has been preparing for engagement inside Iraq, and in large numbers. The Turkish 2nd Army, normally headquartered at Malatya and with a force of some 70,000, has now moved its headquarters forward to Silopi in the Sirnac Region (and just south-west of the city of Sirnac), right on the Iraqi border, and has been reinforced with troops from central Turkey. Its manpower level now stands at more than 100,000 (as at February 22, 2003). 

Much of the real issue in the debate between Turkey and the US was not over the extensive demands for financial aid which Turkey made on the US, but over questions relating to the resurgent Turkish pan-Turkist approach. The Turkish General Staff has insisted on a strong Turkish occupation rôle over northern Iraq, the Kurdish region which was once part of Turkey proper. Turkey has demanded the right to permanently base forces in this region (including Kirkuk and Mosul, the major oil cities of the north), post-Saddam, something which causes grave concern to the US, Iran and the Kurds. Some Turkish forces do, in fact, maintain de facto permanent basing just inside Iraq already, but a substantial presence would certainly be seen as destabilizing by other countries in the region. Indeed, there is a concern that rather than help Turkish stability by giving it a presence through which to control the Kurds, the Turkish Kurdish problem would, in fact, be greatly exacerbated.

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The following is the text of a letter, released by the UN on February 22, 2003, from Hans Blix, chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to Iraqi General Amer al-Saadi, ordering the destruction of Iraqi missiles. The text was made available by Blix's office.

The reference to UNSCOM is to the UN Special Commission, the previous disarmament agency.

Dear Dr al-Saadi,

During our latest discussions in Baghdad, on February 9 and 10, 2003, I informed you that a panel of international experts would be convened in New York to conduct a technical assessment of the range capabilities of Al-Samoud 2 and Al Fatah missile systems. The assessment was also to include the refurbished casting chambers associated with the proscribed Badr-2000 missiles that had been destroyed under UNSCOM supervision, as well as the capability of the test stand under construction at the Al Rafah Liquid Engine Test Facility.

The panel, which met on February 10 and 11, consisted of experts nominated by the governments of China, France, Germany, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. The Russian expert nominated was unable to attend.

UNMOVIC experts provided the panel with background information on the relevant aspects of Iraq's missile program and infrastructure. The panel was also advised that, in 1994, UNSCOM had informed Iraq that any increase: of diameter in the design of the Ababil -100 liquid engine missile (subsequently renamed as Al-Samoud) exceeding 600 millimeters was not permitted. The panel was further informed that UNMOVIC had advised Iraq, in December 2002, to cease all flight tests of the Al-Samoud 2 which has a diameter of 760 millimeters, until UNMOVIC completed its technical assessment.

The panel also used in its assessment the information presented by Iraq to UNMOVIC experts in Baghdad on January 26 and February 10, as well as the results of four separate computer simulations of the ranges of the Al-Samoud 2 and Al Fatah missiles. These simulations were conducted by experts from four different countries using the data declared by Iraq.

The panel was unanimous in its assessment in reaching the attached conclusions. These conclusions were presented to UNMOVIC's College of Commissioners on February 13. On the basis of the panel's conclusions on the Al-Samoud 2, which do not call for further clarification or testing. I reported, on February 14, to the Security Council that two declared variants of the Al Samoud 2 missile system were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range, and were therefore proscribed pursuant to resolution 687 (1991) and the monitoring plan adopted by solution 715 (1991).

Accordingly, the government of Iraq should present to UNMOVIC for verifiable destruction all Al-Samoud 2 missiles and associated items, as follows:

1. All Al-Samoud 2 missies and warheads, whether deployed, assembled or partly assembled;

2. Fuel and oxidizer, where deployed with Al-Samoud missiles;

3. The SA-2 missile engines imported outside of the export/import mechanism and in contravention of paragraph 24 of resolution 687 (1991), which have been configured for use in the Al-Samoud 2, are in the process of being so configured, or are otherwise associated with the Al-Samoud 2 missile program;

4. All engine components acquired for the modification of the SA-2 engine for use with the Al-Samoud 2 system, such as thrust regulators, gas generators and air pressure regulators;

5. All SA-2 autopilots and other guidance and control items, such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, inertial equipment and software imported or developed for use with the Al-Samoud 2 system;

6. With respect to launchers, all parts of the launching mechanism that are designed for use with the Al-Samoud 2 system. The basic platforms of the vehicles need not be destroyed, but will be tagged and their future use monitored;

7. Those components specific to the Al-Samoud 2, which are incorporated in the logistic support vehicles, such as fuel, oxidizer and control vehicles required for the operation of the Al-Samoud 2 missile force;

8. Equipment and components designed for the production and testing of the Al-Samoud 2 missile; and

9. All software and documentation concerning conception, research and development, production and quality control related to the Al-Samoud 2 missile program.

With respect to the casting chambers that had been deemed proscribed and were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision, the panel confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers, Accordingly, these chambers remain proscribed and are to be destroyed.

The panel found that clarification of Al Fatah missile data supplied by Iraq was required before the capability of the missile system could be assessed. UNMOVIC will request such clarification.

The panel also assessed that the AJ Rajah static test stand, under construction would be capable of testing missile engines with thrusts greater than that of the SA-2 engine. The test stand will be monitored.

The necessary destruction is to be carried out by Iraq under UNMOVIC guidance and supervision. UNMOVIC will select from a variety of methods of destruction, depending on the items to be destroyed, such as explosive demolition, crushing, melting and other physical and chemical methods.

The appropriate arrangements should be made so that the destruction process can commence by March 1, 2003.

Your sincerely,
Hans Blix