Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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September 18, 2002

Iraqi Move to Accept UN Weapons Inspectors Unlikely to Severely Disrupt US Strategic Momentum

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor. A move on September 17, 2002, by the Government of Iraq to agree to admit United Nations (UN) weapons inspectors, in a bid to undermine US efforts to win UN Security Council approval to act militarily against the country, seemed unlikely to do more than delay slightly US steps to attempt to remove Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi move was designed to undercut support for the US position in the Security Council and within the region. GIS resources within the Persian Gulf and surrounding region feel that this is at best a delaying move, and one which might reduce to some extent the momentum which the US had been building in its campaign against Pres. Saddam.

[See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, September 16, 2002: Momentum Moving to Support US Action Against Iraq, on Washington’s Timetable.]

Significantly, although the US may at this point appear to have less freedom of action in building a coalition — and a geographic base from which to operate — against Saddam than it had in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the strategic balance now favors the US to a far greater extent in other ways than was the case 12 years earlier.

Firstly, the US is building political and geographic solidarity in its case to move against Pres. Saddam;

Secondly, the US had the option not to proceed against Iraq in 1990, and certainly had pressure not to either remove Pres. Saddam, or to break up Iraq. In 2002, the US has no option other than to proceed, or lose entirely its strategic credibility in the region and among Muslim states. To fail to follow through with the operation against Iraq at this point, and to remove Saddam, would seriously jeopardize the US’ ability to sustain support for its “war on terror”, and would invite an almost direct response of revived strategic terrorism against the US;

Thirdly, Iraqi conventional military capability is significantly less in September 2002 than it was in August 1990; indeed, much of the Iraqi military technology — but by no means all of it — is based on the technology which it had in 1990. The addition of fiber-optic and other more secure C4I links and long-range Kolchuga early-warning radars has significantly enhanced some aspects of Iraq’s defensive capability, and the 1990-91 experience has almost certainly resulted in doctrinal improvements in the Army (although the Air Force has been severely restricted in the ensuing decade), but Iraq still cannot expect to stand alone against the US, even if the US lacked significant other military support elements;

Fourth, US and Western military capability is dramatically more capable than it was in 1990-91 when it resoundingly defeated Iraqi forces. US weapons in particular, but also those of the UK, Australia, etc., are vastly more accurate than those of 1991. This means more efficient use of ordnance, with less collateral damage. This will be coupled with a far greater dependence than in 1991 on the use of special forces to identify targets. Doctrinally, for the US-led coalition, will operate in a far more flexible, mobile fashion even than the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, which in many ways saw the last of the Cold War military doctrine in operation. There has been a progressive and more innovative development of fluid doctrine in the past decade, designed to counter asymmetric threats and fixed defenses, and a far greater reliance on special operations. The British and Australian involvement in Operation Desert Storm and in the region — as well as in Afghanistan — since that time has also meant a massive accretion of local knowledge for the US, UK and Australia.

It is true that Pres. Saddam is now very aware that the US motive is his removal, and not just the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, as was the objective in 1990-91. This means that he will either mount a more spirited, and more carefully-considered defense, or will search for additional ways to appear to compromise to the US, as with the September 16, 2002, offer to allow “unconditional” access to UN weapons inspectors. But Saddam will be aware that nothing short of the appearance of total obeisance to the US, to ensure the perception of absolute US victory, will satisfy US Pres. George W. Bush. Indeed, Pres. Bush cannot — for the reasons cited above — accept less than total victory.

As noted in earlier GIS reports [see Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily of August 30, 2002: Observations on the Persistence of the Present Unpleasantness in the Middle East, among others], Pres. Saddam’s main strategic option lies in ensuring that a US-led attack against Iraq is transformed as quickly as possible into an Arab-Israeli war. The August 30, 2002, report noted:

Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein recognizes clearly the prospect that the US will strike at him militarily in the near future. It is clearly in his interest that the US attack before the November 2002 US Congressional elections which would ensure, possibly, that the US would not undertake a comprehensive war, but would, rather, engage in limited air strikes and possibly some special forces insertions designed as much for US public consumption as for war-winning.”

“Should the US undertake such an action, it could mean that it would actually lose international momentum in the “war on terror” and thus be unable to re-mount a later, more comprehensive and effective total war against Iraq.”

“Equally, Saddam Hussein is clearly aware that Israel would not hesitate to respond with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should Iraq attempt any strategic-level attacks (with WMD) against Israel. The presence of US forces inside Iraq — as part of the US war — would make it virtually impossible for Israel to respond with nuclear weapons against Iraq should Iraq launch its own WMD attack on Israel after US forces have landed. Moreover, Saddam has taken steps to help ensure that the US war against Iraq immediately becomes a new, broader Arab-Israeli conflict once combat is initiated.”

The US, therefore, seems likely to once again urge Israel to take a restrained position in the face of any new attacks by Iraq. The Bush Administration is particularly sensitive to the fact that it does not want its “war on terror” to be perceived as a war between Western civilization and the Muslim or Arab worlds. Equally, Pres. Saddam — although by no means a devout Muslim — is anxious that the war be perceived exactly along those lines: as a Western attack on Islam.

The presence of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq is a blind alley into which the legalists have painted themselves, largely because it is unlikely that the inspectors would be able to find any of the UN-prohibited materials (nuclear weapons facilities, chemical or biological weapons facilities, or even medium-range ballistic missiles) given the fact that Iraq has become expert at hiding such resources. Indeed, as noted by the Israeli Government and by such analysts as Arnaud de Borchgrave,1 Libya is one offshore repository of Iraqi technical and scientific expertise and matériel.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on September 17, 2002, that the Iraqi offer to readmit weapons inspectors — in a letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri — was unconditional, noting that inspectors would be allowed to continue their work and Iraq was ready to discuss the practical arrangements for the return of inspectors. GIS analysts believe that the inspectors (a) could not find meaningful evidence in the timeframe allowed by the UN, and (b) Iraq would use the presence of the inspectors in some senses as a shield against interim attacks by US and UK aircraft (ie: as hostages/human shields), dragging out the process as long as possible. The delaying tactic is designed to give Iraq breathing space to come up with new options, or to allow support for the US strategy to vitiate.

The US momentum was boosted on September 16, 2002, when Saudi Arabia said that it would allow the US to use its bases there for a strike on Iraq, providing the action is endorsed by the UN. Indeed, Saudi Arabia also had little option but to support this process or be perceived to be on the wrong side of the power curve. However, for Saudi Arabia, like Iraq (although for different reasons), the process remains a delaying gambit, in the hope — not substantiated by any meaningful planning — that something will alter the process of US momentum to remove Saddam. Saudi Arabia’s concerns remain: (i) the installation of a government even more dangerous to Saudi Arabia than that of Pres. Saddam, and (ii) the possible break-up of Iraq, removing a powerful bulwark (at least theoretically) against the growing power of Iran. Indeed, there is even some sympathy for Iraq’s plans to broaden the US-led war against Iraq into a broader Arab-Israeli dispute, because this continues to distract from Saudi Arabia’s own domestic problems.

Per capita annual income in Saudi Arabia dropped from US$19,000 in 1981 to $7,300 in 1997, with the population rising from less than 7-million in the early 1970s to more than 22-million today, with 43 percent of the population now under 14 years of age. National income has declined from US$227-billion in 1981 to an average of less than $60-billion today. Unemployment and radicalization is challenging the Sa’ud family. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is becoming less critical to the US. In 1991, 24 percent of US oil imports came from Saudi; today that figure is less than 15 percent, basically the same as from Nigeria.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on September 16, 2002, that he had ordered the US Air Force more than a month ago to increase attacks on Iraq’s air defense network, targeting all significant facilities and not just those which painted Coalition aircraft. British Royal Air Force aircraft were also escalating operations along with those of the US. The US escalation has begun to assume military proportions, and doctrinal planning — as well as target intelligence data — is now a major priority.

Similarly, the White House must now also focus on political priorities, including the development of a viable replacement government for that of Pres. Saddam, if Pres. Bush is to win meaningful support from regional Middle Eastern leaders. As well, the shape of post-Saddam Iraq must be defined and projected into Iraq if Iraqi support is to be forthcoming for an internal overthrow of the current Ba’athist leadership. The US must now probably look toward a culmination of its political and military planning by about January-February 2003. As noted earlier by GIS, the pressure to find a solution before the US Congressional elections in November 2002 has receded, although US Congressional support for the campaign must come quickly if US strategic momentum is to be retained.

The war, meanwhile, has already been a factor in the US Congressional elections. Pres. Bush’s firmness has solidified the position of the Republican Party for the November elections. And by delaying the operations against Iraq until a time more suited to US interests, Turkey — which faces its own elections on November 3, 2002 — is less likely to be distorted politically by the war.


1. Writing in The Washington Times of September 12, 2002, Arnaud de Borchgrave indicated that there was evidence that Iraq had developed very deep bunkers for its key weapons and command and control facilities. He noted: “A go-anywhere-do-anything inspection regime voted by the UN Security Council (assuming no vetoes from France, Russia or China) could not possibly detect a door-sized opening on the side of a hill, covered with soil that leads down to huge underground hangars where WMDs are stored, such as a former Soviet tactical nuclear weapon purchased on the Russian black market.” He also cited the involvement of North Koreans, who are expert in tunnel building, and the rôle of the North Koreans in Libya. GIS sources, as cited earlier, have also said that some 20,000 Iraqi scientists, engineers and teachers were now in Libya working on collaborative weapons programs. Iraq and Libya had cooperated extensively on strategic weapons development, with the DPRK, since before the 1990-91 Gulf War.