On Point

Invasion Iraq

by Austin Bay

After a decade, the drama verges on political soap opera, mixing new characters with actors from the original cast.

But it isn't a soap, it's the tragedy of Iraq. The short plot has Saddam savaging his corner of the world, then beating the noose in 1991. Each time he moves to slip his political cage, the United States rattles a sword. Bit players start a scene or two. In 2002, the current Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, calls for a "political solution." Igor's scriptwriter punched his lines from those spoken by Soviet bigwigs in fall 1990.

Military planners work with "scenarios," rather than scenes, political could-be's and military what-ifs that as new intelligence is gained and decisions are reached become the basis for campaign plans.

Last weekend, "leaks" about a military plan to destroy Saddam Hussein's dictatorship began to appear in the open press. The leaked scenarios call for a U.S. attack to destroy Saddam "early" in 2003.

In 1990, I created a "Kuwait war game" for ABC News' "Nightline." The program aired in October of that year. ABC sought campaign concepts and possible results. It got air war followed by ground war, featuring an armored sweep into the Iraqi desert. ABC also insisted on a U.S. Marine amphibious invasion of Kuwait. I told the producer that was highly unlikely, but the producer replied: "Ted (Koppel) likes Marines. Put it in." No one who likes Marines sends them on an opposed amphibious assault, but Admiral Koppel ruled.

I named one "scenario" that appeared in the board version of the game ("Arabian Nightmare," published in Strategy and Tactics Magazine, December 1990) "Beware the Ides of January." Yes, a Shakespearean rip. Caesar got sliced on the Ides of March. Saddam's no Caesar, but the phrase has that ominous chord.

Desert Storm did kick off in mid-January. My scenario wasn't sorcery, but the work of weather tables (avoid the shamals), as well as a logistics estimate on the time required to field an overwhelming U.S. combat force.

So plans for an "early" 2003 campaign have weather and logistics wisdom (though October 2002 isn't a bad time, either). A year gives diplomats time to quiet the Israeli-Palestinian horror. Saddam exacerbates that situation. For him, it's a "split the coalition" gambit, one he attempted in 1990 (and was accounted for in "Nightline's" war game).

But leaks aren't real war plans, nor are games. At one level, these leaked plans are political threats -- a saber drawn, rather than rattled. In strategic context, the United States is encouraging the "9mm ballot": an Iraqi coup against Saddam that succeeds. The leaks increase internal pressure on Saddam and dispirit Iraqi troops by keeping them on continual high alert. The message to Saddam's supporters is, "Unless you want to go down with Saddam, remove him." The dissident Iraqi Officers' Movement reports the military desertion rate has leaped inside Iraq, a measure of increasing paranoia.

Still, a successful coup remains a longshot (though a small, fast-striking U.S. force assisting a coup is an interesting scenario). The "leaks" suggest 70,000 to 250,000 U.S. and British troops in the 2003 campaign to finish Saddam. A month ago, I wrote that a U.S. attack launched from Kuwait would take an "Army corps plus," and that's around 200,000, three "heavy" (armored) divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, an air assault division, a Marine brigade and support forces. If Saudi bases are nixed, air arrives from Kuwait, from Navy carriers and from Turkey, and possibly from Bahrain and Qatar. It's "very smart air," the "Einstein increase" in air munitions' accuracy displayed in Afghanistan.

This attack would use advancing ground divisions as "mobile bases" for helicopter and airborne forces (with "overwatching" air power) to identify and destroy key targets, such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) depots.

I still plug for action to the north, a second front involving Turkish troops.

Destroying WMD is absolutely critical. That's Saddam's threatened last scene, scorched-earth destruction. But Hitler's officers didn't burn Paris. Holding Iraqi officers personally responsible for chem, radiological and bio attacks on noncombatants (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kurd villages) will give them second thoughts.

Speculation? Yes, sketchy scenes of could-be history. The next year will provide the grim, non-fictional details.

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