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STILL GUNNING FOR IRAQ



Published: Fri, July 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Toronto Globe and Mail: It was hardly coincidental that the leak last week of detailed U.S. military plans for invading Iraq occurred while Baghdad and the United Nations were once again at loggerheads over U.N. weapons inspections. But very likely there were wider motives for telegraphing a course of action that might normally be expected to stay under firm lock and key. Aside from reminding a still-apprehensive U.S. public that President George W. Bush's war on terror calls for a "regime change" in Iraq, the chief purpose of disclosing the Pentagon's broad battle plan was probably to gauge world reaction.

Either way, the U.S. State Department's communications links to Western Europe must have been busy this past weekend. Ever since it was first mooted, the thesis that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein must be dislodged by a massive U.S. attack has stirred great concern among Washington's allies. This leaked document will reinforce those worries.

Any assault on Iraq is still months away and the document is described as "preliminary," which may explain why none of the neighboring countries that would have to provide a staging ground have apparently been formally consulted. But its thrust is clear. A long list of strategic Iraqi targets would be attacked by air from three sides -- north, south and west -- after which scores of thousands of U.S. soldiers would pour in, probably from Kuwait.

Limited resistance

Then what? Eleven years after Iraq was driven from Kuwait by U.S.-led coalition forces, it still has hundreds of thousands of troops, ordnance that may include some Scud-type missiles and reasonably effective air-defenses. But much of the Iraqi arsenal is rusting and obsolete, after years of international sanctions. While Mr. Hussein might not hesitate to use the biological and chemical weapons he has probably been stockpiling, U.S. tanks rolling into a sullen, shattered Baghdad would likely meet with limited resistance.

Then would come the hard part, evidently not even addressed by the Pentagon in this plan of folly. Who would replace Mr. Hussein? Plenty of Iraqis, probably most, loathe their leader and his decades of calamitous misrule. Ergo, goes the thinking among U.S. administration hawks, all we have to do is take over Iraq, bask in the gratitude of its liberated people, Afghanistan-style, and wait for some sort of viable government to emerge.

They'll have a long, long wait, marked by chaos across the region and very likely the breakup of Iraq. The squabbling Kurdish leaders who control northern Iraq can barely agree on the time of day. Similar rivalry is found among the assorted Iran-backed Shia opposition factions in the south. As for the well-heeled Iraqi National Congress and its calls for revolt, from the safety of exile, its leaders are as widely despised inside Iraq as their U.S. paymasters.

No matter, mutter the hawks, Saddam Hussein is so volatile that we must act. Wrong. Survival instincts dominate the thinking of the Middle East's most notorious villain, and with Washington breathing so hard down his neck, and Israel always hovering, he is probably less of a threat today than he has been in years. Far greater is the danger of a U.S. attack on an angry, ruined country that has no government-in-waiting. If this leaked Pentagon document is indeed a trial balloon, it needs to be popped.




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