- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

LONDON Britain and the United States have begun sending spies into Iraq to stir up rebellion in advance of a prospective invasion next year aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein, according to British military sources and leading British newspapers.
The task of the agents, along with CIA operatives, is to make contact with opponents of Saddam and capitalize on what one military analyst described to the Times of London as a "popular loathing" of the regime.
The undercover operations are designed to pave the way for a 250,000-strong invasion force up to 30,000 of them British, the rest American.
The assault is expected by next spring, although it could begin as early as January or February, defense sources told The Washington Times.
The stated purpose of the invasion would be to destroy Baghdad's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction chemical, biological and possibly nuclear but the ancillary goal would be to get rid of Iraq's leader.
"There is no doubt at all that the region would be a better place without Saddam Hussein," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Baghdad has vowed to behead invaders and repel any attack on its borders.
Military and political analysts have told reporters that the only way Saddam could avoid an attack is to open Iraq's doors to unrestricted access by United Nations weapons inspectors.
The likelihood that Saddam will continue to refuse, said one senior British diplomat, "is somewhere between extremely high and impossibly high."
Once the invasion is under way, defense officials told the Sunday Times, British special forces and "shock troops" are to begin a sabotage campaign against Iraqi plants and research centers suspected of developing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.
In anticipation of such an attack, Britain already has begun recalling troops from the Balkans and Afghanistan to train as part of the invasion force.
The British contingent is to include a division of infantry and armored brigades totaling 20,000 troops.
A senior Ministry of Defense source told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London that the invasion force will be supported by up to 50 British fighter jets and an aircraft carrier group composed of destroyers, frigates and a submarine.
"Troops have been pulled back from the Balkans and Afghanistan in preparation for a spring attack against Iraq," the source said flatly. He added that "I believe the fighting would be relatively straightforward until we got to Baghdad. That's where it could get messy."
Defense sources told The Washington Times that plans call for a two-way assault on Iraq a largely American attack striking out of Turkey into the northern part of the country and a British-led incursion into the south from Kuwait.
In aligning himself with President Bush, Mr. Blair is taking something of a political risk.
One recent public opinion poll indicated that more than half of British voters oppose joining an American-led operation against Iraq.
More than 100 members of Parliament from Mr. Blair's own ruling Labor Party have signed a petition opposing British involvement.
But with a sizeable parliamentary majority, the prime minister himself will almost certainly survive, whatever happens.
Mr. Blair also can expect considerable opposition from other powers in the 15-member European Union.
Russia also opposes military action against Iraq.
Up to 15,000 British forces might have to remain stationed as part of an "occupation force" for up to five years in a postwar Iraq to prevent the country from fragmenting, British intelligence warned Mr. Blair, the Telegraph reported.
The cost of maintaining such a force could overwhelm Britain's already tight defense budget and quickly eat up the $5.5 billion in extra funds the government is allocating for defense spending over the next three years.


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