- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Are we going to rid the world of Saddam Hussein? Last Saturday, in remarks clearly aimed at Saddam Hussein, President Bush reaffirmed his determination to act pre-emptively, saying that "containment of unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction" was not possible. But last week's Received Wisdom (from Washington's other newspaper) said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had balked at any attempt to remove Saddam before next year, and were lobbying vigorously to not do it at all. Fortunately, according to my sources, that reading of the Joint Chiefs is as wrong as can be. Mr. Bush has decided to remove Saddam. The only remaining issues are when and how.

Other real-world concerns affect those decisions. To keep our commitment to Turkey, that the post-Saddam Iraq is not partitioned, high-level discussions are now going on with current and former Iraqi officials aimed at that and at ensuring the new Iraq doesn't become a fundamentalist despotism like Iran. At the same time, we should invite the Turks to have their troops join ours in Iraq. The Turks are superb fighters, and having Muslim soldiers fighting alongside ours would send a powerful message to the rest of the Muslim world.

While the diplomats spin endlessly around themselves, the debate inside the Pentagon is, as usual, a heated one. Which service takes the lead and that's always one debate is far less important than how well we do the one thing we must in the opening moments of the war. What happens in that short critical time will decide whether we can keep Saddam from turning it into a regional war, with Israel and all the Arab nations drawn in. The Pentagon debate is about closing the so-called Scud box.

Saddam has about 15 Scud-B launchers, with about six missiles per battery. The Scud-B has a range of about 425 miles. If the launchers are deployed too far west, they can be destroyed with relative ease. But there is a zone of relative safety in western Iraq from which missiles can be launched. It's a rectangular area, running roughly along the Baghdad-Amman highway. This is the Scud box.

In 1991, about 40 Scud missiles were fired at Israel, all armed with explosive warheads. Because of the severe arm-twisting the president's father performed on the Israeli leadership, Israel didn't shoot back. If it had, our "coalition partners" would have stopped cooperating, and Desert Storm could have stalled before Kuwait was freed. If we fail to surprise Saddam this time, he will again fire his missiles into Israel, hoping to ignite the regional war we must avoid. Iraqi missiles are now armed with chemical and biological, as well as explosive warheads. Israel has deployed its own missiles some of which are probably nuclear-armed along its border with Lebanon. From there, it can hit Syria, Iraq and most of Iran. Israel plans to strike pre-emptively if preparations for launch of Iraq's missiles are detected. That means we have to close the Scud box before we do anything else.

If we want to deprive Saddam of the chance to launch his Scuds, we can't use the much-publicized "Son of Desert Storm" plan advocated by Gen. Tommy Franks. Building up a force of more than 200,000 men is not something that can be done in secrecy. Evolving plans recognize that to succeed whether it takes a week or a year surprise, speed and violence must rule the first hours. Some are saying that the entire campaign can be completed in 36 hours, which is unrealistic. There are many ways to open this war. One plan might look like this.

Jordan might permit a U.S.-British base in its eastern desert near Iraq. From there a large special operations force could be inserted into Iraq. In the first minutes of the attack, we would close the Scud box with them and with the F-117 and B-2 stealth aircraft. In those same first moments, "Commando Solo" electronic warfare aircraft would be calling the cell phone of every Iraqi general, delivering a simple message: Choose between switching sides or dying. Many will choose to join a new government rather than perish with the old, or be tried for war crimes such as firing Scuds at civilian targets in Israel. Our air forces would have complete air dominance in six to 12 hours.

When we close the Scud box, that would be the signal for the 30,000 or so Iraqis who fled to Iran in 1991 to go home. These troops who are pretty well-armed, with equipment including tanks can move into Iraq quickly with a little help from us. By the end of the first or second day, they should be fully engaged against Saddam's troops. We with them and the Turks would seize the Iraqi oil fields intact, making a successor government able to resume a working economy very quickly. Minimizing the "footprint" i.e., the number of American troops on the ground would lower the tension between us and other Aab nations. Over the days and weeks that follow, under the umbrella of a massive air attack, the expatriate Iraqis should succeed in taking major cities. Once they seize Baghdad or Basra, Iraq's second largest city, they can declare a new, free Iraq.

Because the operation will take weeks or months to complete, a second stage of the operation would see two or three Marine expeditionary units on the ground and advancing to key points at high speed. We cannot totally discount the Iraqi forces. They will use every weapon they can, including chemical and biological ones. But with all they have, even the best of them will not be able to withstand for long the combination of an aerial onslaught, the expatriate Iraqis, the Turks and (God bless 'em) the Marines.

There are other plans as well, using all sorts of forces. It is a healthy thing for the Joint Chiefs and their planners to argue about how and when. But that's all that's going on now. When the boss says "go," they'll go, whether it's next week or next year.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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