- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Senior Bush administration officials have concluded that the United States will quickly win a war against Iraq, based on superior American technology and a sharp deterioration of Saddam Hussein's armed forces since the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict.

Officials also believe a significant number of Saddam's army commanders and units will either refuse to fight or will assist allied troops in toppling the Baghdad regime.

Senior Pentagon policy-makers have come to that conclusion in recent weeks, and some officials are beginning to state it publicly.

"I don't think it would be that tough a fight," Vice President Richard B. Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That is, I don't think there's any question that we would prevail and we would achieve our objective."

Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War combat pilot and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees.

"I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult," Mr, McCain, Arizona Republican, said last week. "It may entail the risk of American lives and treasure, but Saddam Hussein is vastly weaker than he was in 1991."

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Buster Glosson, who designed the successful air war against Iraq in 1991, says victory can be achieved in weeks, not months, if the Pentagon exploits precision-guided munitions, special-operations troops and disloyalty within Iraq's military.

"If these basic steps are not violated and our war-fighting asymmetrical advantage is maximized, Saddam will not last 30 days," Gen. Glosson said in an interview.

Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, often reflects the thinking of other hard-liners in the department's policy shop. "I don't believe we have to defeat Saddam's army," he said in the winter. "I think Saddam's army will defeat Saddam."

A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said one of the key arguments for action from hard-liners in the administration is that Iraq, while not a pushover, will be an easier foe this time than in 1990 after it invaded Kuwait. The argument rests on three main points:

cCombat readiness. Iraq's armed forces are less than half of their 1991 size, down from a million-member active force in 1991 to 424,000 today.

The Desert Storm allies destroyed scores of tanks, armored vehicles and combat aircraft. In the ensuing decade, Baghdad was forced to consolidate its army, as U.N. sanctions dried up oil revenue to buy and build new weapons. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies says about 50 percent of all weapons lack spare parts to keep them operational.

Saddam also has bled his conventional army in order to build a huge homeland security force of more than 100,000 to protect him, spy on citizens and eliminate dissidents.

"Iraq's inability to recapitalize and modernize its forces means that much of its large order of battle is obsolescent or obsolete, has uncertain combat readiness and will be difficult to sustain in combat," said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It has not demonstrated that it can use surface-to-air missiles in a well-organized way as a maneuvering force to cover its deployed land forces," he said.

In 10 years of enforcing northern and southern no-fly zones, the allies have yet to lose one manned aircraft to Iraq's integrated air-defense network.

"Iraq is much weaker than they were back in the early '90s," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

•Dissension. U.S. planners believe the CIA and other government agencies will be able to identify Iraqi commanders and persuade them not to resist an allied invasion, or to turn against Saddam.

"He does not have the support of his people," Mr. McCain said. "And I'd ask one question: What member of the Iraqi army is willing to die for Saddam Hussein when they know he's going to be taken out? So I don't think it's going to be nearly as difficult as some assume."

During the 1990s, news reports said there were three to five coup attempts in Baghdad as members of the Iraqi armed forces tried to assassinate the dictator. Saddam's security force thwarted each try.

•Technology. In 1991, roughly 10 percent of munitions dropped on Iraq was precision-guided. Since then, the Pentagon has made great strides in adding to its "smart" munitions lists. The Navy, whose fighters lacked laser-guided bombs in 1991, now uses that system, as well as satellite-directed munitions. The Air Force drops both types of munitions, even making a "smart" bomber out of the venerable B-52 bomber.

What's more, the B-2 stealth bomber was not used in Desert Storm, but would play a major role this time, hitting key air-defense and command targets.

Perhaps 80 percent of all munitions will be precision-guided in this war, should President Bush choose that option.

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