- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

The Iraqi military has begun moving aircraft from bases near Baghdad to western Iraq in an effort to protect the warplanes from U.S. and allied bombing campaigns, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The officials say the Iraqi military is dispersing fighter jets to bases along a route that follows an oil pipeline to the border with Jordan.
Military jets were spotted at air bases near the towns of H3, H2, H1 and Ghalaysan, the officials said.
The dispersal began two weeks ago and is the first time the aircraft were moved to those bases. The officials did not identify the specific aircraft involved in the dispersal.
The aircraft are likely to be targets of a U.S. military strike in the early hours of any attack on Iraq.
According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iraq's air force has about 315 warplanes, although years of sanctions means that about 120 of them are considered usable in combat.
Most of its combat aircraft are older Russian and French jets, including Russian MiG-21s, MiG-23s, MiG-29s, Su-20s, Su-22s, Su-24s and Su-25s, as well as the French Mirage F-1. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Iraq's military sent a squadron of MiG-29s to Iran to prevent them from being attacked.
In addition to moving the aircraft to western Iraq, the Iraqi military has begun building fortifications around other military facilities, primarily digging trenches and other defensive positions.
Satellite photographs taken in recent weeks have revealed that some tanks and military equipment have been spread away from military facilities and moved into civilian areas and near mosques, in an effort to draw attacks from American bombs and missiles that might kill civilians or hit the mosques, officials said.
"Iraq's military is dispersed. These are lessons learned" from the 1991 Persian Gulf war, said a defense official who noted that the movement of aircraft is one element of the dispersal.
According to the defense official, the U.S. military believes the Iraqis will attempt to create a "strategic incident" that could turn public opinion against the U.S. military and make the United States change its tactics.
The bombing of a command bunker that doubled as a civil defense shelter in the first Gulf war forced major changes in U.S. bombing activities against cities.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks said yesterday that he also is worried that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will use weapons of mass destruction in a conflict with the United States.
"We worry about his weapons of mass destruction. We worry about his destruction of his own oil fields. We worry about his destruction of the infrastructure in his own country, the destruction of dams that can inundate his own people and the crops that his own people try to grow," Gen. Franks told Fox News Channel.
The Iraqi strategy for the 1991 war was to undertake large movements of forces, the official said.
"We probably won't see that this time around," the official said. "Saddam has learned from the last war, and he's going to disperse his forces around Baghdad, Kirkuk and other places."
Iraq's military, about half the size of its forces before the 1991 war, has established "multiple fighting positions" around Iraq, the official said.
"The current strategy in case of a U.S. attack is to prevent the Americans from having a quick victory," the official said.
Around Baghdad, the Iraqis have increased the deployment of anti-aircraft artillery guns.
"That could make it more difficult for us to bomb," the official said. "And it increases the likelihood of a strategic incident. [Saddams] strategy is drag the conflict out."
U.S. intelligence officials have said Iraq plans to set up two defensive rings around Baghdad, the capital. The outer ring will be made up of regular army and better-equipped Republican Guard troops. The inner ring will be made up of elite Special Republican Guard troops.
The Baghdad defense plan calls for allowing the outer ring to collapse but holding the inner perimeter and forcing allied forces to engage in tough urban fighting.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide