- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

Saddam Hussein is trying to shore up the loyalty of his military forces amid signs that not all his troops will fight against a U.S.-led invasion, the nation's top military officer said yesterday.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told reporters that U.S. military forces are prepared now for military action, as more forces are ordered to the Persian Gulf region.

"We're ready now. The Iraqi regime should have no doubt," said Gen. Myers.

Regarding indications of dissent in Baghdad, "there are some indications about unrest in some of the Iraqi leadership, but just hints," said Gen. Myers.

"We know, I think, that the regime has taken measures to enforce loyalty extra measures by populating some of the major [military] units with people they consider loyal," he said.

Still, there are no signs that the Iraqi military "isn't responding to orders," said Gen. Myers.

A U.S. official said later that Iraq recently stepped up the "infiltration" of Iraqi military units by two security organizations that check the loyalty of military forces: the General Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Special Security Organization.

"There have been reports that members of the army who retreat or surrender would be killed," the U.S. official said. "That applies to both regular army and Republican Guard troops." The Republican Guard is considered an elite Iraqi force because it is better equipped than regular army forces.

The four-star general, who is President Bush's top military adviser, said there are no signs that Iraqi military leaders have been purged recently, as has occurred in the past.

President Bush said during a speech in Missouri that "it's time for Saddam [to] be held to account."

Mr. Bush also said that there will be "consequences" for any Iraqi general or officer who uses chemical or biological weapons on U.S. troops or civilians in Iraq.

"Should any Iraqi officer or soldier receive an order from Saddam Hussein or his sons or any of the killers who occupy the high levels of their government, my advice is don't follow that order because if you choose to do so, when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal," said Mr. Bush.

Iraq's 23 army divisions make up a credible force, although how well it will fight is not known, Gen. Myers said. Iraqi military forces have conducted only small-scale troops movements lately, he noted during a breakfast meeting with defense reporters.

Morale among most Iraqi troops is said to be low, the U.S. official said, and regular army soldiers are the most disgruntled, especially poorly equipped units in dangerous areas of the north and those at the front lines of a future conflict.

Saddam stated in a speech to the troops earlier this month that any troops who retreated would face the "wrath of Allah."

"Saddam has always trusted very few people," the official said. "He trusts even fewer now."

There also have been reports that Saddam has ordered ammunition withheld from regular army and other units because he does not trust them, the official said.

"Saddam has a very sophisticated security and intelligence apparatus which exists to identify and destroy any opposition to his regime," the official said.

Gen. Myers comments on unrest in Iraq come amid calls by administration officials for Saddam to leave Iraq to avert a war.

The CIA also has been engaged in a covert-action program to win the support of Iraqi military officials in ousting Saddam, who according to some estimates remains firmly in control of his government and military.

Defense officials have said that part of U.S. planning for a conflict with Iraq is to win over large elements of the Iraqi military and turn them against Saddam.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that Iraq can avoid war by giving up all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and allowing full access to weapons scientists.

"The second thing they could do to avoid war would be for Saddam Hussein to leave," Mr. Rumsfeld told foreign reporters.

U.S. military forces can wait several months without taking action against Iraq if the current phase of United Nations-led diplomacy drags on, Gen. Myers said. War fighting skills would decline if the forces are on standby too long.

"My estimate is we can do that for some time several months no problem," he said. "I don't think in the near term there is any big impact on the force."

U.S. troops deployed on ships and on the ground in the region can be moved out and replaced with fresh forces if required, he said.

Also, the general said that weather will not be a major factor, and that U.S. forces are prepared for desert combat in hot weather, even if they are forced to don chemical and biological weapons-protection suits.

"Clearly warfare in the desert when it is brutally hot during the day, particularly if you are confronted with weapons of mass destruction chemical or biological weapons and you have to put on your protection suits, some of you who have worn those know it gets very hot, very quickly," he said.

"But we have discussed this at great length with [Central Command commander] Gen. [Tommy] Franks and the service chiefs and he has discussed this with his combatant commanders, and there is no doubt that no matter what time of year, we can fight and we can prevail in that kind of environment," Gen. Myers said.

"We will do better in that environment than any potential adversary. A part of that is enabled by the fact that we can fight at night," he said. "We are as good at night as we are in daytime."

Gen. Myers said there have been no major problems with the deployment of U.S. forces to the region. Some 60,000 troops are now in the region and up to 120,000 more could be there in the next several weeks.

Gen. Myers, who returned Tuesday from Turkey, said a military survey team is currently in that country looking at bases that could be used for U.S. forces.

He would not comment on the deployment of forces to Turkey but said the Turkish government supports U.S. efforts to disarm Baghdad of its weapons of mass destruction.

Gen. Myers said U.S. military action to disarm Iraq would be a combination of search-and-destroy attacks on chemical, biological and nuclear sites, as well as planned strikes on facilities U.S. intelligence has identified as containing banned weapons.

"We have good intelligence on some [facilities], but not all," he said, noting that Iraq uses "denial and deception" to mask its arms programs.

On North Korea, Gen. Myers said Pyongyang's small nuclear arsenal of about one or two nuclear bombs would not deter the United States from taking military action in the future.

A nuclear-armed state would be making a "dangerous assumption" if it assumed the United States would not take action because of the threat of nuclear arms being used, he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said it is not clear how the Iraqi military will react to a conflict but in the 1991 Persian Gulf war "tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers switched sides."

"They just surrendered and said they did not want to support the Iraqi regime," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "To the extent that's the case, and one would think it could very well be, then obviously the casualties are much less."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 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