- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

LONDON The United States and its allies, by every sign, soon will open a ground and air war on Iraq. The Bush administration clearly has lost all patience with Iraq and retains little patience for the U.N. inspection procedures or for debate in the Security Council.
It will persist with diplomacy, in a final effort to bring around dissenting and doubting member states to its point of view. Diplomatic protocol will not, however, cause the United States to slow or halt its military buildup on Iraq's borders. The expeditionary forces are moving to their attack positions. The attack is imminent.
Many comparisons have been made between the current crisis and others of the past appeasement in 1938, the Suez crisis of 1956, even the July crisis of 1914 preceding World War I.
What has been overlooked is the closest comparison of all: the preliminaries to the Salonika campaign of 1915 to 1918. Then, the British and French, eager to open a front against their enemies in Southern Europe after the failure of Gallipoli, disembarked a large army in northern Greece through the port of Salonika. They had been invited to do so by Eleutherios Venizelos, the Greek prime minister. Greece's King Constantine opposed the move and dismissed Venizelos. The allies took no notice and proceeded with their campaign anyway.
Something similar seems to be happening now. Though the Turkish parliament has voted against allowing American troops to use southern Turkey as a base, American ships are reported to be unloading equipment at the southern Turkish port of Iskanderun. American aircraft have arrived at Souda Bay in Crete, though the Greek public opposes a war, and troops and aircraft are appearing at bases in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, even though the Saudi government is sensitive to Muslim anti-war opinion.
It seems that, as in 1915, offensive bases are being prepared through agreement reached with autonomous authorities and local government factions. The Turkish army, for example, the ultimate source of political power in the country, supports U.S. policies.
The moves may provoke protest, but should not cause surprise. Anticipating Turkish parliamentary agreement, the United States already has deployed a large proportion of the expeditionary force in the eastern Mediterranean, including the equipment and 15,000 soldiers of the Army's 4th Mechanized Division.
They have been waiting offshore in a fleet of more than 20 ships and cannot be kept cooped up much longer. They could be shipped to Kuwait through the Suez Canal, but that would postpone the outbreak by several months, counting both movement and loading time, which the United States in its present mood would not tolerate.
Moreover, a northern base is desirable, if not absolutely essential, to the Pentagon's war plan. It no doubt would be possible to defeat and overrun Iraq from Kuwait. Indeed, almost any point of departure chosen by the overwhelmingly powerful American expeditionary force would yield a quick victory.
Coalition attacks from both Turkey and Kuwait would oblige Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to divide his forces, to his great disadvantage. Using bases in southern Turkey also would hasten the advance on Baghdad by making use of routes through the northern no-fly zone, which is not under Saddam's control.
If the reports of allied concentrations in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait are accurate, the following picture of the coming campaign emerges. It will open with intense air operations, employing cruise missiles, B-52 heavy bombers and stealth aircraft. The targets will be headquarters and communication centers.
In 1991, the coalition air forces were presented with targets virtually guaranteeing Saddam's defeat, by his decision to spread out his army without air cover in a desert, and to mark his positions with conspicuous fixed defenses that prevented the army from maneuvering.
This time, Saddam appears to have avoided those mistakes, but his troops still lack air cover, since the Iraqi air force flies antiquated machines and in any event will be driven from the skies, probably on the first day. Saddam probably won't resort to chemical warfare because the inconvenience of chemical suits is great on both sides.
The air offensives will be accompanied or quickly succeeded by an air-mobile assault, using armed helicopters as well as the elite U.S. Army troops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and Special Forces. The 82nd is in Kuwait; the deployment of the 101st has been set back by the Turkish difficulty, but means no doubt will be found to bring it into battle. Special Forces, some of which are already on Iraqi territory, are said to have bases in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan.
After the air and air-mobile preliminaries, the ground forces will strike at the Iraqi army, with the objective of reaching Basra in the south and Baghdad in the north. How the ground battle will go depends on what Saddam decides to defend.
If he tries to hold the main roads, he inevitably will present the coalition air forces with ripe targets. If he attempts to fight mobile engagements off the roads, he will be overcome by superior technology. Battles off the roads are unlikely, in any case, because the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates are waterlogged at this time of year by the flow of snowmelts off the northern mountains. Flood conditions also will hamper the coalition, but its possession of large numbers of helicopters will allow its troops to press forward unchecked.
The ultimate question is whether the coalition will attempt to enter the cities, which provide Saddam with strongholds no invading army willingly commits itself to street fighting. It need not be necessary, however, to fight in Baghdad, the key to the campaign, to bring about its surrender. Blockade will achieve the same result.
Saddam isolated within his capital would be Saddam defeated. The coalition would possess his territory, would control his oil fields, the source of his finances, and would be free to uncover the hiding places of his weapons of mass destruction.
Distances are the coalition's chief enemy. Baghdad is 400 miles both from the Turkish and the Kuwaiti borders.
Mobile and air mobile forces, protected by air power, nevertheless should be able to reach it in a week. The fall of the Saddam regime inevitably would follow.

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