- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

A U.S.-British force of 280,000 troops is poised to strike Iraq at any moment in what commanders say will be waves of lightning air strikes and an armored march to Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein.
U.S. officials said the order from President Bush will be executed once international workers, journalists and other civilians are given time to leave Iraq. Troops and equipment were seen in Kuwait, the launch point for a land invasion, moving toward the Iraqi border.
"Morale is high. Soldiers just want to get it on so they can get back home," an Army officer said in an e-mail from the Kuwaiti desert, where 150,000 U.S. troops are stationed.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall war commander and head of U.S. Central Command, was making final preparations yesterday. He met with his land forces commander, Army Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, in Kuwait before returning to his headquarters at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar.
Two key questions faced war planners on the eve of war: Will a siege of Baghdad result in a quick surrender or brutal urban combat, and will Saddam play his last card by using chemical or biological weapons as his regime crumbles?
A Pentagon official said new intelligence reports indicate that Iraqi divisions defending Baghdad's southern flank will unleash chemical artillery shells at advancing coalition troops. Iraqis also may attack their own civilians and blame the deaths on the United States.
Saddam has positioned two army corps in the southern region and has put Lt. Gen. Ali Hasan al Majid in charge of them. Nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons to kill thousands of Kurds in 1988, Gen. al Majid's appointment may signal Iraqi forces' readiness to use them again.
When war begins, coalition aircraft will release hundreds of precision munitions on key air defense and command targets. After a few days of air strikes to soften Iraqi resistance south of Baghdad, Army soldiers, led by the 3rd Infantry Division, and Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Force will move in blitzkrieg fashion north to Baghdad along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Lines of M1A1 tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles will move relentlessly, protected by Apache helicopters that can see and strike enemy armor from two miles away.
"Steel yourselves for combat," Marine Capt. Brian Collins told his troops, as reported in an Associated Press dispatch from Kuwait, where desert temperatures were nearing 90 degrees.
The United States picked up commitments of forces from two more allies yesterday.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard told his countrymen that his government had committed 2,000 military personnel to the coalition to disarm Iraq. Also, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told his country last night that he had committed up to 200 of its soldiers.
Officials say Mr. Bush's war timetable is influenced by his determination not to subject American fighters to the region's blistering heat that arrives in mid-April and does not let up until late fall.
Another factor is the desert sandstorms that kick up frequently, driving machine-damaging particles into tank engines, helicopter exhausts and jet propulsion systems.
"We've had a high windstorm about weekly," said the Army officer. "These are very destructive of our tents and make maintenance impossible to do. We can only hunker down until they pass. Sand is in everything."
Arguing against an attack now is this week's full moon. Planners normally like to begin a conflict in the blackness of a moonless night, capitalizing on vast U.S. superiority in night-vision technologies and "smart" weapons. The next moonless night is March 29.
Military analysts say the fight will be a mismatch. Most of Iraq's 160,000-strong regular army is ill-equipped. Even among Saddam's six Republican Guard divisions of some 60,000 elite troops is talk of quick surrender, based on secret negotiations with Iraqi commanders.
Military analyst Anthony Cordesman wrote in a report about Iraq's military that whether it fights or surrenders depends on the war's conduct.
"It is very easy to assert that Iraq's major combat units will fight with loyalty and determination because of their privileges, dependence on the regime, and nationalism," Mr. Cordesman writes. "It is equally easy to assert that they will rapidly collapse or defect because the regime is an unpopular tyranny."
Turkish leaders yesterday said they would press ahead with a measure to reverse their refusal to let the U.S. military use their country as a staging area for a war against Iraq. The Cabinet would discuss the matter today, and parliament could take up the measure tomorrow, private NTV television reported.
The original plan was to position the 4th Infantry Division in Turkey for an invasion to create a northern front. But with war apparently days away, the only use now for Turkish bases would appear to be to launch air strikes and to insert peacekeepers after the war.
The coalition will attack from all directions, making use of more than 700 combat aircraft.
Ground and air forces in Kuwait will come from the south; airborne troops will set up a northern front to attack or encircle Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and base for some of his most loyal troops; special-operations and airborne personnel will use Jordan and Saudi Arabia to spring an attack from the west; Navy strike jets in the Mediterranean will fly from the carriers USS Harry S. Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt; hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles will launch from 15 surface ships and submarines in the Red Sea and from about the same number of vessels in the Persian Gulf, where three other carrier battle groups await the war order.
Some 100 strike aircraft on the Truman and Roosevelt will take an indirect route to Iraq. With Turkey currently off-limits, the aircraft would fly over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, then turn north into Jordan before entering Iraqi airspace, a Pentagon official said.
This official said a more direct route over Israel is off the table because "imagine Jordanians looking up and seeing combat planes flying from that direction."

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