Surrender or die, Allies warn Saddam's soldiers
Jason Burke reveals America's plans for a massive onslaught to topple Saddam and convince 300,000 Iraqi troops they cannot fight and survive
American military chiefs are planning a 'massive onslaught' on Iraq designed to show Saddam Hussein's soldiers that they must 'surrender or die', British and American defence sources have revealed.
Politicians and senior generals in the US have now decided that a huge and overwhelming attack is the best option to ensure a regime change. The aim of the plan is to convince the 300,000 Iraqi soldiers under Saddam's command that resistance would be futile. The sheer power of the assault is intended to make Saddam's senior officers defect.
Options involving the lightly armed Kurdish militia in the north of the country or raising revolts among the Shia Muslim tribes of the south had been considered. These are now understood to have been rejected. Nor is there likely to be any tactical pause when diplomatic activity could take place during the advance.
'The basic question the Iraqis are going to have to answer is, "Am I safer as a prisoner or fighting for Saddam?" The answer is going to be made very obvious,' one source with knowledge of the plans said. 'When the coalition troops go in they will go in hard. If it's wearing a uniform and isn't surrendering it will be killed'.
United Nations inspectors are expected to arrive in Baghdad on Monday after an absence of four years. Baghdad has agreed to provide a full declaration of any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes and the inspectors will attempt to verify Iraqi claims that no such weapons exist.
Earlier this month the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution requiring Iraq to dismantle any weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences and any attempt to impede the inspections could trigger war. Most analysts believe a campaign in February - before the heat of the Iraqi summer makes operations difficult for coalition troops - is most likely.
Special forces units are already believed to be operating in Iraq's western desert, looking for missile sites from where Israel could be hit with Saddam's scuds. Such units will launch attacks aimed at sowing terror and confusion while a ferocious air bombardment by planes equipped with the new generation of American smart munitions will target command and control centres and any concentrations of forces. Iraqi casualties in the early stages of the attack are expected to be very heavy.
'If you find an infantry unit facing you there are various options,' one source said. 'If you have no resources you put your guys on the ground and fight it, if you have got some resources you shell it and then send your guys in, or, if you have as much money as you want, you can put 25 Apache [attack helicopters] in the air, fly 50 F-16 sorties and destroy it. It's kind of difficult to surrender to a plane that is several miles above you.'
The power of newly developed American military technology has been demonstrated in the 'war against terror'. The most critical development has been the ability to act rapidly on fresh intelligence. Earlier this month a Hellfire missile fired from a pilotless drone above Yemen killed a senior al-Qaeda activist. Microwave bombs, which send out huge pulses of electromagnetic energy, will be used to burn out communications equipment.
Within hours of the first strikes the plans call for American, and probably British, armoured and airborne troops to mount a fast-moving drive towards Baghdad. Isolated Iraqi troop concentrations would simply be bypassed.
'There will be no gradual build-up or insertion as in Afghanistan. This will be all out from day one,' the source said.
However, analysts say the repeated leaks of war plans by American and British defence sources are part of a concerted strategy to put pressure on Saddam and his supporters within the army and, despite the bullish talk, the prospect of allied troops being sucked into combat in cities, where they would sustain heavy casualties, is worrying military planners.
'Once the military campaign starts, Saddam has got to go. The ideal scenario is someone within Iraq, preferably within the army, killing Saddam and taking control. That would mean that entering Baghdad would not be necessary and would also solve the problem of who will govern once he has gone,' said Daniel Neep, of the Royal United Services Institute.
Neep said the campaign could result in Saddam isolated within Baghdad after a swift and successful advance by allied forces. 'It would be a siege,' he said.
The exact total of troops to be deployed in any attack is unclear. Some estimate that up to 250,000 men are likely to take part in the attack. There are around 50,000 US troops in Kuwait or other Gulf countries. Five aircraft carrier battle groups are expected to arrive in the immediate vicinity of Iraq before the end of the year. However, experts are divided over how long it would take to move another 200,000 men to the Gulf. Some say it could take up to eight weeks. One British defence source said it could be done far more quickly, depending on how many tanks and other heavy armoured vehicles are required.
The speed of deployment and the exact battle plan will also be determined by local political considerations. One advantage of a swift push is that it would minimise the time spent by US troops in the countries neighbouring Iraq. Governments in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are worried about public anger at any co-operation with the US. Troops there would also be exposed to the terrorist attacks that would almost certainly coincide with an assault on Iraq.
US planners are yet to specify which British units they would like to assist their forces. Given the preference for a massive blitzkrieg it is likely that a brigade of around 20,000 men would be requested. Elite airborne and special forces troops would be a priority, along with a contingent from RAF squadrons specialising in battlefield communications interception who proved their worth in Afghanistan.
'The Americans will come to us with a list of different packages and the Prime Minister and Geoff Hoon [Secretary of State for defence] will go through them and decide how best we can help,' said a Whitehall source.
This weekend Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary, said he did not anticipate a long war. 'In the event that it becomes necessary, the United States would do it in a manner that would be respectful of human life on all sides, but would be determined to do the job and to finish it fast.'
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