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10,000 would have died in U.S. attack--Pentagon

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10,000 would have died in U.S. attack, Pentagon says

Almost entirely absent from the media this weekend is any discussion of
how many Iraqis would have been killed by a U.S. aggression on Iraq. The 
Pentagon informed the President that in a "medium-case scenario," 10,000
Iraqis would have been killed by what was planned. The full story below.

Ali Abunimah

Clinton Advisers Split on Halting Attack

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 1998; Page A1 

President Clinton's decision on Saturday to abort planned airstrikes
against Iraq came over the recommendations of some of his top national
security advisers, who pressed to go ahead with the attack despite initial
reports of an Iraqi offer to surrender to U.S. and United Nations demands,
administration officials said yesterday. 

During a hurried debate Saturday morning, with less than an hour remaining
before the first wave of an assault the Pentagon had estimated could
result in 10,000 Iraqi dead, Clinton was told that uniquely favorable
conditions favored U.S. military action. As time ran out, Clinton's
decision hinged on whether to seize the moment, and perhaps be blamed for
willfully ignoring a peace overture, or trust sketchy reports that Iraq
was on the verge of giving in, officials said. 

Administration sources said that Defense Secretary William S. Cohen,
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Gen. Henry H. Shelton,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, favored an attack. The president's
national security adviser, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, recommended
suspending the strike, sources said. Vice President Gore also participated
in the deliberations but sources would not confirm which position he took. 

U.S. officials said the argument to proceed with airstrikes was bolstered
by signs that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would be taken by surprise,
that international support for a firm response to Iraq seemed unusually
strong and united, and that American forces, while still arriving in the
Persian Gulf, were primed for attack. 

As the initial reports of Iraq's capitulation arrived via television news
bulletins, Clinton and his team spent about half-an-hour deliberating over
telephone lines before the president finally decided sometime after 8 a.m.
to halt the attack, which had been scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Washington
time, officials said. 

Clinton had been warned by the Pentagon that the attack plan would result
in by far the most deadly military undertaking of his presidency, possibly
killing 10,000 Iraqis. "That was the medium case scenario," one
administration official said. 

A consensus had emerged by the middle of last week among the
administration's top officials that the attack should be launched
Saturday, although Clinton did not give the final go-ahead until Friday,
according to several officials familiar with the planning. 

"There was a general consensus by then that all the warnings that we
needed had been given," said a senior defense official. "Also, by going at
that time, the level of surprise was still sufficient that we felt
comfortable that we could achieve the intended results of the strike." 

While Saddam Hussein had begun to disperse some of his military forces in
anticipation of an attack, U.S. officials had not seen the extent of
movement that they had expected if the Iraqi leader thought airstrikes
were imminent. Although the eleventh-hour timing of Iraq's retreat,
offered in a letter to the United Nations, suggested Saddam Hussein may
have been tipped off to the coming attack, U.S. officials said the Iraqi
leader had given little sign earlier of realizing
how near it was. 

"I think he thought that he had some days left," said the defense
official. "Because there were still things there that we thought he would
have tried to protect had he known we were coming." 

Also driving the case for striking sooner rather than later, officials
said, were developments on the diplomatic front. The U.N. Security Council
had been unanimous in its condemnation of Iraq's break with U.N. weapons
inspections. Russia and France, which had expressed sympathy in the past
for Iraq's chafing at eight years of U.N.-imposed economic sanctions, had
made clear their frustration with the latest Iraqi defiance. So had the
neighboring Persian Gulf states, which were joined by Egypt and Syria in a
strong statement last week laying the blame squarely on Iraq for whatever
military action might occur. 

"Things weren't ever going to line up much better for a military strike
than they were," said one administration official who had favored
proceeding with it on Saturday. 

Most of the extra military forces that Clinton had ordered to the gulf
last week to double the U.S. firepower there had yet to arrive, but
administration officials had been saying for days that the United States
had sufficient aircraft and ships in the region to carry out a strike.
Pentagon planners had prepared two strike plans, described by one
high-ranking officer as "large" and "larger" in terms of the damage they
would do. 

The smaller plan, which relied heavily on cruise missiles, was tailored to
the U.S. force of about 180 aircraft and 23 ships that had been in the
gulf before the crisis broke two weeks ago. The other plan was for the
expanded force, which included B 52 and B-1 bombers, F-117 stealth fighter
jets and a second aircraft carrier. The final plan that emerged, officials
said yesterday, was a combination of the two. 

Although administration officials had considered striking hard for a day
or so, then pausing to gauge Iraq's reaction before proceeding with
further strikes, officials said this "strike-pause-strike" option was
rejected early in the planning process in favor of what would have been a
continuous series of raids over at least several days. Nonetheless,
Clinton would have retained the ability to call off the attack any time
after it began. 

In fact, one of the points made by those urging Clinton on Saturday to
proceed with the attack was that he could allow the first day of strikes
to occur while studying Iraq's last-minute offer, then end the military
operation if the offer or subsequent ones proved acceptable. 

"The argument being made to go ahead was: how could we be sure Saddam's
latest promise was not like the many previous ones that he's broken?" said
one official. "Plans for the strike had been moving along at a good clip.
It made sense at that point to hit him, then have him capitulate if that's
what was going to happen." 

Albright argued that the initial offer from the Iraqis was "too little too
late" and that Saddam Hussein had allowed the situation to go "one minute
past midnight," an administration official said. 

But the prospect that many Iraqis might be killed as a result of a U.S.
bombardment in the face of Iraq's apparent willingness to concede weighed
heavily in favor of suspending the attack, officials said. They said
Clinton was particularly concerned that carrying out attacks under the
circumstances might have turned foreign opinion against the United States
and undermined the support that Washington has carefully built up against

Clinton did not cancel the attack altogether on Saturday, but merely reset
the countdown, delaying the first wave of strikes for about 24 hours,
officials said yesterday. The delay allowed the United States and U.N.
Security Council time to consider the Iraqi move. It also gave the
Pentagon the time it needed for the complex task of rescheduling the
closely synchronized series of missile strikes, aircraft bombing runs,
electronic warfare measures, refueling flights and other actions involved
in a major air attack operation. 

In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, after Iraq had made clear it would resume
cooperation with U.N. weapons inspections unconditionally, Clinton
canceled the attack again, and administration officials began considering
how to reverse the U.S. military buildup. 

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