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[casi] ARROW Bfg Countdown: A Lunatic Timetable For War

A Lunatic Timetable For War
ARROW Anti-War Briefing 32 (24 February 2003)
WAR PLAN IRAQ Update Number 11

The US schedule for war on Iraq has been delayed
again, possibly to the third week of March—23/24
March is a strong possibility. The plan seems to be to
press for a negative inspectors’ report in early March,
secure a second Resolution in mid-March, and then go
to war either in mid- or late- March.

The US timetable for war is looking distinctly shaky.
The     basic assumption has been that the US does not
want to fight during the Iraqi summer. Michael Smith,
Defence Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph
pointed out last Nov. that it would be months before
British tanks and other armoured units were ready
for war: ‘If they began moving now, it would be early
Mar. before a British land force was ready for action...
to ensure the campaign does not last into the Iraqi
summer. This is because they will have to wear gas
masks and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare
suits. Even on Salisbury Plain in the winter they are
impossibly hot to work in, so the belief has always
been that any campaign in Iraq should be waged in the
cooler first four months or last three months of the
year.' (22 Nov. 2002, p. 16)
        Smith noted that ‘defence sources have recently
begun to prepare the ground for a summer war,
saying British troops would be able to fight in Iraq
whatever the temperature.’ Some US military
planners even pretend to prefer the summer, ‘since
the rivers and desert wadis that flood in winter would
less of an obstacle to US tanks.’(Newsweek, 27 Jan., p.
23) But this is probably whistling in the dark. For
example, ‘The planes have been designed for the cold
war. They start losing lift, carry lighter loads and must
make shorter runs when the temperature goes over
35’, according to a British official involved in the
Anglo-American debates about the timing of an attack.
(Guardian, 24 Jan., p. 1) More water has to be
transported to soldiers, etc.

The war could be delayed until the cooler autumn.
This may be Britain’s preference. A senior British
official said in Jan., ‘There is an assumption that there
will be a campaign before the summer because of the
heat. The autumn would be just as sensible a time and
in the meanwhile Saddam would be thoroughly
constrained by the inspectors.’ (Telegraph, 9 Jan., p. 1)
        The delay would create more time for
inspectors to find incriminating materials. However,
the British military has warned Mr Blair ‘that any
proposals to postpone an attack until the autumn
could mean having to bring our forces home again’. A
senior Whitehall source said in Jan., ‘In practical terms
you cannot keep such a large number of troops
throughout the summer months on enhanced stand-
by. The Prime Minister risks total meltdown if troops
are recalled. His credibility would be shot to pieces.’
But a big delay was ‘becoming a very real possibility.’
(MIrror, 10 Jan., p. 5)

So, for reasons of political credibility in London and
Washington, the war must come soon. The preferred
sequence seems to be: hear Hans Blix’s report in early
March (having pressured him to make a negative
report); a few days later, ‘persuade’ the UN Security
Council to pass a new Resolution that can be
presented as ‘authorising’ military action; then shortly
afterwards proceed to a massive aerial bombardment
and then a ground invasion.
        ‘Mr Powell says a vote should shortly follow a
meeting expected in the first week of Mar., after Mr
Blix’s next report.’ (FT, 24 Feb., p. 6) The US
Secretary of State added, ‘It isn't going to be a long
period of time from the tabling of the resolution until
a judgement is made as to whether the resolution is
ready to be voted on or not. Iraq is still not complying
and time is drawing to a close when... the Security
Council must show its relevance by insisting that Iraq
disarm or that Iraq be disarmed by a coalition of
forces that will go in and do it.’ (Independent, 24 Feb.,
p. 1)
        Hans Blix is due to make a quarterly UNMOVIC
report to the Security Council on 1 Mar., ‘but the text
could be delivered earlier’ on paper. (FT, 22 Feb., p.
6) ‘Blix is scheduled to meet security council members
by 7 March [for an oral presentation]. A vote on the
second resolution is likely to follow soon afterwards.
The “final” deadline for Iraqi compliance could be
March 14, the date proposed by the French for a
ministerial meeting of the security council.’ (Sunday
Times, 23 Feb., p. 2) So there will be a Security
Council meeting to hear Blix, then a second meeting
to vote on the US/UK Resolution.
        The schedule is slipping around. The Resolution,
which has been tabled by the US and UK ‘is likely to
[to be voted on] no earlier than March 7 and no later
than March 14, The Times learnt last night.’ (Times, 21
Feb., p. 1) ‘Number 10 sources’ said there would be ‘a
vote taken in mid-March’ (Observer, 23 Feb., p. 1),
‘before March 14’ (Financial Times, 21 Feb., p. 5),
‘probably on 14 March’ (Independent, 24 Feb., p. 14).
        It seems likely that ‘The proposed US-UK
timetable attempts to pre-empt French efforts to
delay decisions until as late as March 14’. (Guardian,
24 Feb., p. 1) Blair’s foreign policy adviser Sir David
Manning is reported to have pressed Condoleeza Rice,
Bush’s National Security Adviser, ‘for a short delay to
give diplomacy three more weeks—until mid-
March—as the French had suggested.’ Rice was less
patient. (Sunday Times, 23 Feb., p.13)

‘Military analysts and officials familiar with war
planning said that the uniformed leadership,
particularly the US Air Force, have been pushing for
an assault to begin with the new moon, when allied
technological advantages in the dark will be at their
highest. According to the US naval observatory, the
new moon will occur on the night of Mar. 3, with the
first quarter not fully lit until Mar. 11.
        ‘The next new moon will not occur until Apr. 1,
a date that would push an invasion increasingly close
to the heat of the summer in the Arabian desert. The
average high temperature in the southern Iraqi town
of Basra is 88F (31C) in April and hits 98F (37C) in
May. The weather and moon phases have led military
analysts to believe that an attack will occur in the first
week of Mar.
        ‘But that timetable is looking increasingly
pressed by the contentious debate at the UN. The UK
has continued to insist it wants a second resolution
before an invasion, and US officials have recently
conceded it would be almost impossible to buck
British demands.’ (FT, 19 Feb. 2003, p. 7) The
problem is that the resolution is likely to be passed at
the worst point of the lunar cycle.

General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander
Europe 1997-2000, and leader of NATO forces
during the Kosovo campaign (Times, 19 Feb., p. 11.):
‘Washington has not given up its preference for early
[March], but here is why the attack might slip three
weeks. First, the diplomatic game is only now shifting
into high gear. Britain needs another UN resolution,
and the US needs Britain. Getting the resolution may
well take another four or five weeks.. Then there will
be a final diplomatic spasm involving the European
states. The better part of wisdom would be to delay as
long as necessary to pick up additional support and
the UN resolution, so long as we can see an
acceptable end-game. The greater the consensus for
going in, the easier the fight and postwar occupation
will be. But one warning: if Washington feels the
diplomatic momentum faltering amid rising anti-war
protests and uncompromising French opposition, the
President would elect to attack early, UN resolution
or not.
        ‘Second, this is a very complicated military
operation. Special forces... could always use more
time... [For the air attack] additional squadrons and
aircraft carriers are on the way. These deployments
may take another three weeks. The main problem,
however, is the ground forces: with tens of thousands
of vehicles, trailers and oversize pieces of equipment,
they are complicated to deploy, time-consuming to
receive and difficult to sustain... the logistics are
tough... the deployment appears well behind schedule
for an early Mar. attack, especially if going through
Turkey is an essential part of the plan. The Turks have
not yet approved the flow of major forces, and that
will entail an arduous 435 miles (700km) supply line
across Anatolia.
        ‘The full ground forces deployment, including
the British elements and a couple of US divisions, is
probably at least a month from completion. The more
complete the deployment the lower the risks when
the attack begins.
        ‘Thirdly, the optimal environmental window for
the attack is approaching. Ground troops want to
finish the fighting before the heat of approaching
        ‘If Saddam were to prepare to strike pre-
emptively against American forces concentrated in
Kuwait, we would be likely to launch early. Nor could
allied forces stand by if the Shia in Iraq rise up against
Saddam's army. Without our prompt intervention,
they would suffer losses so devastating that it might
compromise our campaign.
        ‘Despite these unpredictable factors, the
diplomatic and military logic is beginning to argue for
mid to late March... While I lean towards March 24 as
the more appropriate start date, place your money on
it at your own risk.'

Military strikes ‘could be launched in the first week of
March. A more likely date would be later in the
month.’ (Independent, 21 Feb., p. 1) ‘An invasion
could begin any time, perhaps around 23 Mar., when
moonless conditions will provide maximum advantage
of US forces.’ (Independent on Sunday, 23 Feb., p.11)
‘[I]t is possible that Mr Powell has allowed room for
last-minute diplomacy, perhaps even a formal
ultimatum to Baghdad. A war might then start
towards the end of Mar., when the darker nights
before the new moon on Apr. 1 would favour an
Allied air campaign.’ (Telegraph, 24 Feb., p. 14)
        War is not inevitable: the timetable for war has
been delayed many times already—in large measure
because of popular pressure—it can be again.

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War On Iraq by Milan Rai (Verso, 2002)
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