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[casi] Arkin: "Not a single confirmed chem/bio target"

Military affairs reporter William Arkin writes in yesterday's LA Times, "There
is not a single confirmed biological or chemical target on their lists, Air
Force officers working on the [Iraq] war plan say."

As Arkin's title says, "Before going to war over weapons of mass destruction,
shouldn't we be sure Iraq has them?"

Note that Arkin's military sources are unrivalled.  It was Arkin who broke the
story of U.S. nuclear posture changes.  Arkin's Gulf War assessment with Human
Rights Watch forced targetting changes to reduce civilian casualties. Until
recently, Arkin wrote the DotMil column for the WashPost.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


A Hazy Target: Before going to war over weapons of mass destruction, shouldn't
we be sure Iraq has them?
By William M. Arkin
William M. Arkin is a military affairs analyst who writes regularly for Opinion.
E-mail: warkin@igc .org.

March 9, 2003

SOUTH POMFRET, Vt -- For all their differences, proponents and opponents of war
with Iraq agree on one thing: The paramount threat posed by Saddam Hussein is
his possession of chemical and biological weapons.

"The one respect that we think most about and worry most about is an enemy with
weapons of mass destruction," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said
last month. Opponents of war with Iraq have much the same view.

Administration leaders argue that only war can smoke out Hussein's hidden
biochemical capabilities. Doves argue that we must rely on inspections because
attacking Hussein could provoke him to use chemical or biological weapons; if
Israel were hit, they warn, the result could be nuclear war. By different
routes, the two sides arrive at an almost obsessive focus on Iraq's chemical and
biological weapons.

Each side has practical as well as principled reasons for doing so. For the
administration, equating chemical and biological weapons with nuclear weapons --
and warning that, sooner or later, Iraq's weapons will find their way into
terrorists' hands -- has become a way of making the case that war with Iraq is
essential to protecting American lives at home.

For those who oppose the U.S. position, treating chemical and biological weapons
as weapons of mass destruction akin to nuclear weapons justifies diplomacy and
brinkmanship because of the seeming horrendous consequences of failure.

The question is whether these weapons in fact form a foundation sufficient to
support all the weight being placed on it.

Instructively, the one place where policy is not being driven by the focus on
chemical and biological weapons is inside the American armed forces.

For one thing, while not dismissing the seriousness of chemical and biological
warfare, most field commanders are reasonably confident they can handle any such
attacks Hussein can mount. For another, they understand all too well the mass
destruction a full-scale war might inflict.

Moreover, most know that, after nearly four months of renewed weapons
inspections by the United Nations and the most intensive effort in the history
of the U.S. intelligence community, American analysts and war planners are far
from certain that chemical and biological weapons even exist in Iraq's arsenal

Incredible as it may seem, given all the talk by the administration -- including
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's discourse last week about continuing Iraqi
deception -- there is simply no hard intelligence of any such Iraqi weapons.

There is not a single confirmed biological or chemical target on their lists,
Air Force officers working on the war plan say.

No one doubts that Iraq has consistently lied and cheated about its proscribed
arms capabilities. This is a country that has used chemical weapons against Iran
and against its own population, a country that fired missiles at Israel and its
Arab neighbors in 1991.

And the rundown of Iraqi weapons that remain incompletely accounted for since
the 1991 Gulf War is daunting: 6,500 bombs filled with chemical agents, 400
bombs filled with biological agents, 31,500 chemical munitions, 550 artillery
shells loaded with mustard gas, 8,500 liters of anthrax.

Moreover, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency analysts believe that Hussein's
forces could launch two types of short-range missiles, rockets or artillery that
are capable of carrying chemical agents. The analysts say Iraqi aircraft or
unmanned drones could mount sprayers to disperse chemicals or biological agents.

Analysts also think it possible for Iraqi commandos to penetrate coalition lines
with small quantities of these weapons.

And U.S. intelligence has received reports that Special Republican Guard units,
as well as secret police and security services charged with defending the
regime, have been given bio-chem protective gear. President Bush, in his Feb. 8
radio address, said the administration had intelligence "that Saddam Hussein
recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons."

"We cannot rule out of course that Saddam might try in some kind of desperation
to use chemical or biological weapons," National Security Advisor Condoleezza
Rice said, echoing the administration line.

Yet, in fact, there is as much uncertainty as certainty about Iraq's
capabilities, as well as about the military effectiveness of any 11th-hour
resort to chemical and biological weapons. So much of what the U.S. believes is
based upon Iraq's history, not knowledge of current conditions.

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said as
much when he told Congress last month that U.S. beliefs were "based on ... past
patterns and availability ... that he will in fact employ them."

But the thinking that lies behind such statements when made by military
professionals is quite different from that underlying the pronouncements of Rice
and Wolfowitz.

When Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, the Army's top biological and chemical defense
commander, says the United States must assume Hussein thinks "it's OK to use
chemical agents, because he's done it," the general is simply engaging in the
kind of worst-case thinking that professional soldiers are trained to do.

"What does he plan to do? I have no idea," Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, Army
program officer for chemical and biological defense, said at a Pentagon news
conference last month.

Military leaders like Doesburg and Reeves do not mean to suggest that chemical
and biological weapons are the battlefield equivalent of nuclear weapons. And
they certainly do not mean to suggest such weapons are so uniquely horrific that
they should drive the nation's policy decisions -- either toward or away from

Among other things, using chemical and biological weapons effectively is so
difficult that this alone has always been considered a major impediment for
Iraq. The weapons are unpredictable. Weather conditions are a major factor.
Chemical and biological agents also have to avoid exposure to heat, light or
severe cold.

When U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq during the 1990s, they found it had
turned toward unmanned ground vehicles and sprayers as platforms for delivering
chemical and biological weapons because Iraqi engineers could not master the
technology for delivering such weapons in missiles or artillery shells; loaded
into the warheads, the chemical and biological material was usually incinerated
when the warhead exploded.

Moreover, "it takes a lot of chemicals to have a significant effect on the
battlefield," Doesburg told Bloomberg News. "We don't suspect he has the

According to war planners, three aspects of U.S. military strategy are
specifically related to preventing the use of such weapons once open hostilities

First, initiating the use of force across all fronts, with simultaneous air and
ground operations, will communicate what Wolfowitz calls "the inevitability" of
Hussein's demise. "No one wants to be the last one to die for Saddam Hussein,"
he said.

Second, the war plan itself favors smaller and more highly dispersed formations
to limit exposure to the kinds of brute-force chemical attacks that occurred in
Iraq's war with Iran.

Third, early air and special operations assaults, particularly in western Iraq,
will seek to disrupt any potential attacks on Israel.

Despite so little hard evidence of Iraq's capabilities, U.S. troops have been
vaccinated, trained, equipped and dressed to prepare for chemical and biological
war. For military units, all this is no more than prudent planning.

For the rest of us, we must take care that apprehension about weapons of mass
destruction -- whether generated from hawks or from doves -- does not become a
substitute for thinking through the justification to go to war, a decision that
could have consequences for years to come.

There have been recent reports that U.S. Marines in Kuwait were literally using
"sentinel" chickens to aid in the early detection of chemical and biological

"I just have to tell you from personal experience," said Reeves, "having had a
great-uncle with a chicken farm, chickens are spectacularly nervous animals.
They will literally worry themselves to death."


Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

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