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.
AVOIDING WAR IN THE SUMMER
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.
WHY NOT AN AUTUMN WAR?
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)
1) REPORT. 2) RESOLUTION.
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
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.,
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 weeksuntil mid-Marchas
the French had suggested.' Rice was less patient. (Sunday Times,
23 Feb., p.13)
THE ROLE OF THE MOON
'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.
AN EXPERT VIEW
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 summer.
'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.'
RECENT INDICATIONS TEND TO
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.
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.
War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Why We Shouldnt Launch Another War
Against Iraq by Milan Rai
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