The media are full of stories about US war plans. Apparently it will drop more bombs in the first three days of the war than in the entire Gulf War of 1991. It will occupy the northern and southern regions of Iraq, to protect the oilfields there from arson by Saddam.
The Kurds in the north and Shias in the south have good reason to hate Saddam, and might welcome US troops. Then Bush plans carpet bombing of the central region between the Euphrates and Tigris, hoping to induce a military coup against Saddam. That will avoid a bloody US occupation of Baghdad.
Nobody knows Saddam’s plans. Yet a look at his choices leads to only one conclusion. He must take the battle to enemy territory. Possibly he has already sent agents with biological and chemical weapons to American and European cities, and will threaten to devastate them if Iraq is invaded. This looks the only strategy with any chance of stopping the US. Defeating US forces in battle is impossible. Osama bin Laden has apparently said that US bombers can detect and strike only obvious targets, so Saddam should put soldiers in trenches that cannot be detected by US planes, and surprise the enemy when he enters Baghdad.
That sounds like a good recipe for heroic death, but little else. What other options does Saddam have? Attacking Israel would be a way to try to convert this into an Arab-Israeli war. But the US will doubtless counsel Israel to suffer in silence, as in 1991. Only the naive will believe that Saddam has destroyed the hundreds of tonnes of chemical and biological agents he had failed to account for when UN inspectors were thrown out in 1998.
Yes, the UN resolution of 1991 bound him to disarm totally, but which ruler will ever do that? Will you strip yourself bare and become totally defenceless, just to comply with a UN resolution? Thousands of UN resolutions have been ignored with impunity by many countries. Why should Saddam have done anything different?
Right now he is buying time with promises of compliance. Indeed, he may indeed be telling the truth: if he has sent all his biological and chemical weapons to America and Europe, he can truthfully say he has nothing to declare in Iraq. France, Germany and Russia are asking for more time for Iraqi disarmament. But, given the US is going to attack anyway, do Chirac and Schroder seriously believe that Saddam will give away all his means of defence? Would they do so in similar circumstances? No, I suspect these politicians want to make themselves look good, even while knowing that total Iraqi disarmament is impossible in the current circumstances, and probably in any circumstances. The US believes Saddam has such weapons stored at secret places in Iraq. So US troops have been equipped with special protective clothing and gas masks. But using these weapons on US soldiers will not change the outcome.
I suspect Saddam will use his biological and chemical weapons in the US, not in Iraq. Bush gave notice more than a year ago that he regards Iraq as part of the axis of evil. That gave Saddam plenty of time to find the only possible way deter an American attack: move biological and chemical weapons to the US. Just a few vials of biological agents can kill thousands. A few vials of poison can poison a city’s water supply. Agents recruited by Iraq could easily carry such vials in their suitcases when flying as visitors into Western capitals. Indeed, US security services fear that many US and European citizens are Saddam sympathisers, maybe agents. Airport security has been tightened in the West, but the sniffer dogs there are trained to sniff out cocaine and heroin, not anthrax. Metal detectors can detect guns but not poisons. Possibly vials could simply be posted to Western capitals undetected, or be embedded deep in civilian goods sent as cargo. The possibilities are endless.
If a war is about to begin, Saddam could declare that he has a mighty deterrent. The US is treating North Korea with kid gloves because it has retaliatory nuclear capacity. If Iraq too reveals retaliatory capacity, that might induce second thoughts on an attack. Millions of Americans tell Bush to stop. Will he dare attack nevertheless, risking millions of US lives and his political future?
Maybe. Yet this seems to me the only chance for Saddam to stop Bush. US security agencies have similar thoughts. They warned Americans recently to prepare for a biological or chemical attack, to stock up on water and food, to tape plastic sheets over their windows. If this strategy is obvious to the Americans, it is surely obvious to Saddam as well. It risks a holocaust. I hope I am wrong, but I fear the worst.