Saddam Digs Into Bag of Tricks

Oil `spill,' tank incursion make headlines, but coalition continues to implement strategy. ANALYSIS

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE second week of the Gulf war was a week when Saddam Hussein tried to widen the field of battle by striking back with unconventional weapons. While coalition forces intensified air strikes against Iraqi targets, Saddam unleashed an oil slick, fed pictures of civilian destruction to Cable News Network, and apparently removed his prize warplanes to sanctuary in Iran.

Even a probe by Iraqi tanks into Saudi Arabia seemed intended at least partly as a political statement - Saddam Hussein's way of trying to impress the world with his will.

In a battle lasting more than 30 hours, American and other coalition forces recaptured the border town of Khafji from Iraqi troops Thursday, according to the Saudi press agency. Twelve US marines were killed in the fighting, hailed by Iraq as a turning point in the Gulf war.

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``The mere fact that they launched this ... attack indicates that they certainly have a lot of fight left in them,'' said the Central Command chief, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Wednesday.

The week's events also shed light on several of the Gulf war's most crucial questions, including:

Coalition solidarity. There were faint signs of nervousness in some of the Arab nations opposing Iraq. In Egypt, for instance, university vacations were extended to reduce chances of pro-Saddam demonstrations. But, in general, the coalition stood firm despite the fury of the air war.

The success of allied bombing. In the most detailed briefing of the war to date, General Schwarzkopf listed the number and type of targets believed destroyed by air power. Damage seemed considerable, once again raising the question of how long the coalition should wait to see whether a ground war is needed. ``I am quite confident that the direction we are heading in is going to lead to exactly the outcome that we all want to see,'' he said.

Moves aimed to complicate

Saddam's use of unconventional approaches seemed designed at least in part to use up allied resources and complicate war plans. If that was indeed his motive, the oil slick sliding down the Saudi coast appeared to have worked for him in some degree.

United States officials insisted that the oil wouldn't make a difference to naval forces, and that cleanup equipment should be able to protect the intakes of crucial desalination plants. But Saddam forced the allies to allocate air resources to shut off the flow by attacking pipe controls, and worry about how they would protect the Gulf environment.

While President Bush denounced the leaking of oil as ``eco-terrorism,'' it may well have represented just another attempt at grandiose military engineering by Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq war Iraq created a large, man-made lake as a defensive fortification in the Basra area. It was filled with sensors, barbed wire, and live power lines, according to Georgetown University scholar Anthony Cordesman.

Another aim of Saddam's war strategy appears to be widening the fighting to include other nations, if possible. His Scud missile launches against Israel are the most obvious such tactic, aiming at goading Israel into a response that could cause Egypt and Syria to rethink their support of the coalition.

But Israel held its fire throughout the week, and the total number of Iraqi Scud launches fell from 35 in the first seven days of the war to 18 in the second.

And Iran insisted that it wasn't going to take sides by even giving its former arch-enemy more rhetorical support. Saddam may be hoping that the warplanes he has sent to safety in Iran - 89 as of this writing - might be allowed to return some day, in essence dragging Tehran into the war on Iraq's side. But Iranian officials insisted that the planes would be impounded for the duration.

``I believe them absolutely. The Iranians have no reason to help the Iraqis stay and annex Kuwait,'' says Shaul Bakhash, an Iranian expert at George Mason University.

Peace frond offered

On Tuesday, the US and Soviet Union did offer Saddam a peace frond of sorts, saying the bombing would stop if he would make an ``unequivocal commitment'' to pull out of Kuwait. The statement also called for a new, postwar effort to solve all regional problems, including the Arab-Israeli conflict - thus putting in close proximity two confrontations the US has resisted linking.

American officials said they had little hope Saddam would accept the offer, however. Its primary purpose may be to reassure nervous Arab allies; or it could be a Soviet attempt to appear a moderate voice to Arab states.

As of this writing the war seems sure to continue, with the air attack phase settling into a routine of around 2,000 sorties a day, depending on weather. So far, Iraqi early-warning radar has completely failed, according to Schwarzkopf. US bomb damage assessments so far indicate that 75 percent of Iraq's command, control, and communications facilities have been attacked, and of those one-third are destroyed or inoperative. Twenty-five percent of Iraqi electrical generating plants are completely destroyed, with another 50 percent damaged to some degree.

Thirty-eight Iraqi airfields have been targeted, receiving in the past week the attention of over 1,300 sorties. Only nine are now rated non-operational, but Schwarzkopf says the intention was to render the Iraqi Air Force ineffective, and that goal has been accomplished. Among key targets now are logistics areas and transportation infrastructure. Schwarzkopf said the main Iraqi supply route into Kuwait City has suffered a 90 percent reduction in traffic.

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