Do not expect to see Islamic warriors mounted on camels, turbans flowing in the wind, charging across the Arabian desert to defend Baghdad.
More likely, say Western military analysts, a slow, stealthy infiltration of extremist groups could wreak havoc on US, British, and allied armies during and after a coalition invasion of Iraq.
Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of jihadis - holy warriors - will view US and British forces in Iraq as prime targets, say these analysts. They say coalition forces could wind up fighting two campaigns: one to disarm Saddam Hussein and the other to maintain security afterward - putting down skirmishes between tribal factions while defending against possible terrorist attacks (see story, page 1).
In a new audiocassette released on Tuesday, a voice believed by US officials to be that of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden calls on Muslims around the Arab world to take up just such stealthy, guerrilla tactics against "infidels" on Arabian sands.
"True Muslims should act, incite, and mobilize...." the tape said. "We advise about the importance of drawing the enemy into long, close, and exhausting fighting, taking advantage of camouflaged positions in plains, farms, mountains, and cities."
Western military analysts warn that while Iraq is today a mostly "secular" Islamic regime run by Mr. Hussein's ruling Baath Party, Western armies are likely to act as magnet that would draw Al Qaeda across porous borders into Iraq.
"There is a real possibility that an occupation of this nature will suck in all sorts of jihadis from all over," says Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies in London. "A Western occupation almost certainly invites them in from Saudi Arabia and other countries where they are currently ensconced."
Abu Omar, an Iraqi businessman here, says that he was pleased to see Mr. bin Laden, a personal hero, taking an interest in Iraq. But he said that he also wanted to see Hussein removed from power, albeit not with the help of the US military.
"Osama had hit the Americans one time in a very big way, when he attacked the World Trade Center," he says. "That was much more than any Arab leader has ever done, and for this reason we love him. But this war will involve the Iraqi people fighting the US and, while Osama will try to inspire his members to fight with them, I don't expect Al Qaeda to be a major factor."
Syrian computer technician Imad Sakkal agrees that there is little love lost between Hussein and bin Laden, but he praises bin Laden for sacrificing a life of luxury to fight for Islam in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. "Even if he and his people die fighting the Americans, they will be martyrs."
Few leading Western military analysts doubt any US-led invasion of Iraq will end in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's undemocratic regime. It is the "morning after" that raises red-flag security issues, they say.
In the "new Iraq," say analysts, Shiite Muslims in the east and south of the country, and Kurds in the north, are likely to seek quick revenge against the Baath Party, thus precipitating the need for coalition troops to stop the ethnic strife even as the tortuous heat of an Arabian summer closes in.
At the same time, however, the US-led stabilization efforts are likely to be frustrated by the need to fight a parallel, but not necessarily related, war on terror. US forces will face major challenges and limits to their mobility as peacekeepers because of the Pentagon's heightened "force protection" requirements, add the British analysts.
"As more terrorist groups emerge around Baghdad, it will become considerably harder to keep the peace," says Alexandra Ashborne, director of Ashborne-Beaver Associates, a defense-analysis institute in London. "There will be so much instability on the borders. I think Iran could pose the most danger. There will be a threat both from Al Qaeda and other groups that have yet to emerge. There could be kidnapping, hostage taking, and bomb threats."
Indeed, terrorists veiled as Bedouins trekking through the desert is one likely scenario. Few of the region's nomadic Bedouin tribesmen bother going through border checkpoints, and with Iraq's 3,500 miles of border, mostly with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, it will not be possible to keep up a constant guard at all crossing points, analysts warn.
The US military has concrete experience fighting Al Qaeda on the ground in Afghanistan, but using far different tactics than its top brass say they plan to employ in Iraq. Early in the Afghan conflict, the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership decided not to inject large numbers of conventional forces into the fray. The rationale was that the US did not want to get "bogged down" as the Soviet Army did in the 1980s, or become a target for extremists.
"My permanent mission was to bring down the Taliban regime, to destabilize and deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda, and we did that," says Col. John Mulholland, the Green Beret 5th Group commander who headed "Task Force Dagger," the Special Operations unit that led the Afghan campaign. "In the course of the war, we killed thousands of these [guys] across the country, some in close contact and others in air strikes." Colonel Mulholland's forces have currently infiltrated northern Iraq to prepare small bases of operation.
In a curious twist, the new audiocassette, which was released by the Al Jazeera TV station based in Doha, Qatar, suggests the Iraqi people should take heart from Al Qaeda's Afghan experience.
The speaker says that US bombs work effectively against stationary and known targets, but fail miserably when disguises and decoys are employed. At Tora Bora and at a later battle, Operation Anaconda, the terror network successfully dodged US bombing by setting up empty tents and by hiding in deep bunkers.
The speaker also encourages the use of suicide attacks on Westerners.