A top general's thoughts on Iraq

At a Monitor breakfast, Gen. Richard Myers spoke on options without Turkey and potential for casualties.

The Turkish refusal so far to grant crucial basing rights to US forces "dramatically" changes the equation for an Iraq war, creating serious logistical hurdles for a war strategy designed for its "shock" power, a senior US military leader said Tuesday.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that while US commanders are holding out hopes for Turkish cooperation, they are actively working on alternative plans to place US troops in northern Iraq.

The original plan involved positioning the 16,000-strong Fourth Infantry Division, a tank-heavy unit, to invade Iraq from Turkey. One alternative, flying more lightly armored troops into northern Iraq, would require significant additional air support - to move the troops, to keep them supplied, and to provide firepower to make up for the lack of tanks.

"There'll be a northern option with or without Turkey," General Myers said, adding, "obviously, it would be tougher without Turkey."

Nevertheless, he insisted that the Pentagon is ensuring that President Bush has "maximum flexibility" in choosing military options, and is ready to go into action now if required.

In his remarks at a Monitor breakfast in Washington, Myers, one of the top US war planners, also spoke in sweeping terms of both the bold strategy and sobering risks of an Iraq campaign - many vital outcomes of which he admitted remain "unknown."

A conflict with Iraq would look nothing like the 1991 Gulf War, he stressed. In contrast to the 38-day air bombardment followed by a four- to five-day ground campaign known as Desert Storm, the current strategy calls above all for speed, the massive use of precision-guided munitions early on, and a closer integration of air and ground forces, Myers said.

"The template of Desert Storm will not fit very well," he said. "What you would like to do is have it be a short conflict... The best way to do that is to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on that the end is inevitable."

ANOTHER vital difference is that casualties could well exceed those of other recent US military engagements, he suggested. "We need to condition people that this is war. I think [with] Desert Storm [and] the Kosovo air campaign [in 1999], people get the idea that this can be antiseptic. Well, it's not going to be... There's a chance it will not be, and we have to be mentally prepared for that."

The worst-case scenario, he said, would unfold if the Iraqi regime used chemical or biological weapons against Iraqi populations or US forces. He accused the Iraqi leadership of "playing the great shell game" in hiding such weapons. "They move things in minutes or hours before the inspectors get there," he said, snapping his fingers.

Myers argued that US forces on the ground would halt the "denial and deception" by either compelling or freeing knowledgeable Iraqis to disclose hidden weapons sites.

In terms of what would define victory, Myers said that killing or capturing Saddam Hussein was not a requirement. "The ultimate objective is not Saddam Hussein," he said, but is rather to disarm Iraq of chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them.

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