The Missiles of March

Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles starting tomorrow, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Has Blix says this is “very significant.” President Bush, however, dismisses this out of hand and for the first time explicitly says war is coming and there’s no way to stop it. And poll results show support for war shallow.

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Nose aspect of an Ababil-100/Al-Samoud airframe mock-up. (Photo courtesy of UNSCOM)

Interesting. Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles starting tomorrow, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Has Blix says this is “very significant.” President Bush, however, dismisses this out of hand and for the first time explicitly says war is coming and there’s no way to stop it.

“My attitude about Saddam Hussein is that if he had any intention of disarming, he would have disarmed,” Bush said. He added later: “We will disarm him now.”

Late Thursday, Iraq agreed “in principle” to fulfill the U.N. request but asked for U.N. guidance on how to proceed. Bush had pre-emptively dismissed the move: “Whatever you see him say now will be attempts to delay or deceive the world.”

And yet the Security Council is wracked by division as the U.S. and Britain attempt to strong-arm members to get the nine votes and no veto necessary for passage of the resolution introduced Monday that most of the major U.S. media has said would authorize war. (Actually, it doesn’t; it restates Resolution 1441 passed back in November which warned of “serious consequences” if Iraq didn’t comply — but only after the Security Council had decided on what the serious consequences would be.)
The U.S. and Britain have both said the U.N. will become irrelevant if it doesn’t “stand up” to Saddam and enforce its resolutions. Fine, there’s some validity to that, but won’t it also become irrelevant if the dominant member goes to war in defiance of the majority of the Council and the rest of the world body? None of that matters, anyway, as Bush said back in November that the United States would not be bound by “unproductive debate,” which, presumably, is how he and the rest of the hawks would view the current hand-wringing of the Council.
“The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council, but without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country,” he said. “If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein.”
OK. So many may be asking why did Bush bother to introduce a second resolution Monday if the United States is determined to go ahead in defiance of the Council? And why is it working so hard to get the nine votes if Council approval is nice but not necessary, as the White House has repeatedly claimed?
Because the polling numbers on the home front are not good. Many people say the public supports this war, pointing to numbers that say about 59 percent favor the war. That’s true, but the same Gallup Poll that reveals that figure reveals a shallow support that could easily shift. But most important, they reveal a public that really, really wants this to go down, if it must, with the U.N.’s blessing.
The first question, “Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?” reveals a flat 59 percent in favor — mostly unchanged over the last five months — 37 percent opposed and 4 percent with no opinion. But it’s more complicated than that.
A later question shows why Team Bush is working the Council so hard. “As you may know, the U.S., Great Britain, and Spain plan to submit a resolution to the United Nations that says that Iraq is in serious violation of prior U.N. resolutions that required Iraq to disarm. Do you think the United States should invade Iraq with ground troops ? [ROTATED: only if the U.N. approves this new resolution, even if the U.N. does not approve this new resolution], or do you think the United States should not send ground troops to Iraq at all?” This is where the support “goes wobbly” as Maggie Thatcher might say. Forty percent favor an invasion if the U.N. approves, 38 percent even if the U.N. doesn’t approve and 3 percent have no opinion. Nineteen percent don’t think the U.S. should send troops at all.
And if Iraq destroys its missiles? Support for invasion, even if Iraq destroys its missiles, drops to 33 percent. Twenty-six percent might be opposed if Iraq destroys the missiles and 22 percent oppose war no matter what.
So you start to see the breakdown. “About half the public — 47%– say they could change their mind on invading Iraq, while 49% say their mind is already made up. The 49% whose mind is made up comprises 32% who favor invading and 17% who oppose, while the 47% who could change their mind currently show a slight preference for invading (27%) over not invading (20%).”
The bottom line is that roughly four in five Americans would favor war if the United Nations approved it, but only two in five, roughly, would favor war no matter what.
The poll was conducted Feb. 24-26, with most interviews completed prior to President George W. Bush’s national address on Iraq Wednesday night. The sample was a randomly selected group of 1,003 adults, 18 years and older. It has a 95 percent confidence and a maximum error of plus or minus 3 points.
These numbers show the rush behind the push, since Bush knows that support will drop off heavily if there’s no resolution. One wonders if Saddam can read polling results as well, and figures that he might be able to further soften Bush’s war support by dismantling the missiles.
While the Bush White House may warn of — and secretly hope for — the irrelevancy of the United Nations, the American public seems to be making it more relevant by the day.

Yellow alert and terror threats

A web site that has been the reipient of tapes from Osama bin Laden published an announcement of an imminent terror attack, perhaps inside the United States, within 10 days. Also, today Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the U.S. was stepping down to ThreatCon Yellow.

As the United States, with the exception of New York City, steps down from ThreatCon Orange (high) to ThreatCon Yellow (elevated), MEMRI is reporting that the Islamist Web sites, www.alfjr.com and www.arabforum.net have published a “religious exhortation” announcing a coming terrorist attack, apparently within 10 days and apparently within the United States. The post was published Feb. 24.
Throughout the post, the author — calling himself The Prince of Philosophy — claims an attack is imminent (“the train of death is on its way… nothing will stop its riders.”) Two pictures are published, one showing a ghostly Osama bin Laden hovering over the burning World Trade Center.
The translation, courtesy of MEMRI, follows:

‘Here is Victory Appearing on the Horizon… Here is the Dawn of Islam’
“Allah Akbar [Allah is the greatest], Allah Akbar. Here is victory appearing in the horizon.”
“Allah Akbar, here is the dawn of Islam that has arrived to bring an end to the night of unbelief, collaboration [with foreign powers], and hypocrisy.”
“Allah Akbar, die with your anger, oh herds of error. Allah Akbar, die with your wrath, oh gangs of [unjust Muslim] rulers. Allah Akbar, oh slaves: all of you are big slaves and small slaves, you and your masters.”
“Your shrouds are woven with gun powder and smoke, and your coffins are shells of fire and spearheads.”
“There is no rescue, nor escaping the earth, with all of its width and length [it] belongs to our Lord, the skies and their horizons belong to our Lord. You have nothing, oh slaves of the cross and slaves of the Dirham and Dinnar [currency used in the Arab world].”
‘Our Dead Go to Paradise and Yours Go to Hell… Rejoice, Oh Lovers of the Hur [i.e. the Black-Eyed Virgins of Paradise] and the Gardens [of Paradise]’
“Allah is our ally and you have no ally. Our dead go to Paradise and yours go to Hell, and how bad is their fate.”
osama.jpg“Allah Akbar. It is Paradise, a paradise as wide as the whole skies and earth. Rejoice, oh lovers of the Hur [i.e., the black-eyed virgins of Paradise] and the gardens [of Paradise]”
“Allah Akbar, it is the clear victory and the great triumph [promised by Allah]. By Allah, if you knew what I know, you would laugh much and you would go to your trenches crying with extreme joy, while you carry your arms.”
“Allah Akbar, here are the heroic soldiers of the Truth. They have taken their positions and raised their swords and they shielded themselves with the protection and support of Allah.”
“Here Are the Lions Ready to Set Out, Waiting to Hear the [Battle Cry] ‘Allah Akbar’ Coming from their Commander”
“Allah Akbar. Here are the lions ready to set out, waiting to hear the [battle cry] ‘Allah Akbar’ coming from their commander, to assault with speed, with the heat of a volcano, and the bombardment of thunders.”
“Allah Akbar, how long was the dark night, its darkness will no longer besiege us.”
“Oh the raiders for Allah, hurry on your way to crush this unbelief, oh the raiders for Allah.”
‘The People of Islamic Lands… Have Left to Encounter the Enemy’
“Allah Akbar, oh the people of Islamic lands, your brethren have left to encounter the enemy with firm resolve and conviction of victory, Allah willing.”
“You should offer supplications. Continue with [supplications] and do not stop. Do not stop asking Allah’s forgiveness and recite His name, so that victory should come from Him,”
“Oh lions of Islam, may our appointed time be tonight and every night in the prayer niches of the Exalted One so that we align our feet before Allah, He who has all power, kingship, and greatness.”
‘The Coming Blows… Meet the Enemy Inside His Own Home [Country]’
“We beseech Him and humble ourselves before Him and implore Him to direct the coming blows [right to the targets] and to protect our brethren who went out to meet the enemy inside his own home [country].”
‘It is Only a Matter of a Few Days, a Little More’
“You, our brethren, be firm and keep the path and hide in waiting and prostration [as in prayer] for it is only a matter of a few days, a little more than ten or less until we hear the cry announcing to us the good tidings of Allah’s victory [coming] by the hands of our brethren, the Jihad fighters. This is a serious matter and not a joke.”
‘The Operations Have Already Been Set and the Lions Have Taken their Positions’
“The operations have already been set and the lions have taken their positions and everything is complete. They are only waiting for permission from the heroic commander.”
“Whatever the enemy may do, he will never be able, Allah willing, to thwart anything. The brigades for the main missions are ready. They are supported by their brethren, members of the supporting brigades and the reserve brigades. The alternative plans are ready.”
“Hence, whatever the enemy of Allah may do, he shall not be able to harm us, Allah willing.”
‘The Train of Death is on its Way’
“The train of death is on its way. Its riders are steadfast. Nothing will stop them or turn them back, Allah willing, from the goal: neither the bushes of the enemy nor his weeds, neither his reptiles [nor] his lizards will stop its progress.”
“There is no force or advancement, except from Allah, the All-Powerful…”
“It is only a matter of a few days so be patient. We will come out and announce to you the news of the great victory.”
“And so I repeat: supplications, supplications, supplications, supplications to Allah…”
“We implore Allah, to protect them [the Jihad fighters]… and to take away from them [the enemies’] hearing and sight.”
‘Oh Allah, This is America… Destroy it and Shake it and All who Walk in its Line’
“Oh Allah, this is America… destroy it and shake it and all who walk in its line and entrenches with it… There is no god but you, the exalted…”

Obviously, the question is, “Is this genuine?” Arabforum.net has been the recipient of bin Laden’s messages before, most recently his latest tape released earlier this month calling on Muslims to defend Iraq. American intelligence reports have labeled that tape “almost certainly” genuine.
The original post, in Arabic, can be found here. Perhaps someone who reads Arabic is willing to check it against MEMRI’s translations? (Although MEMRI is usually very good.)

Gen. Franks in theater… Prelude to war?

General Tommy Franks, the man who will run the war against Iraq, arrived Tuesday at his command post in Qatar, according to Reuters. Camp As Sayliyah will be the forward position for commanding U.S. and allied forces against Saddam Hussein’s army when hostilities begin. Normally based in Tampa, Fla., the commander of Central Command is expected to stay in Qatar “until the Iraq crisis was over,” according to officials in Florida.
Or will he?

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The hull of a destroyed Iraqi tank is backlit by the burning Al Ahmadi oilfields, which were set on fire by retreating Iraqi troops in 1991 after the first Gulf War. (®) 1991 Allan Tannenbaum

General Tommy Franks, the man who will run the war against Iraq, arrived Tuesday at his command post in Qatar, according to Reuters. Camp As Sayliyah will be the forward position for commanding U.S. and allied forces against Saddam Hussein’s army when hostilities begin. Normally based in Tampa, Fla., the commander of Central Command is expected to stay in Qatar “until the Iraq crisis was over,” according to officials in Florida.
But a senior Central Command official said Franks would be returning to Florida in a few days. “Modern command and control does not require him to be here all the time,” the official said. “Don’t place a lot of importance on where he is … Good military commanders focus on strategic surprise.”
Moreover, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that U.S. troops are in position and ready. More than 200,000 troops are in the region, with 105,000 in Kuwait alone. More will surely follow, assuming Turkey approves the deployment of up to 62,000 troops (although it will take a couple of weeks to bring them up to speed.)
Stratfor engages in some intriguing speculation concerning the confluence of events and people in the region:

… achieving strategic surprise in this war is going to be tough. What can be a surprise in this war is timing. Everyone is focused on mid-March as the beginning of the war. While it is not necessary for the senior commander to be present at the battlefield, it has certainly been standard practice in the U.S. military that the commander be as close to the battlefield as possible. Even with superb information flows, a commander needs to be seen by his troops, and he must have the ability to move about the battlefield to absorb realities that the finest digitized information doesn’t provide. Finally, given the culture of the U.S. military, it is just hard to imagine a senior commander staying behind in Tampa while a multidivisional force under his command engages the enemy. It just isn’t the way it’s done.

This brings me back to March 1 as the preferred attack date, as it’s a new moon. Furthermore, as the moon waxes, it will remain below the Iraqi horizon until 4 a.m. or so until mid-March. Many signals will be gleaned from Franks’ travels. If he does return to Florida in a few days, it’s unlikely an attack will occur in early March and mid-March is the likely date. But if he stays…
Of course, Franks’ jetsetting could be part of a plan to throw Iraq off balance, as they’re quite capable of making the same analysis of the general’s movements as Stratfor and others are. And while it’s preferable for Franks to be in the region when the battle is joined, it’s not a requirement, especially as he could be there in hours. With America’s emphasis on blitzkrieg-like “shock and awe” battle tactics, if I were Saddam and knew Franks was on his way over, I’d skip town. By then, however, it will probably be too late.
A word on “shock and awe:” I’m all for ending wars quickly and with the minimum amount of people dead, but this strategy looks like one that has been drawn up by someone who has never seen ground combat. Significantly, the only member of Bush’s War Council who is actively for the war and has seen active duty is Rumsfeld, who was a navy pilot from 1954-1957, conveniently missing the Korean War. Rumsfeld is also one of the architects of the “shock and awe” theory of modern warfare. As a friend of mine in the infantry told me, “Things look a whole lot different on the ground than when you’re looking at a little computer screen at 20,000 feet. They don’t know what it’s like.”
Of course, inter-branch rivalries are well know, but he has a point. The current plan, as published, calls lfor 800 Tomahawk attacks on Baghdad and 3,000 smart bomb attacks across the country in 48 hours. Assuming a 90% accuracy for the smart bombs and Tomahawks, that’s still 80 stray cruise missiles and 300 mistakenly bombed targets. And hell, since the “smart” in smart bombs and cruise missiles relies on accurate intelligence data, 90% accuracy is probably giving a lot more credit than is due. Remember that little matter of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade back in the last war? The bomb hit precisely where it was supposed to go, but the military had the wrong information on the target. And that was one foul-up. How many will there be in Baghdad, a city the size of Paris with 4.5 million people? As I said, 80… At least.
I know civilians die in war. It’s tragic but also unavoidable. (Unless you don’t go to war at all, but that’s not very likely is it?) But when al-Jazeera broadcasts footage of the victims of bombed mosques, hospitals and orphanages to the world, angry Muslims won’t care that Saddam placed military targets next to a mosque and thus shares responsibility for its destruction and civilian deaths. All they’ll see is a bomb casing with a “Made in the U.S.A.” label on it. And we’ll have made al Qa’ida’s recruiting job easy.

Discussion boards

Greetings all. It seems there has been a lot of people commenting on various posts at Back to Iraq. And that’s great. Debate is good. Even from you, Casca.
So I’m considering starting a discussion forum based on phpBB where you all can go at each other’s throats in a central arena, although there will be no wagering. Would there be any interest in this?
To vote, send an email to one of the two links below corresponding to yes and no votes. I’ll make a decision in the next week or so.

Has Saddam Blinked?

Stratfor and the Associated Press are reporting that former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, supposedly a personal friend of Saddam Hussein, visited Baghdad on Feb. 23 on a secret mission. A statement from Moscow reveals that the Iraqi president was asked — and agreed — to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Therefore, Saddam must be stopped.

Stratfor and the Associated Press are reporting that former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, supposedly a personal friend of Saddam Hussein, visited Baghdad on Feb. 23. The purpose and results of the meeting remain secret, but a statement from Moscow reveals that the Iraqi president was asked — and agreed — to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Saddam has apparently agreed to destroy Iraq’s al-Samoud 2 missiles, the ones causing such a stink in Washington for exceeding the 93-mile limit by less than 20 miles. Stratfor goes further, saying that Saddam has also agreed to a version of the Franco-German plan to introduce a flood of U.N. troops to back up weapons inspectors within in the next 10 days to show the Security Council that Iraq has been unconditionally disarmed.

Saddam Hussein will “do anything that he reasonably can that is honorable and protective of the sovereignty of his people to prevent war,” said former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark after meeting with Hussein on Monday. Clark is active in the anti-war movement.

(In an interview prior to Primakov’s visit, Saddam told CBS’ Dan Rather that Iraq would not destroy the al-Samoud 2 missiles and instead challenged the U.S. president to a televised debate. Perhaps Primakov reality checked Saddam?)

Still… Stratfor also mentioned a request from Saddam to Russian President Vladimir Putin to deliver a secret communiqué to U.S. and British energy companies, inviting them back to Iraq after 30 years of being kept out. If Washington calls off the dogs of war, the companies will be allowed to immediately return. A Russian envoy is expected to deliver the terms of this deal to Bush in the coming days.

French president Jacques Chirac was reportedly enthusiastic for the deal, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was said to have reacted favorably. Washington has had no reaction yet, of course, and there’s no way to ascertain how genuine this offer from Saddam is. Has Saddam blinked, as he sometimes has in the past? And given that it’s likely this proposal will embolden France, Russia and China, all “P-5” members of the UNSCR to throw up more diplomatic roadblocks, will U.S. president George W. Bush accept this proposal as a face-saving plan to avoid an unpopular and costly war?

Initial statements from White House spokesman Ari Fleischer indicate that the White House will reject this idea. (This is probably another exchange between Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers and Fleischer, but it’s unclear from the Feb. 24 briefing.)

The U.N. weapons inspectors have determined that Iraq has this missile which exceeds limits that it agreed to, or were imposed on it by the U.N. Hans Blix has said it should be destroyed. If Iraq destroys those missiles, why isn’t that concrete progress toward disarmament?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, we expect that Saddam Hussein will destroy those missiles. The United Nations Security Council has called on it to do so, and unless he engages in further defiance, we expect that he will. But, number two, as the President said over the weekend, that would just be the tip of the iceberg. And the reason for that is when a criminal holds a gun to your head and takes one bullet out of the chamber, you still have to worry about all the rest of the bullets in the chamber, because they can kill you, too.

And the fact is, with Saddam Hussein, he still has not shown the world that he has disarmed from the VX, the nerve agents, the botulin, the anthrax, all of which the United Nations found that he had in his possession in the late 1990s, which he has yet to account for. That’s the fear about what’s in the rest of the gun, in the other chamber — in the chamber in the gun.

So there’s no way that Iraq can do anything, really, to avoid war? Because if they begin to dismantle their weapons, the President still believes that they’ve got other bullets in the chamber and is —

MR. FLEISCHER: Under Security Council Resolution 1441, which was passed in November last year, Iraq had an obligation to immediately and fully disarm from all the weapons that were prohibited — and I just cited several of them. So if Iraq were to take one missile out of the chamber that they left in the chamber — VX, sarin, botulin, anthrax — the world still has a lot to worry about.

I understand. And you won’t wait to see whether the French proposal or any other proposal could get them to take those bullets out of the chamber — you aren’t willing to take “yes” for an answer here on the missiles and anything else?

MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that the resolution passed in November and called for full and immediate compliance, “yes” has not been a word that anybody has heard out of Iraq.

The White House will likely reject this idea for a number of reasons:

  1. It doesn’t achieve the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Perle plan for the Middle East as a collection of satrapys friendly to United States energy and security needs;
  2. The world would breathe a sigh of relief not only because war was averted but also because American hegemony was thwarted. Even though Washington could back down gracefully by saying the U.S. military build-up pressured Iraq into complying and accepting peacekeeping troops, other nations ruled megalomaniacal madmen — yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, North Korea — with nukes would likely see this as a sign of weakness;
  3. The American domestic political backlash could be fierce.

The last item deserves special mention. And I will get to it.

But first, some will say Saddam is not serious, because if he allows blue-helmets all over the country and fully disarms, he will appear weak to his own people, to other Arab leaders and would not be long for this world. His dream of establishing himself as a modern-day Saladin would be over — and so, too, would his presidency.

But Saddam is a canny old fox, still, and here I veer into speculation, although of the informed sort. The Iraqi people are dreading war and the destruction it would bring. While they would not be happy to see Saddam stay in power, they likely would be happy not to be blown up by American JDAM bombs. The Iraqis I met while traveling were fairly fatalistic. They’ve suffered this long, they feel, the next life will be better.

(The INC and other members of the Iraqi opposition will scream bloody murder, of course, but no one takes them that seriously anyway. The Kurds also would not be happy with this and might — I repeat, might — declare independence.)

The leaders of the rest of the Arab world already hate Saddam and know that he’s effectively defanged by U.N. sanctions. And while they no doubt feel sympathy for the suffering Iraqi people, Arab leaders would consider the plight of suffering Iraqis like they do the suffering of the Palestinians — very useful for distracting their publics from toppling their own authoritarian governments, assuming the U.N. sanctions regime is continued.

And lastly, if Saddam remains in power after a U.S. military build-up, even if it results in U.N. troops all over Baghdad, it will still be seen as a victory for him and a humiliating loss for George W. Bush. Bush can’t allow that to happen. Partly out of conviction and partly out of political necessity, Bush has positioned himself on the side of angels in this looming war with his evangelical rhetoric of good and evil. The Christian Right, neocons and other hawks who have taken a hard-line on Iraq believe they are doing God’s work, more or less, and if you’ve got God on your side, you don’t dicker with the devil. Bush, himself, may be willing to cut a deal and get this whole mess over with, but I don’t think his right flank will allow him to do that. He’s very conscious of the suspicion with which the Christian right viewed his father. And he’s likewise aware of how Bush I’s “no new taxes” pledge came back and bit him in the ass. If Bush II leaves Saddam in power, he will be facing a double whammy with his base for leaving an evil tyrant in power and for breaking a commitment to “regime change.”

This won’t cause evangelicals and others on the hard right to vote for a Democrat of course, but if the economy continues to shuffle along, and North Korea continues to thumb its nose at the United States, Bush’s numbers likely will continue their gravitationally assisted movement. A primary challenger could emerge from Bush’s right, siphoning off his base. And if the current weakness of the Democratic field stays steady (Kucinich? Kerry? Give me a break), red-meat conservatives might not be so afraid to take a chance with another GOP candidate.

And that could be Saddam’s game, in effect becoming the Fidel Castro of the Middle East. If he can’t liberate Jerusalem, Saddam might be satisfied with humiliating both Bush I and II, especially if his continued survival was a deciding factor in ending both presidencies. Yeah, I think he’d be quite happy with that.

Which is why the White House can’t allow him to stick around.