The new presidential adviser on Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, proposes that shortly after Baghdad is conquered by American-led forces, President George W. Bush will fly out and deliver a speech celebrating the New Iraq and calling on the Iranian people to rise up against the clerical regime in Tehran. Khalilzad was until recently the Bush administration’s main policy architect on Afghanistan.
Suggestions for the day after the victory are pouring in to the White House from other parts of the administration. One is to shut the defeated Saddam Hussein up in an isolated building and place him under a siege, relegating him to a fate similar to that of Yasser Arafat, who is encircled by Israeli forces in his Ramallah headquarters, but has not been physically harmed. In effect, this would condemn Saddam and family to lifelong imprisonment as an American captive. He would become an object lesson for all brutal dictators, illustrating the destiny awaiting those who acquired weapons of mass destruction and refused to disarm or join America’s global war on terror.
These reports, which come from DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East and military sources, exemplify the current buoyant mood in the White House and in circles close to senior administration officials. There is a sense that the battle for Baghdad will be brief and America’s victory swiftly attained. This optimism contrasts strongly with the cautious public statements emanating from the Bush administration, which stress that the President has not yet decided on military action against Iraq. The last timeline for the launching of the Iraq war was cited officially in Washington on Thursday, December 18, as some time between the end of January and mid-February.
According to our sources, this date is not binding. The attack could come earlier, from mid-January on, depending on weather conditions in the Middle East and the number of moonless nights, the longest of which occur between January 15 and 18.
While no one questions the victorious outcome of the US campaign, at least three leading American war planners are known to appreciate that the first ten days to two weeks hold great peril for the United States and its allies. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers – who was in Moscow this week to tie up the ends of US-Russian military and intelligence collaboration in the Iraq War – and Central Command chief, General Tommy Franks, are all conscious of the dangers hanging over America at the battlefront and at home in this crucial period – as well as its supporters in the Middle East and Europe.
It is now obvious that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction systems have survived intensive American, British, Turkish, Jordanian and Israel attempts to seize and destroy them and that he is still able to deploy them against several targets simultaneously.
It is also clear that the American-British-Israel threat to counter an Iraqi unconventional weapons attack with a nuclear blast has no deterrent power. A few days ago, Saddam confided to visitors from the Gulf Emirates that he has taken into account that Iraq’s main cities will be razed and their populations decimated by US-led retaliatory raids. This conversation prompted the predictions published in the last few days that Saddam is contemplating resorting to a course of scorched earth if he falls, including setting fire to his own oil fields.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, that was only a fragment of the leaked conversation. The Iraqi ruler went on to speak about igniting all the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, especially those of Kuwait and Oman. Those sources also reveal that high-ranking Saudi and Iraqi intelligence and military officers met on their common frontier this week. The Saudis asked for immunity from attack for their oil wells and installations, but were given no promises.
A potential spanner in America’s Iraq war plans is a possible Middle East war. Despite US diplomatic efforts to keep the lid on regional tensions until the Iraqi conflict is resolved, our military experts see the heightened threat of a conflict erupting, drawing in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. (See separate article in this issue).
If this happens, the United States may find itself entering Baghdad as a victor, yet surrounded by the flames of war in other parts of the region. American war planners are beginning to consider they might have to detach forces from Iraq and the Gulf at high speed to attend to conflagrations flaring in the Middle East as a result of war, the assassination of rulers, internal insurrections or military coups in countries that support the United States. Those currently most vulnerable are Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, and Yemen.
Another hazard looming over American plans is a terrorist outbreak. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts predict a severe escalation in terrorist activity will accompany the onset of the US offensive against Iraq. Ominous warnings in the name of al Qaeda appeared during the holy month of Ramadan in November, threatening mass casualty attacks around the “feast of gift-sharing”. These references were at first linked to Ramadan, when Muslim martyrs are rewarded with lavish gifts in Paradise. However when November came and went and the only terrorist strike occurred in Mombasa – and even then it ended disappointingly for the terrorists when they failed to shoot down an Israeli airliner – the experts’ attention switched to Christmas and the Christian New Year as the target period.
Since those dates come close to the approaching American assault on Iraq, a high terror alert for mass-casualty strikes has been declared in America’s main cities – particularly New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit. In Washington, such key government centers as the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, are labeled high risk, while Vice President Richard Cheney and his staff have been consigned to a hidden location. Mainline transport facilities, air, sea and rail are deemed potential targets. Similar hazards are seen in London and big British cities; a high state of terror alert was declared in France, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
There is a dearth of intelligence on the scale of potential attacks. However the general evaluation is that they will be carried out by al Qaeda network cells, some of them sleepers, which are already on location at their targets, under orders to get set for pre-determined action. Most intelligence and terror experts no longer doubt that Iraqi military intelligence has joined forces with Osama bin Laden’s organization in the planning and execution of these attacks. Therefore, the first terrorist strike will also be the opening shot of the US-led war on Iraq. As in Afghanistan and Israel, the civilian population will find itself part of a warfront.
Late Thursday night, December 19, just as we were closing this issue, al Qaeda published a new report, which says:”…fighters brotherhood will spread some diseases viruses and Ibola… in north Kuwait to… the soldiers of America and Britain” preparing to launch war against Iraq.