The US offensive against Iraq is drawing near, in line with DEBKA-Net-Weekly forecasts. Winding up a 10-day Middle East mission this week, US secretary of state Colin Powell told Israeli leaders to expect it to begin in the first two weeks of May. Our sources say Powell left no doubt that diplomatic moves on the Palestinian question, like the Middle East peace conference he has scheduled for about two months hence, must await the onset of the US offensive against Baghdad.
The United States has by now completed the transfer of its command and control center from the Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia to the al-Udeid facility near Doha in Qatar. The Udeid center is already up and running, and coordinating all of the US central command’s air activities in the global war against terrorism.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources says Iraq is now concentrating its forces, including at least three out of the seven Republican Guard armored divisions, in the center of the country. They are fanned out across a 74-sq.mile area opposite the Jordanian border, that is bounded by four locations: H-3 Main, H-3 Southwest and H-3 Northwest – 250 miles west of Baghdad, and the big al Baghdadi ground and air base west of the town of Rutbah.
The Iraqi high command reckons the first American strike, carried out under the cover of a bombing and missile barrage, will seek to conquer this area and take over the four bases. US forces will then set up shop in the facilities – much in the way they use the main US base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. From there they will threaten the capital, Baghdad.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the Iraqi forces in the area plan to split into two groups. One force, led by Saddam Hussein’s son, Qusay, will retreat toward Baghdad. But the other group will push into Jordan and seize its eastern region for an eventual move into the capital, Amman. Iraq hopes to create an isolated pocket in which the Americans will be trapped and vulnerable, and then rain down on them bombs and missiles carrying chemical and biological agents. Simultaneously, Iraqi missile barrages will hit Israel and US military targets in the Jewish state, as well as American military facilities in the Gulf, Kuwait and Qatar.
Everything goes to indicate that the Americans have no reason to expect a short campaign. DEBKA-Net-Weekly estimates the first stage alone will last between one and two months.