Sooner rather than Later

Washington has a check list of Iraq’s weapons of mass production ready for pulling out on December 8, for comparison with the full accounting Security Resolution 1441 obliges the Iraqi government to submit on its unconventional weapons arsenal on that date. Any discrepancies will mean that Saddam Hussein is cheating.

No one will be surprised. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington describe Baghdad’s six-page letter accepting the UN Security Council resolution that the Iraqi ambassador handed UN Secretary General Koffi Anan Wednesday, November 13, as studded with recipes for procrastination (“The timetable does not take Ramadan and our festivals into account”.) and pretexts for obstructing the movements of the UN arms inspectors, due to arrive in Baghdad next Monday, November 18. (“We have no weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear, chemical or biological as claimed by evil people”.). The letter is full of ifs and buts. It does not explicitly cite Resolution 1441 as its reference. The inspectors have moreover not been granted unfettered access to suspect sites.

However, Anan chose to ignore the holes in Iraq’s letter of acceptance when he presented it triumphantly to President George W. Bush in the White House on Wednesday, November 13. Bush played along with the charade, perfectly aware that the game would be up within days of the inspectors’ arrival in Baghdad.

If not then, December 8 will be the pivotal date to watch.

In any case, no one in Washington ever expected Saddam Hussein to go through with disarming. Therefore, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources confirm, the US President and his war cabinet are forging ahead with their plans for a military offensive against Iraq. Still under review is only the launch date. The inclination is to go sooner rather than later.

One timeline under the White House microscope, those sources report, is a day in December before Christmas. A second option is the standing date of January 15.

General Tommy Franks, OC US Central Command, who will lead the assault on Iraq, has submitted a paper titled “Changes and amendments to the war plan”, that draws a red circle around the first ten days of the offensive, whenever it is, as the period of highest risk to the United States and its invasion force.

The Central Command have come to the conclusion from close surveillance that Saddam is getting ready to use his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), an arsenal that certainly contains nuclear weapons (although whether powerful radiological devices, shells or bombs, no one knows), as well as germs and chemicals, including a variety of poison gases.

The relevant equipment was sighted as it came out of storage and was handed to field commanders.

US military planners figure that Saddam will have to persuade his generals to let loose with the WMD in the initial days of the US assault – or not at all. Should they balk, the war will be quickly over and lost.

The cheering news is that Iraq has very few planes and missiles capable of delivering unconventional arms – no more than five Mirage F-1 planes fitted to carry nuclear or biological weapons, and 18-20 Al Hussein missiles. The downside is that the paucity of delivery vehicles places the ultimate decision for using the WMD in very few hands, only 10 pilots and two missile crew commanders to be persuaded to carry out Saddam’s orders.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say the Franks war plan reports to the President that the US special forces units assigned to demolishing Iraq’s WMD sites are all set at their staging locations ready to go forward on notice of one or two hours at most, depending on their targets.

But the report stresses two key imponderables.

Neither the CIA nor military intelligence is sure it has a complete rundown of Saddam’s banned weapons arsenal. He could be hiding items outside Iraq for use after the first 10 days of the campaign have elapsed.

Furthermore, too little is known about the threat of Iraqi terror plans in conjunction with al Qaeda, the Palestinians or the Hizballah, the accent being on the specialist terrorist core Imad Mughniyeh’s has planted inside the Lebanese Shiite group.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s note the Bush administration has stopped ducking the possibility of Iraq resorting to nuclear weapons. He is also quite open about the three terror movements’ potential for synchronizing operations, particularly Iraq and al-Qaeda. DEBKA-Net-Weekly was one of the few world media to demonstrate the operational collaboration for terror existing between Iraq and al Qaeda and dating back to mid-1998.

Counter-terrorism experts in the Bush administration recently concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda are planning to orchestrate simultaneous mega-terror attacks in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. A slightly different scenario envisions mega-attacks in Europe and the Middle East – mainly in Israel – followed within hours by a similar terrorist strike in the United States.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources say that, aside from generalized intelligence evaluations based on situational analysis rather than hard data, American and other Western undercover agencies suffer from a dearth of hard data on the terrorist cells now poised to act. They have no way of telling if these cells are outside cells on their way their targets or sleeper agents already in place. Worse, they have nothing solid on the identity of those targets.

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