WASHINGTON, 4 February 2003 — The US will go to war against Iraq two weeks after Haj, which is scheduled to end Feb. 13, a former deputy secretary at the US Defense Department told Arab News yesterday.
“During this massive air attack, the last thing you want is cluttered airspace,” a former deputy secretary at the Defense Department told Arab News.
The “buzz” at the Pentagon, he said, is that Gulf War II will begin two weeks after Haj, before the end of February.
“The big thing is that you don’t want, right after Eid Al-Adha, hundreds of airplanes flying all over the place, and the Saudis certainly wouldn’t want anyone stranded in the Kingdom,” he said.
Gulf War II will begin with 3,000-guided missiles ripping apart Iraqi military and leadership targets within the first 48 hours, aimed at facilitating a two-pronged ground attack, it was reported yesterday.
Defense officials also revealed that US warships and aircraft bombers would fire an estimated 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles during the first two days of high-tech strikes. This means that the attack will be 10 times more powerful than the opening days of 1991 Gulf war.
If the US makes the decision to go to war, Pentagon officials continued in their briefing, the air campaign will be carried out by 600 Air Force and Navy radar-jamming, attack and support planes flying from bases in the Gulf region and elsewhere, and from four or five US aircraft carriers and a British carrier.
The US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and a sizable contingent of Marines would be assigned to attack north from Kuwait, while a force spearheaded by the 4th Infantry Division would move south from Turkey, Pentagon military and civilian officials told journalists yesterday.
Military observers see the steady leaking of details about the US war plan as part of a last ditch strategy by the US to pressure Saddam Hussein to choose exile to pave the way for disarmament and the establishment of a democratic government in Baghdad.
“I think the Bush administration was set on war as their foreign policy as soon as they were elected,” said Simona Sharoni, professor of peace and conflict studies and Middle East politics at the Evergreen State College in Washington State.
“These military operations will rebuild the US military, and provide a huge allocation for more money for the military budget. The US agreed to let the weapon inspection teams return to Iraq in order to create an ultimatum, because they realized it would not be good for them to act unilaterally.” They were looking for a “smoking gun” to justify an attack, she added.
The “smoking gun” may well be the release of US obtained transcripts of Iraqi officials gloating over their success in deceiving UN inspectors, which Secretary of State Colin Powell will make public when he addresses the UN Security Council tomorrow.
US officials said the conversations on the tapes, obtained by American electronic interceptions, reveals the Iraqis saying “Move that”, “Don’t be reporting that”, and “Ha! Can you believe they missed that?”
as-Safir, Beirut, Wednesday, February 5, 2003
DIPLOMATIC sources say that a number of Islamic countries have received American “instructions” asking them to bring their Hajj pilgrims back within no more than four days after they complete the rites of the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and its environs.
The sources say that various airlines are preparing to implement the most extensive civil “evacuation” in history.