Let’s pray for a short war

D-Day is fast approaching, and on March 17 (March 18, RP time) we will all see how serious America really is in ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Indications point to the possibility that it would be a short war. The United States itself is convinced it would be a short war because of certain factors that only they know.

However, there is always the risk of provoking pockets of resistance, tribal wars, and urban fighting anywhere from areas like Baghdad to its neighboring provinces. It is common knowledge among military experts that US ground troops don’t do well in city battles, not nearly as well as they did in the deserts of Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. This is probably why Saddam Hussein was a little too cocky even while George W. Bush gave a stern warning of an imminent war "to effect a regime change", which, according to US Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, is a solid policy of the US to save Iraq from total collapse. During that time, Saddam appeared to be taunting the US, saying, "Come and get me!" The Iraqi leader knew that the US has to pass through Baghdad to get to him.

Saddam knows full well that street fighting in an urban area like Baghdad could be a frustrating scenario for US ground forces. A Middle East security consultant confirmed this, saying that street fighting and urban warfare may be the best option for Saddam Hussein if he wants to score in this war. Baghdad is a sprawling city, and US military forces would have to slog through its streets, which in all probability would be filled with Iraqi snipers hidden in buildings. To counter this, American troops would have to wear special chemical weapons suits, bulletproof vests and other extra equipment. Also, Baghdad, if my memory serves me right, has about twice the population of Mogadishu, the very place where the US Special Forces got bogged down in the street battles of 1993. No doubt about it: Twice the population could only mean twice the difficulty. Also, in the city of Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, is where the US could find the Iraqi leader’s most loyal supporters. Tikrit could be the location of a possible US-led first-strike considering there are two large military bases there. Urban fighting could drag the war to a longer period than predicted by experts. But since Saddam Hussein presumably does not have the kind of war machinery that could take the US forces head on, chances are, this war would be quick and swift. Unless of course, the US will not be able to neutralize Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons immediately. If this would be the case, the projected casualties on both the US and Iraq would be unbelievable.

The US will be up against an Iraqi army that has more guns and armaments than it has soldiers. Before the Gulf War, the Iraqi Army numbered close to a million. After the war, it was reduced to about 350,000 according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies. More than a decade later, today, the number is estimated to be slightly higher, about 375,000. Although Iraq cannot boast of the kind of sophisticated war machinery that the US has, the country has been known as the single largest arms market in the world. Nearing the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, Iraq imported about US$24 billion worth of arms and military equipment from countries like China, West Germany, France, the former Soviet Union, Egypt and Poland, among others, according to the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. But despite the huge arsenal, the Iraqi army has a bad history of dissident members. According to one unverified report, during the Iran-Iraq war, many Iraqi soldiers refused to fight in Kurdistan, while some reportedly joined the Kurdish resistance movement. However, in this impending war, Saddam has the undying loyalty of the Iraqi Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard to bank on.

The United Nations predicts there could be about 900,000 Iraqi refugees that would flee Iraq when war breaks out. Other groups put this number to as high as two million. Most refugees, according to the UN, are expected to flee to Turkey or Iran. About half a million is expected to leave their homes but not their country, forcing them to be internally displaced. The UN also disclosed that about 150,000 children might be separated from their families once the US attacks Iraq. In the Gulf War, the number of Iraqis who fled their homes number to about 2.6 million. There were roughly 3.8 million Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan in 2001 after the US swooped down on Afghanistan following the September 11 attack in New York.

Because of its state-of-the-art weaponry, the US would obviously have the upper hand, with less casualties. In the Gulf War, for example, Iraq lost about 100,000 soldiers while the war claimed only 148 American lives, eleven of which were American women who died in combat. However, many believe that America might end up with another recession, the same one that hit the US economy after the Gulf War. A prolonged war could cost the United States about US$200 billion or more, endangering the economy to fall into another major slump. If this war gets really ugly, damage to oil fields, high casualties and use of biological and chemical weapons could send oil prices skyrocketing to US$80 per barrel. But if Bush does not push through with the war, most likely the US would appear that it’s all bark with no bite. Americans everywhere would be open game for terrorists. The lone Texan has put himself in the corner on this one.

I do not want to push the panic button but we all have to be extremely careful these next few weeks. Terrorist activities could rise as a result of the war, and the Philippines is not exempted from the threat. If you recall, an international terrorist was recently caught in Metro Manila. Malls should begin enforcing more stringent security measures. Have you noticed how mall security guards become lax in their inspection especially when a well-dressed man enters the building? We can be sure that when we lull ourselves into complacency, that is when they will strike.

To pray for these two countries not to go to war is nearly close to impossible because Bush and Hussein have placed themselves in a corner. We can only pray it’s going to be a short war.
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PGMA’s postponement of her trip, perhaps, was a blessing in disguise. Now she has more time to put her thoughts together and come up with a viable list of what the country needs from Washington. Maybe she should consider having a one-on-one with George W instead of having seven "photo op" advisers in the Oval Office with her. A more informal, casual but frank dialogue would probably be more appropriate. This way, the two presidents can be open and straightforward about their concerns and disappointments, and make cuentas claras.
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