American Diplomacy

April 2003

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Saddam's Swords: The Paper Tiger of the Tigris?
Review by David W. Thornton and Jessica Tryon

iIraq's Military Capabilities in 2002: A Dynamic Net Assessment (CSIS Report)Iraq's Military Capabilities in 2002: A Dynamic Net Assessment (CSIS Report) By Anthony H. Cordesman. (Washington: The CSIS Press, 2002. Pp. viii, 99. $21.95 paper.)

"Cordesman's assessment of Iraq's ground forces… should be sobering to anyone contemplating the possible consequences of an attack, especially on the country's heartland…. His… discussion of probable Iraqi tactics in deploying chemical and biological agents suggests that their use on the battlefield is a virtual certainty, a truly chilling scenario."

In this slim yet information-packed volume, Anthony Cordesman offers a comprehensive and balanced analysis of Iraq's military assets and abilities, including discussion of conventional arms and forces, as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The publication of his report is especially well-timed in that it provides information valuable to expert and layman alike in assessing the nature of the Iraqi threat to the United States and its interests, and also reckoning in the probable scale, duration, and result of a military confrontation. The report also provides useful clarification of the obstacles America will face in bringing the conflict to a successful conclusion, and the key role nation-building will play in that process.

Cordesman employs the technique of "dynamic net assessment"—presenting detailed facts and figures on Iraqi military capabilities as "compared with specific threat forces in specific contingencies… ." This approach places Iraqi strengths and weaknesses in proper regional and global context, and allows for explicit consideration of intangible factors—leadership, organization, morale—that always play major roles in determining the character and outcome of military engagements. The result is an account that blends descriptive and analytical elements into a truly insightful and timely report well worth reading.

Cordesman's assessment of Iraq's ground forces--regular army, Republican Guard units, and security forces—should be sobering to anyone contemplating the possible consequences of an attack, especially on the country's heartland. The regular forces are large in number (424,000) and are backed by reserves, paramilitary units, and police personnel, bringing the total number of Iraqi land forces to about 700,000. In addition, the regime is protected by intelligence and internal security forces, especially around Baghdad and other important urban centers. Despite obsolescent equipment, inadequate training, and self-inflicted limitations of Saddam's tight personal control over military doctrine, strategy, deployment, and tactics, Iraqi ground forces can be expected to mount formidable resistance to an all-out invasion. Their rapid collapse in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 may therefore be an inaccurate indication of what Washington and its allies should expect this time around. Cordesman argues that "Open desert operations would make Iraqi forces very vulnerable. Attacking them in built-up and urban areas, sheltering in civil populations, would be far more difficult." Further complicating assessment of Iraq's capacity to resist attack is uncertainty about the exact status of its land-based air defenses. The author's brief analysis on this topic, however, strongly suggests substantial Iraqi progress in equipment, deployment, and operational tactics.

Of particular interest in the current context of a looming US/UN-Iraq war are chapters five (Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction) and six (Iraq Versus the United States and A U.S.-led Coalition). Arguably, the dimension of Iraqi military capabilities of greatest threat to the U.S. and its allies is one about which Cordesman has the least reliable information. The extent of Iraq's WMD programs—especially chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear—and the means (e.g. missiles) by which they would be delivered has yet to be fully identified. Although Cordesman's report was published in September 2002—well before the UN Security Council's decision to reintroduce weapons inspectors into Iraq—his assessment remains valid: "No one can dismiss the risk that Iraq does have weapons with very high real-world lethalities." Indeed, his matter-of-fact analysis of probable Iraqi tactics in deploying chemical and biological agents suggests that their use on the battlefield is a virtual certainty, a truly chilling scenario.

In chapter six, Cordesman describes those factors the U.S. must consider before it can stage a successful attack on Iraq. First, a coalition is needed to make the war appear legitimate, to increase the power of the invading force, and to provide bases from which troops and equipment can be launched. Turkey is a critical ally because of its strategic location and Iran is ready to exploit any weakness in Iraq. Among the many challenges that Washington would face would be new tactics which combine the skills of the different branches of the military that are needed to maintain the element of surprise and efficiently utilize available resources. Despite American superiority in precision-guided weapons, Cordesman believes that the U.S. still has relatively weak battle damage assessment capabilities. This could be a serious problem when this kind of assessment is needed to protect U.S. coalition troops from biological and chemical warfare. As Cordesman makes clear: "skill and technology are not a substitute for sufficient force and effective tactics."

Sections of chapter six also examine the covert coup option, the use of operation ground forces, and the limits of American air power. Cordesman describes the backgrounds and selection process of Hussein's top security organizations such as the Presidential Protection Force and the Special Security Organization. He points out that these forces have gained valuable experience in suppressing coups and infiltrating other organizations both within and beyond Iraq. In his description of these security forces' relationship to Hussein and his family, Cordesman emphasizes that their members' close tribal ties might ensure their loyalty, but at the same time might make Hussein vulnerable to potential tribal conflicts.

In his concluding chapter, Cordesman outlines the dynamics of conflict termination and nation-building. In order to be successful in this crucial phase, he maintains that Washington must have "a clear nation-building plan backed with the military forces necessary to implement it and strong political and economic incentives to the Iraqi people." In other words, the U.S. needs to make credible assurances that it has a viable exit strategy and will not permit circumstances to dictate policy.

While Cordesman's study contains numerous and useful charts and tables, the absence of maps is a glaring omission, considering the extent of analysis devoted to Iraqi force deployments and various war-fighting scenarios.bluestar

Jessica Tryon is a senior in the Department of Government, History & Justice at Campbell University. She will graduate in May 2003 with a major in Government and minors in History, Spanish, and Environmental Science. She intends to pursue graduate studies in International Relations and American Foreign Policy.

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