For those of you who missed it, yesterday I posted that there was an unconfirmed report of an American attack on Iraq, then changed it to a “nevermind, spurious info.” Here are the details of what happened/is going on:
There is a persistent rumor going around the middle east that on September 6, a large joint US/British strike force of about 100 warplanes struck large numbers of radar installations and antiaircraft defense stations in the western portion of Iraq, in the area of the Jordanian border, as a prelude to a ground invasion.
Things which are definitely true:
– The US has been stepping up the routine attacks on Iraqi targets. We’ve been hitting at these steadily for the past decade, under the rubric of maintaining the no-fly zones, but in the past few months there has been much more extensive target-hunting.
– The rumors hit the level of credibility a few days ago that Ma’ariv, Israel’s largest-circulation daily, had a front-page story about the attack, apparently labelling it as fact. This story went into the print edition only, and didn’t hit the web; I got it by having someone over there read it to me over the phone.
– This story caused my grandmother to hit the panic button and start calling people, which is why I posted it here.
Things which are possibly relevant:
– The best source for details on this is Debka, which is to Middle Eastern and Asian intelligence something like what the Drudge Report is to news — that is, it’s accurate some large but indeterminate fraction of the time, and doesn’t mind printing outright rumor as well. Many serious people consider this source to be reasonably authoritative; I’ve spoken to people with intelligence connections who say that it bears watching. OTOH it’s a mass of “off-the-record sources” so it’s hard to tell. Debka reports an attack of 100 aircraft, more or less in accordance with the rumors around the mideast.
– From a timing perspective, this really is a very likely moment for a surprise American attack to begin. This is true both from a domestic politics perspective (drumming up of support for an attack, Bush’s recent press conference with Tony Blair, upcoming midterm elections in 1.5mo) and from a tactical perspective, since all of our recent saber-rattling towards Iraq has had the primary effect of telling them that they need to get their nonconventional weaponry up to spin now and therefore forcing us to attack sooner rather than later. Of course, that doesn’t actually mean that we did anything, just that the rumor is within the realm of the credible.
– This is probably not the immediate prelude to an attack, but (even assuming that the highest estimates of attack size are valid) is a first-stage softening strike. I say this because (a) 100 warplanes neutralizing anti-aircraft sites is useful for opening a path for bombers, but not for a ground invasion and (b) I have a sense that if we had really made the opening move in an attack, for political reasons Bush would stick it all over the front pages.
– Also, if we do attack in the immediate future, expect it to be a largely special-forces led attack, with units presently in Afghanistan (and those units awaiting deployment to there) being repurposed for this. This is simply because there haven’t been any visible major troop deployments in the area, and we probably couldn’t get bases for them anyway since not many countries are planning on helping the US. Expect the 5th and 6th fleets (that’s gulf region and Mediterranean) to provide backup, with the 7th (west Pacific) providing possible support ships for medical and search & rescue.
Present estimate of Iraqi military forces: Iraqi conventional forces were ass during the 1991 Gulf War, and there’s not much reason to suspect that they’re any better now — however, this time Saddam Hussein is well aware of the fact, and will probably not rely on them much. Expect dense urban warfare, with lots of “amusing” (in the rather disgusting sense of the word) uses of civilians, as well as nonconventional warfare. Chemical weapons would almost certainly be fielded in any ground war. Bio weapons depend on the state of Iraqi research but are probably not reliable weapons at this stage; they may be used anyway. Nuclear weapons are actually fairly unlikely, even despite recent news reports. While Hussein would definitely like to have a bomb (to point at Tel Aviv to make the Americans back down) he’s probably not that close. Recent US statements that “given the fissionable material, he could assemble a bomb in six months” don’t really mean much; given the fissionable material, I could probably assemble a bomb in six months. Getting fissionable material is sort of the hard part.
Expect: Special forces going in, much brouhaha, and the US trying to claim victory and leave ASAP. Lots of use of fancy technological gizmos that kill indiscriminately. Expect S. Hussein to do things like mount antiaircraft batteries on top of hospitals, so that when we’re forced to take them down he can claim to the Arab world that we’re massacring civilians. (He did that quite a bit last time) Also expect Americans to do stupid shit like bombing from above cloud cover, thus guaranteeing that we actually do massacre civilians. Expect both sides to lie egregiously about the extent and nature of civilian casualties. Expect Hussein to bump off a lot of people he doesn’t like (Kurds, anyone?) and blame the Americans. And expect the US to make a deal ahead of time with Turkey to quietly fsck over any Kurdish attempts at sovereignty, with force if necessary, with simple neglect in time of crisis if possible, in exchange for free use of bases and airspace there.
If we get into urban combat, expect to see warfare done mideast-style; 12-year-olds with rifles is a favorite, as is 12-year-olds throwing rocks in front of adults with rifles. (That way when the Americans shoot back at the people with rifles, the kids get mowed down and it produces great pictures for the European press, which for its own domestic political reasons needs to look pro-Arab; yet another time-honored trick of the area) Also expect to see unspeakable things done with chemical weapons.
Well, that’s cheerful news for y’all. Anyway, I repeat: The report that the Americans have already started to invade Iraq is apparently exaggerated, but some raised level of combat engagement is definitely happening at this time. Expect developments soon, in the next few weeks.