TCS Daily

Into Iraq? Not So Fast

By Dale Franks - June 4, 2002 12:00 AM

Most observers, knowledgeable and otherwise, have opined that an attack on Iraq is the next major step in America's war against terror. Certainly, ending the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and replacing it with one that is more to our liking would be very nearly an unalloyed good. But while there might be general agreement that getting rid of Mr. Hussein would be a good thing, the practical challenges to such an operation are daunting.

In Afghanistan, there was an indigenous armed force that could be used as a proxy for American ground forces. Outside of Special Forces operations, we could restrict our involvement there to the application of air power from American carrier groups. Unfortunately, a similar indigenous force does not exist in Iraq.

Certainly, there are Kurds who would be willing to fight against the regime of Mr. Hussein if they were properly armed and supported by air power; however, the Kurds do not have the manpower, training, or equipment to pose a serious threat to the Iraqi regime, even with American help. This means that, unlike in Afghanistan, American forces will have to carry most of the weight in any invasion.

Modern warfare is an immense logistical challenge. Millions of tons of ammunition, fuel, food, and clothing must be supplied to fighting forces at the front on a regular basis. We have neither the sealift, nor the airlift capability to deliver those logistical supplies in the amounts needed after combat begins. This means that, before any attack can occur, U.S. forces will have to spend a substantial amount of time transporting supplies to the region and building logistical stockpiles.

Aircraft simply cannot transport many of the Army's heavy weapons and vehicles because they are too heavy, so these items must be transported by ship. Because of the limited number of cargo ships available to us, and the distance they must travel to transport these items, it will take anywhere from six weeks to four months to fully arm and supply an invasion force. Additionally, this buildup period practically invites a preemptive attack from Saddam Hussein, for obvious reasons.

The first challenge, therefore, is to find a reliable and secure base of operations from which any attack can be launched. Presently, the Arab nations around Iraq are unwilling to allow us to use their territory to prepare and stage a ground assault. Quite apart from their concerns about how Islamic fundamentalists in their own countries would react to such an alliance with the U.S., they also realize that allowing the United States to use their country in such a way invites an Iraqi preemptive attack, against which the U.S. might be unable to defend them.

This leaves us with the fairly dangerous option of launching an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf on Iraq itself. Such a landing would be led by a Marine Expeditionary Force that would then have to hold a perimeter until U.S. Army follow-on forces arrived and built up the logistical base needed to move inland.

As if that weren't dangerous enough, a glance at the map of the Persian Gulf region shows that any sealift will have to pass through the Strait of Hormuz. This choke point on the supply line could potentially be interdicted by Iran. The Iranian mullahs may not like Saddam Hussein, but they are fully aware of the threat to their power that is posed by having a free and democratic Iraq on their border. Moreover, expanding the conflict to Iran would enormously complicate the operation, and would almost certainly make it untenable.

The only other direct invasion route into Iraq goes through Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally and has been fairly supportive of U.S. policy in the past. Unfortunately, assisting us creates problems for Turkey. First, while it has a secular government, Turkey is a Muslim country, which means it must worry about the public reaction to allowing its use as a base to attack another Muslim state. Also, Turkey has been engaged in a long-standing struggle against the Kurdish minority who live in the Turkey-Iraq border area. The Turks, most likely, would be leery about involving themselves in conflict with Iraq that, at the end of the day, might result in increased pressure to create an independent Kurdistan that could lay claim to parts of southeastern Turkey.

The idea of ridding Iraq of the murderous dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is an attractive one. There are, however, substantial-perhaps insurmountable-logistical and geographical difficulties in doing so.

The author is a former career soldier, and is the publisher of "The Review" web log.

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