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Iraq Journals

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Tuesday, March 4

U.S. counting on Iraqi defections to help find banned weapons

By John Yaukey

WASHINGTON - U.S.-led forces in a war with Iraq will be counting on help from Iraqi defectors - in addition to intelligence - to find Saddam Hussein’s hidden weapons of mass destruction, the nation’s top general said Tuesday.

Despite claims by the Bush administration that there is no doubt that the Iraqi president is hoarding chemical and biological weapons, U.S. forces would enter the country unsure of where to look for much of the banned arsenal to nullify it quickly. Many military analysts fear Saddam will use the weapons against U.S. forces if his regime is imperiled.

"We have some knowledge and will continue to develop that,’’ Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing. "But you can imagine (Iraqis) are going to come forward and say here’s where it (weapons of mass destruction) is - we don’t want to touch it.’’

The initial war plan for Iraq, called "shock and awe," has been developed to produce a significant amount of intelligence from the Iraqis, especially in the early going.

The plan is to break the Iraqi fighting spirit almost immediately with massive, lightening air and ground strikes coming in from north and south of Baghdad.

More than a year in the making, this strategy is intended to minimize casualties and maximize cooperation from Iraqis so coalition forces can secure Saddam’s most lethal weapons before he can use them and protect Iraq’s vast oil fields before they can be destroyed.

Myers said strategists would be working with a highly sophisticated technology platform and targeting vetting process capable of unprecedented speed and accuracy in identifying and hitting objectives.

The general refused to discuss operational details about the plan, but indicated in a warning to reporters who might be in Baghdad if a war starts that the initial assault would be much shorter and more intense than the roughly 40-day air campaign that preceded the ground sweep in the1991 Persian Gulf War.

''For anyone who thinks this would be anything like Baghdad during the beginning of the gulf war, I would caution otherwise,'' he said. ''If this happens, it will be very different.''

Despite Turkey’s recent refusal to allow U.S. troops to stage from bases there for a northern thrust against Baghdad, Myers insisted that in the event of a war, "There will be a northern front.’’

That could mean airlifting in troops and staging air sorties from carriers in the Mediterranean Sea.

Myers added that the 200,000 U.S. forces now in the region - soon to be 230,000 strong -already are capable of striking if necessary.

President Bush, meanwhile, served notice Tuesday that the time for diplomacy is running out.

The United Nations Security Council is considering a resolution offered by the United States, Britain and Spain declaring that Iraq has failed in its final opportunity to disarm or face "serious consequences." The president wants a vote on that resolution - a follow-up to one passed in November ordering Iraq to disarm - within the next week.

Bush told a gathering of the American Medical Association in Washington that the United Nations "has a responsibility to make sure its words mean something."

Security Council members France, Russia and China, which all have the power to veto resolutions, insist the ongoing weapons inspections in Iraq are working and want them to continue indefinitely.