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Iraq Journals

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Wednesday, March 19

Military planners brace for worst-case scenarios in Iraq

By John Yaukey

WASHINGTON - Top military planners have compiled a list of a half dozen worst-case scenarios surrounding an invasion of Iraq.

They include:

Chemical and biological weapons

No paucity of military and intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein will use chemical and possibly biological weapons once it appears troops are nearing Baghdad. Intelligence reports indicate that Saddam has authorized his field commanders to use chemical weapons - most likely mustard gas and the nerve agent VX - to repel a U.S.-led invasion.

U.S. forces have been warning Iraqi officers to ignore orders to use chemical or biological weapons or face war crimes trials.

Biological weapons would be more difficult to use because they're harder to disperse than chemicals, but they're also more difficult to detect early.

Although U.S. troops are equipped with gas masks and protective suits, chemical and biological weapons could still cause significant injuries and even deaths.

Saddam's last stand in Baghdad

By all indications, Saddam has pulled most of his elite Republican Guard troops back to Baghdad for what could be a bloody urban battle that claims massive civilian casualties and possibly hundreds or thousands of U.S. troops.

A city of more than 5 million, Baghdad sprawls across both sides of the Tigris River. Many of the roads in the city's numerous poor neighborhoods are too narrow for armored vehicles, which could force troops to take them on foot.

The Iraqi army has reportedly dug trenches around Baghdad and filled them with oil. The plan is to light them ablaze to both obscure vision into the city and prevent civilians, whom Saddam plans to use as human shields, from fleeing.

Civilian shields

Military planners fear that Saddam plans not only to use innocent civilians as human shields, but also that he plans to kill many of his own people in an attempt to make it look as though they were massacred by U.S. troops. Iraq has reportedly tried to order U.S. military uniforms for this purpose.

Large numbers of civilian casualties could generate widespread hatred for Americans among many of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims and make an occupation of Iraq extremely difficult and dangerous.

Environmental Armageddon

When they retreated from Kuwait in 1991, Saddam's forces lit the nation's oil fields ablaze, creating an environmental and economic disaster for the small nation.

By all accounts, Saddam will do the same with his own oil fields as invading troops approach them. According to intelligence reports, Saddam has wired about 1,500 wells for destruction.

Blowing up that many oil wells could pollute the air across thousands of square miles, foul the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where Baghdad draws much of its potable water and dump as many as 3 million barrels of oil a day into the Persian Gulf.

Passing weapons of mass destruction to terrorists

Saddam has never been generous with his weapons of mass destruction, preferring to hoard them for his own wars. But if it appears his regime is toppling, there is a significant risk he might try to pass his chemical and biological weapons off to terrorists as a final act of revenge.

While Saddam and the al-Qaida terrorist network have never worked closely together, a war could make allies out of them.

Al-Qaida reportedly is planning to launch terrorist attacks against Americans in postwar Iraq.

Chaotic aftermath

Postwar Iraq will be fraught with perils rooted in ancient ethnic tensions. Keeping the peace among the armed Kurdish factions in the north, the restive majority Shiites in the south and the Sunni Muslims that form the bulk of Saddam's ruling Baath party will keep U.S. troops endlessly tied up.

Stabilizing the population will be crucial to ensuring that the occupation appears as a humanitarian effort, but the confusion and devastation that follows combat is often when most civilians die in wartime.

War could create as many as 1.5 million refugees, adding to the 1 million Iraqis already displaced.

Failure to restore order to all of this quickly would leave the United States vulnerable to an international rebuke as a brutish colonial giant repeating the mistakes of its European predecessors a century ago.