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Disarming Strategy in Iraq

March 18, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MICHAEL GORDON: The philosophy behind this campaign is pretty different. In a way, this war is a lot more complicated than the previous one.

LT. GEN. DAVID D. McKIERNAN: Our mission is straightforward. It’s to disarm this regime of its weapons of mass destruction and to remove Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq. The military of Iraq is not our target, nor are the people of Iraq.

MICHAEL GORDON: This time around how you win is as important as the fact that you win. In a sense the victory where the U.S. laid waste to Iraq, killed thousands and thousands of Iraqis, including soldiers who didn’t really want to be there, that would be a pyrrhic victory for the United States.

LT. GEN. DAVID D. McKIERNAN: We think that there are portions of the Iraqi military that have no interest in defending this dictator, and will probably indicate to us as soon as they can that they don’t want to be part of this fight.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM SCOTT WALLACE: I guess the thing I would tell you is that Saddam has helped us out. Saddam has been such a knucklehead for so many years that he has alienated so many people in this country that I think at least at the outset that the coalition, if we do this thing, is going to be seen as providing them an opportunity, and that opportunity should make our job considerably easier as we move from south to north, from west to center, et cetera.

LT. GEN. DAVID D. McKIERNAN: At the end of this if we are… conduct a military operation into Iraq, we want to have an Iraq that’s a viable country to build on as we remove weapons of mass destruction in this regime.

MICHAEL GORDON: Can you imagine some elements of the current Iraqi military being part of the future army post-Saddam?

LT. GEN. DAVID D. McKIERNAN: I can. I personally could see certainly a utility in the Iraqi military for the future of Iraq. No doubt about it.

LT. GEN. JAMES T. CONWAY: Through our information operations campaign, we’re trying to get the word to those Iraqi leaders that we’d like them to be a part of the new Iraq and that they got the choice to either fight and die or live and be a part of their new country.

MAJ. GENERAL DAN LEAF: So the psy-ops, the use of leaflets, the use of propaganda broadcasts that encourage a course of action for Iraqi soldiers that will allow them to capitulate or just stay home or surrender, it has been extraordinary.

LIEUTENANT KURT MOLE: The leaflets that we’re printing tonight are basically, they’re just telling the Iraqi soldiers that they should go home to their families, that they shouldn’t risk the life of themselves or their comrades, and they should go back and watch their children prosper.

MICHAEL GORDEON: What they don’t do just yet is fill out the procedures. They don’t want to give the forces loyal to Saddam advance notice of what these procedures are. They can pretend surrender and turn around and shoot at American and British forces.

SPOKESMAN: How do you balance the risk between the fact that U.S. and coalition land forces are going to wind up in contact with these units, and would like them just to surrender? We’re going to have to make some difficult choices. And sometimes we’re simply going to have to attack and destroy equipment and kill Iraqi soldiers.

MICHAEL GORDON: And also, this time around the United States doesn’t want to alienate the Iraqi people or create more hardships than are necessary for the simple reason that it’s going to end up administering this country and rebuilding it, and it’s going to look for their cooperation and goodwill. But the idea is to spare the electrical grid, to not knock down all the bridges in Iraq. So it’s a different philosophy — looking for a way to hit some key centers of power without spreading the hardship universally throughout Iraq.

VICE ADMIRAL TIMOTHY J. KEATING: We have developed these plans, and we will execute those plans very carefully to minimize civilian damage, minimize effect damages to the Iraqi infrastructure so that in the end as the regime leaves and phase four begins, the Iraqis can resume their life in as normal a fashion as we can effect. We have the ability, both before launching and sometimes in flight, to adjust the fusing on the individual piece of ordnance that we are going to expend. We put a delayed fuse setting in the bomb, so that it doesn’t go off the split second it hits the target. Instead, it gets inside the target and then explodes once inside the target. You will see pictures of Iraqi air defense headquarters that have a very neat, small round hole in the ceiling taken from above, but the bomb goes off once it’s inside. Building’s left standing. The equipment inside is destroyed. All affected by the change in fusing.

MICHAEL GORDON: I talked to Gen. Conway, the marine commander, and he said something very revealing. He said his biggest worry was avoiding friendly fire, hitting American forces unintentionally and inadvertently with modern weapons. It was a big problem in the last war, accounted for 25 percent of the casualties.

LT. GEN. JAMES T. CONWAY: We’ve done studies, and if you look at the percentages of our combat losses in all of our recent conflicts, the graph is going the wrong way. It’s going up. All weapons are extremely lethal, and when they leave the barrel or they leave the rail, in all probability they’re going to kill somebody — and so we’re ensuring that our officers are making positive I.D., and that they realize that there is that potential out there if they’re not very, very assured of the target that they’re engaging.

MAJ. GEN. DAN LEAF: And I share that concern, because those are our sons and daughters out there in the land forces, and it’s very difficult. It’s going to be a complex environment. So how do we mitigate it? Some of it is procedural. We’ve worked on procedures for years. We continue to refine them.

MICHAEL GORDON: If avoiding friendly fire in a battlefield is such a difficult problem, you can imagine how difficult it’s going to be deciding which Iraqi soldiers want to surrender and which aren’t quite ready to surrender and which are determined to fight. So carrying out this strategy of defeating the enemy without utterly destroying him, is like the friendly fire issue magnified ten fold. It’s doable, but it’s going to be complicated.