Biological, Chemical Weapons Boost Iraq's Military might.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Eleven years after its defeat in the Persian Gulf war, Iraq's military forces are smaller but more potent because of secret stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

The Iraqi military, made up mostly of ground forces and air power, has some 375,000 troops, 2,200 tanks and 3,700 armored vehicles along with 2,400 major artillery weapons, according to military analysts.

The Iraqi air force has about 300 combat aircraft that could be put into action.

But it is Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and possibly nuclear arms, that has raised concerns among war planners in the Pentagon.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David Baker, a Persian Gulf war veteran, said Iraq's use of chemical or biological weapons is a "wild card" in any military planning by the United States.

"Clearly, this is a concern of the military," said Gen. Baker. "The threat is real and has to be a factor in any combat operations. If the president decides to use military action in Iraq, then that is a factor that has to be considered."

Iraq might be a far easier opponent than its force strengths indicate, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But it also is potentially a very serious military opponent indeed."

Mr. Cordesman told a Senate hearing Wednesday it is foolish to think that military action against Iraq by U.S.-led forces would be "a cakewalk or a speed bump or something that you can dismiss."

"Despite the Gulf war, and the loss of some 40 percent of its army and air force order of battle, Iraq remains the most effective military power in the Gulf," Mr. Cordesman said.

The Bush administration is pushing to oust Saddam Hussein by means of an internal revolt or by military action, although no timetable has been set.

President Bush said Thursday he is willing to use force against Iraq, telling reporters, "we're looking at all options, the use of all tools."

The arms embargo and a lack of spare parts has limited Saddam's ability to sustain a long military campaign, Mr. Cordesman said.

"Iraq has demonstrated that it can still carry out significant ground-force exercises and fly relatively high sortie rates," he said. "It has not, however, demonstrated training patterns that show its army has consistent levels of training, can make effective use of combined arms above the level of some individual brigades, or has much capability for joint land-air operations.

"It has not demonstrated that it can use surface-to-air missiles in a well-organized way as a maneuvering force to cover its deployed land forces."

The key forces for Saddam are his two Republican Guard corps, which are better-equipped and trained than regular units. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Iraq has six Republican Guard divisions of up to 10,000 troops each, plus four Special Republican Guard brigades of up to 2,500 troops each.

Defense officials have said any military action against Iraq would target these Republican Guard units, believed to be the units that keep Saddam in power. Elimination of the guard would pave the way for an opposition military force or for a military coup against the Iraqi leader.

Richard Perle, a former assistant defense secretary and current head of the Defense Policy Board, has said one option for ousting Saddam would be to set up an opposition government in northern Iraq with the goal of forcing Saddam to mobilize the Republican Guards. …