What Happens If Saddam Fights Back with Chemical and Biological Warfare? London and Washington Insist the Iraqi Dictator Has Weapons of Mass Destruction. If So, War Planners May Have to Hope the Republican Guard Stops Him Using Them. (Features)

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The UK has been mesmerised by the terrorist threat posed by chemical and biological weapons at home. Much more imminent and likely, however, is the use of these weapons on the battlefield--possibly against British troops.

The BBC broke a story that Baghdad is equipping the elite Republican Guard units with protection against chemical weapons. Apparently, new chemical warfare suits have been issued, as have supplies of atropine, a drug to counter the effects of some chemical agents. The information, provided by external Iraqi opposition groups, is said to have been smuggled out of Iraq recently. Many of these groups have been funded by the Americans, so the timing of the news may be a little suspect. But there is little doubt that the Iraqi army is ready and able to use biological and chemical weapons.

Saddam Hussein knows that the Anglo-American forces will not deploy chemical or biological weapons against his forces--although there is the increasingly explicit deterrent threat that Washington will use nuclear weapons if Saddam resorts to large-scale use of unconventional weapons against western troops. Also, the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, has again said that the UK government "reserves the right" to use nukes in extreme circumstances. Saddam has frequently ignored or misread such western signals and may be planning to use chemical or biological weapons in extremis, in the so-called Samson option. Defence against such weapons is a pressing issue, then, in the US and UK military establishments alike. Despite improvements in technology, it is a facet of military thinking that has remained largely unchanged since the cold war. Soviet forces spent much time and money developing their ability to use CBWs (chemical and biological weapons) against Nato. CBW attacks were meant to shape the battle field in much the same way as a minefield would. Opponents would be forced either to sit tight and wait for the chemical attack to pass, or to bypass the affected area. Either way, it was a tactic that allowed the enemy to try to direct the tempo and direction of the battle.

Counter-attacking through a CBW assault was considered so arduous--due to the rigours of the protective equipment--that it was almost entirely discounted. The British army, for example, has a policy that, unless specifically ordered, attacking in full IPE (individual protection equipment, required for chemical weapons) is seriously to be avoided.

Would this traditional military practice apply in a war with Iraq? If Saddam uses CBWs in the desert, he could be playing to the strengths of the allied forces. Chemical agent clouds work both ways, limiting the perpetrator as much as the intended victim. They are likely to be less of a limitation to the technologically advanced Anglo-American forces than to the Iraqi troops.

* What if Saddam delays using his doomsday weapons until the allied forces are in the sprawling outer suburbs of Baghdad?

Urban warfare, such as in Stalingrad, is a difficult task; when you combine it with CBW it becomes almost impossible. The effects of a CBW attack in a city can cover a farwider area, and last a great deal longer, than a CBW onslaught on desert battlefields. In modern cities, wide roads and well-planned geometric areas increase the airflow, speeding up dispersion. Older, irregular cities, or those with cluttered areas such as souks, encourage a wider dispersion but with a far longer "linger" time. Some parts of Baghdad, those near to the Tigris or the expressway, for example, may well permit a rapid dispersion. Areas that have few wide streets, with narrow bazaars, or that may have been reduced to rubble by bombing, will slow the airflow and could hold enough agents in the atmosphere to last many hours. If this is combined with a persistent agent, such as VX, some districts may be contaminated for many weeks. …