If there is a new war with Iraq, the Bush administration expects Saddam Hussein to order the destruction of his country's oil fields, creating an economic and environmental disaster.
There is little doubt that the Bush administration is concerned about a variety of hazards stemming from a possible new war with Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz puts it this way. "There are real dangers in confronting a tyrant who has and uses weapons of mass terror and has links to terrorists," he said.
Mr. Wolfowitz and others are chiefly concerned about Iraq's potential use of chemical and biological weapons against U.S.-led coalition troops.
But a senior defense official says another concern is Iraq's possible use of oil as part of a scorched earth policy. This official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says a variety of intelligence sources have left the Pentagon with the belief that Saddam Hussein has the capability and the intent to destroy Iraq's oil fields. The official says there are indications some explosives may have already been planted at selected oil wells.
The officials says destruction of the oil fields would, as he puts it, truly be an act of terror. He recalls Iraq ordered the destruction of Kuwaiti oil fields in the 1991 Gulf war, triggering an environmental disaster.
The official says that destruction involved some 700 oil wells. He says Saddam Hussein could double the size of that disaster by ordering the destruction of Iraq's 1,500 wellheads. He estimates it would cost $30 to $50 billion to reconstruct Iraq's oil infrastructure if the oil fields are destroyed and says Iraq's economy would lose $20 to $30 billion a year in oil income.
The senior defense official says the U.S. military is crafting plans to prevent destruction of the oil fields. He declines for security reasons to give any details. But the official also indicates the United States will launch an information campaign aimed at convincing oil field workers and troops stationed near the wells not to follow any orders to blow up oil facilities.
The official denies the United States has any selfish interest in preserving the oil fields. He says their protection will be crucial to the country's economic well-being in the event of a war, ensuring that the Iraqi people have a viable future.