A new study on Iraq's military capability says while the United States and its allies would have little trouble defeating Iraq's armed forces in a conventional war, President Saddam Hussein is likely to use weapons of mass destruction. The report, by the non-governmental Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, also criticizes the Bush Administration for what it says is a failure to outline a plan for the future of Iraq, if such a war is fought and won.
Senior military analyst Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Iraq's military capabilities have been severely eroded by the Persian Gulf war and more than a decade of international sanctions.
Still, Mr. Cordesman said, Iraq has the largest military machine in the Gulf region.
The Iraqi Army can deploy 375,000 men, about 700 relatively modern tanks and 200 multiple rocket launchers.
Mr. Cordesman said the Iraqi Air Force, with about 30,000 men, has more than 300 combat aircraft, although only about half are serviceable.
The analyst said the biggest problem facing the Iraqi military is a severe lack of proper training.
"Could this be a bloody mess? Yes it could. Are the skill levels demonstrated as yet in Iraqi forces to ensure it will be? No and we should not exaggerate this threat," he said.
Mr. Cordesman does point out that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and is believed to have up to 80 Scud missiles.
He said if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein feels seriously threatened, he is likely to use weapons of mass destruction.
"I think that he is one of these people who sees himself as the state and his survival as far more important than that of any amount of Iraqi economic base or civilian population. Do I believe that he will try to lash out with weapons of mass destruction? If he feels threatened, or if he feels in his own mind that he can benefit from that, then the answer is yes. I do not believe he is deterred by the historical impact of what he does," Mr. Cordesman said.
Mr. Cordesman said because of the Iraqi government's efforts to build nuclear weapons, he reluctantly has come to the conclusion that the United States is being forced into a war with Iraq.
He is critical of the Bush administration for what he said is its failure to clearly map out what will happen if Saddam Hussein is removed from power.
"We will be judged, and I say this in the paper, probably more by the success of our actions after we win then by the way we fight," he said. "Here I have seen nothing as yet by way of a nation-building plan or a conflict termination plan. Nothing to reassure and motivate the Iraqi people. Nothing to reassure and motivate the people around Iraq. No clear plan to both deter Iran and give it confidence that it can stand aside. I find this perhaps the most deeply disturbing aspect as a military analyst."
Mr. Cordesman said a nation-building plan is critical to obtaining the support of the Iraqi people during a war, as well as gaining the support of Arabs and other potential allies.
He says it is clear from experience in the Balkans and Afghanistan that nation-building is expensive and requires a long-term commitment.