Some political and military analysts say there could be a bloodbath inside Iraq, following a U.S.-led war to enforce U.N. resolutions against weapons of mass destruction. Some analysts also say the consequences of the fighting could spread throughout the Middle East and South Asia.
During a seminar sponsored by the Washington-based Middle East Policy Council, military and political analysts were asked to give their opinions on what may happen if a U.S.-led military coalition attacks the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The council's president, Chas Freeman, believes that if a war is launched, the Iraqi leader will respond by attempting to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.
"Will Saddam attack the United States?" he asks. "The answer is, if we attack him he certainly will attack us. If we do not attack him we do not know whether he will or will not attack us. There is a difference of opinion about this. If we leave him alone perhaps he will attack us and perhaps he will not. That we do not know. But we do know that if we attack him, and if he feels he has nothing to lose, he will use every weapon in his arsenal against the United States and our forces."
Geoffrey Kemp, the director of Regional Strategic Programs at the Washington-based Nixon Center, who served on the staff of the National Security Council, expects bloody clashes between religious and ethnic factions will break out shortly after Saddam Hussein's soldiers are defeated.
"We have to be prepared, even under the best cases, for some nasty violence," he said. "There are a lot of scores to settle and most cases of liberation bring that out."
According to Mr. Kemp, if and when a war with Iraq takes place, the Bush administration should be prepared for a series of other crises that could erupt in the region after the battle with Bagdad begins.
"There could be a serious escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in parallel to a war on Iraq," he said. "The president of Afghanistan is one bullet away from plunging that country into chaos. The India-Pakistan issue is not resolved. Another December 13-type event [when militants attacked the Indian Parliament last year], that is to say Pakistani terrorism against India, could well put the Indians into a preemptive mode. So we really do face the possibility that there are all sorts of other horrible things could be going on at the same time when we go to war with Iraq."
Anthony Cordesman of the non-governmental Center for Strategic and International Studies said the United States will be judged not by how it wins a war against Iraq, but by how America deals with Iraq and other countries in the Middle East after such a war.
"The president as yet has provided absolutely no indication or leadership on this issue," said Mr. Cordesman. "The most that he has done is make reference to words like democratization, which has become a [bad] four-letter word in the region. A synonym for imperialism, for potentially seizing control of oil, for going on from Iraq to other countries, and for dictating the political future of the region. It has become a symbol for alienation of the nations we need most."
Teams at the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council have been analyzing various scenarios that could occur during a war with Iraq and after such a conflict is over.
Officials at the State Department are involved in a $5 million Future of Iraq project, which has recruited Iraqis living outside the country to discuss how a future government of Iraq could be structured. An emerging model appears to focus on a strong federal government that shares power with a wide variety of religious and ethnic groups.
Such a government is not currently a familiar concept in the Arab world.