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War With Iraq Carries Risk for the Region - 2003-02-05

Analysts warn that an invasion of Iraq could destabilize the entire region that could take years to fix and result in an increase in terrorist attack on the United States. The best-case scenario, they say, would be a short war, limited to weeks and involving few American and Iraqi civilian casualties. The worst case scenario would be a long war resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties and the fragmentation of Iraq causing unrest in the region.

Carl Conetta is an analyst at the Commonwealth Institute, a research organization. He says the length of the war will depend upon the type of war we choose to fight.

"If we follow a precedence set in the previous war beginning with heavy concentration of air power followed by a ground campaign, I think in this case we would be looking for a relatively short conflict in a range of two to three weeks," Mr. Conetta said. "If we choose to fight in cities, this could be much longer. Our approach might be to invest several of the key cities in an attempt to wait out the regime while conducting special operations and continuing air attack. So we may not be looking at a conflict that is not concluded in its first phase for up to six weeks.

The number of casualties, Mr. Conetta says, will depend on whether the United States engages in urban combat. If the United States doesn't fight in cities, American casualties will be in the low hundreds. If U-S troops move into cities, the number will more than double. The number of deaths will also depend on whether or not the Saddam uses chemical weapons.

"The introduction of chemical weapons is a wild card," Mr. Conetta said. "This could dramatically increase the number of casualties."

Indeed, the use of chemical weapons is likely to cause problems for the U.S. military. As troops ready for a possible war, hundreds of thousands of troops are donning gas masks in preparation for chemical warfare.

Combined with gloves, galoshes and an additional layer of clothing worn over fatigues, the gas mask may be a lifesaver for troops facing a chemical weapon attack. But, donning this modern armor inhibits movement for those inside. Wearing it for hours can leave troops drenched in their own sweat. And temperatures become dangerously hot when combined with the Middle East's stifling summer heat.

But many analysts believe the use of this gear will be minimal because the likelihood of Saddam Hussein launching a chemical and biological weapon attack on American soldiers is low.

That's because Saddam Hussein's cache of chemical weapons has dwindled significantly, Mr. Conetta said.

"There has probably been no new production of chemical weapons since the end of the Gulf war, and many of the weapons that might remain would probably be ineffective," he said.

Leon Hadar of the CATO Institute agrees the use of chemical weapons is not likely.

I think that at the end of the day, he won't use chemical or biological weapons," Mr. Hadar said. "I don't think that he is going to do it, and I doubt very much that people around him are going to risk doing that."

Mr. Hadar also says to expect a relatively short war with a special effort to prevent attacks on civilians in order to reduce the number of casualties. "My guess is it probably will be more than the war in Afghanistan and probably even more than during the first Gulf war," he said.

Opponents of a war on Iraq are less worried about what is happening inside Iraq and are focusing on the region as a whole.

In a recent article, Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, says it is possible that Israel may use the chaos in Iraq in order to advance its occupation and settlements in the Palestinian homeland and possibly even in Lebanon. He writes: "Israel's possession of nuclear weapons in a period of outright war will surely serve to intimidate her neighbors and intensify her efforts to further expand the Israeli homeland."

The CATO Institute's Leon Hadar says that while Israel is not likely to get involved directly in Iraq, it may take advantage of the attack on Iraq to promote its own agenda in other parts of the regions

"I think Israel will take major military action which will involve civilian casualties in Gaza," Mr. Hadar said.

Mr. Hadar also believes that Israel will attack Lebanon if the rebel group Hezbollah takes action.

"I think you are not talking about the Israeli re-invasion of southern Lebanon, but I think some type of attacks with helicopters and commando units on some of the Hezbollah sites on southern Lebanon or in Lebanon itself. It may also bomb some sites in Syria to humiliate the Syrians," he said.

The Commonwealth Institute's Carl Conetta agrees that Israel has little interest to get involved in combat in Iraq unless Saddam Hussein strikes at Israel an unlikely scenario. But he says other conflicts in the region may heat up.

"There is a possibility the Israeli Palestinian conflict will escalate as a result of an attack on Iraq," Mr. Conetta said. "It is these ways that Israel might become involved."

Rep. Paul also speculates that the Kurds in Northern Iraq may also jump at the chance, if chaos ensues. They could, in the aftermath of war, try to fulfill their dream of an independent Kurdish homeland adding to instability in the region.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally, sees a separate Kurdish state in Iraq as a disaster that would threaten its borders and encourage its own estimated 12 million Kurds to make a bid for independence. Mr. Conetta says while Kurds have been seeking an independent Kurdistan for a long time, they are unlikely to push for such an outcome.

"I think there will be a strong move by Kurdish parties to establish, at minimum, an autonomous region in Iraq in the aftermath of war," Mr. Conetta said. "It will be their greatest opportunity to establish an independent region."

Another concern about a war in Iraq is that several countries might see an opportunity to move on their neighbors. Russia could move into Georgia or Chechnya. China could attack Taiwan. North Korea could renew its struggle against South Korea.

But analyst Leon Hadar says the real concern is in India, which may see the war as an opportunity to settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, with the risk of nuclear war breaking out.

"I won't be surprised if some circles in the Indian government might take advantage of an attack on Iraq," he said. "I think the Indians feel they can do it, and they feel as though they can destroy some nuclear military facilities in Pakistan. If they do that, they basically erode the ability of Pakistan to retaliate."

As we approach what seems to be an inevitable war with Iraq, the question arises as to whether an invasion may increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on American soil. The Central Intelligence Agency, in a recent briefing, warned that war with Iraq will likely cause more terrorism in the United States. Some analysts agree. Mr. Conetta says, in his view, one of the major factors causing the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington was the first Gulf war.