US bombers to start war with onslaught on Saddam palace
Peter Beaumont and Paul Beaver
[The Sunday Observer, February 2, 2003]:
British and American forces planning war against Iraq have revealed details of their plans to topple Saddam Hussein, which will start with a devastating bombing campaign ahead of a massive ground attack by thousands of troops from Kuwait.
Defence and intelligence officials have told The Observer that they have drawn up a list of targets, including Saddam's home town of Tikrit, as well as key Ministries and properties owned by members of Saddam's family and senior Iraqi officials.
'The war will start with an extremely large bang,' said the official. 'You can expect Saddam's base of Tikrit to get a clobbering.'
As part of the air campaign, these sites will be destroyed as well as other targets such as formations of Saddam's Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard and police and intelligence services.
The plans for war come as Hans Blix, head of the Unmovic weapons inspections team, is set to return to Iraq for talks on Saturday, according to Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
The raids will take place immediately before attacks on two fronts - a large armoured attack from within Kuwait and an airborne assault to secure Iraq's oilfields. This is designed, sources confirmed, to prevent a repetition of oil wells being fired as they were in the last Gulf War.
Military planners envisage quick deployment of heli copter airborne forces and fast-armoured vehicles ahead of the main armoured advance. US and UK marines are also expected to storm ashore on the Faw Peninsula and stop any missiles based there from being fired at Kuwait's oil terminals.
The raids would follow heavy aerial leafletting of Iraqi forces in the field and broadcasts encouraging them not to resist. Sources said the aim was not to neutralise the Iraqi army in combat but to make it 'come over' so it could be used to police the country after Saddam had gone.
The real fight - if there is to be one - would be with the Republican Guard at the gates of Baghdad.
Intelligence suggests that the guard will not fight for long - but possible resistance is still a significant threat that will require both M1A2 and British Challenger 2 tanks to counter it.
Disclosure of the war planning reflects both US and UK confidence that they will have overwhelming supremacy on the battlefield even with the threat that Iraq might try and use chemical and biological weapons.
The leaks are also clearly part of an increasingly vigorous propaganda effort designed to further persuade Saddam and his key commanders that it is not worth fighting and that exile is the best option.
A second key target of the propaganda effort are opponents of the war in both the UK and Europe. Officials hope to persuade them that the Allies are now so technically advanced that war can be carried out with a minimum of civilian casualties - a claim unlikely to persuade those with memories of the civilian casualties of the allied bombing of Serbia and Kosovo.
Details of the military planning appear to have been leaked to coincide with President Bush's assertions last week that he would 'welcome' the departure of Saddam and his family if that meant war could be avoided, suggesting renewed approaches to persuade him to quit voluntarily.
The stepping up of the information war comes as some British officials admit that they are losing the argument with the British public, following months of incoherent and often contradictory assertions over Iraq on every issue from its claimed retention of nuclear weapons (declared unlikely by inspectors) to Saddam's much vaunted links with al-Qaeda.