With our troops apparently on the verge of what has long been
billed as the penultimate struggle of Gulf War II - the battle for
Baghdad - the question naturally arises: Will they have to face
weapons of mass destruction?
At the end of last week American troops found thousands of boxes of
an unknown white power (later tested and believed to be an
explosive), nerve-gas antidote and chemical-warfare documents at
complex south of Baghdad. Earlier last week, 3,000 chemical suits
were found in an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah. It seemed the closer
our troops got to Baghdad, the more they were forced to confront
evidence that non-conventional chemical and biological threats -
the favored weapons of terrorist groups worldwide - are still a
It's clear that Saddam Hussein has been backed into a corner by
coalition forces that have no intention of leaving him in power. As
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, the Iraqi dictator can
expect "no deal" at the 11th hour. If it's his last stand and he
does use these weapons, will there be mass casualties and how
prepared are our troops?
Whether Saddam will use biological or chemical weapons against
coalition forces depends on a number of factors. Obviously, Iraqi
conventional forces don't stand a chance against the coalition
troops arrayed around him. Late last week, it was still
undetermined whether Saddam was alive and if he gave his leadership
orders to use these weapons of mass destruction (or the discretion
to decide to use them) in the event of a communications
What we do know is that Saddam has used chemical weapons in the
past. During the Iran-Iraq war, he used mustard gas and sarin gas
on Iranian troops. Worse, he has used deadly chemical agents on his
own countrymen, killing over 5,000 men, women and children. A
leader who treats non-combatants in this fashion is capable of any
atrocity - and our troops are well aware of it.
We also know that he has produced large quantities of these weapons
and that they have yet to be accounted for. The list includes
25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and 500
tons of mustard, sarin and VX nerve gas. There are also 30,000
missiles and short-range rockets that Iraq has failed to account
for. We know Saddam had all of this. The report he submitted to
U.N. inspectors in December, which was to have declared all weapons
of mass destruction, didn't mention any of that.
Of course, that doesn't mean Saddam is eager to use these weapons,
if only because their use would prove, once and for all, that he's
been lying. The use of chemical weapons would be a last-ditch
effort by Iraq. Any remaining world support would vanish when the
first artillery shell carrying VX or sarin nerve gas is
But if these weapons are used, U.S. troops are well prepared. Any
non-conventional threat would probably have little effect on those
fighting on the front line. They've been vaccinated for various
biological agents. They have their gas masks. They have chemical
and biological suits. They have penlike devices they can use to
inject themselves with antidotes to many nerve agents. The tanks
and attack vehicles they're driving have filtration devices to
purify outside air.
We recently used a Department of Defense computer model that
analyzes the consequence of a nuclear, biological or chemical
attack (one that accounts for population and weather) to consider
one possible scenario. The scenario showed 75 artillery rounds
carrying VX nerve gas launched within 10 miles outside of Baghdad
under current weather conditions would have little or no effect on
coalition troops, but up to 2,200 unprotected civilian living along
the Tigris River would be killed and another 33,000 could be
Another danger would be posed to the regular Iraqi army. Depending
on the weather, they could find themselves being exposed to an
agent released by their own leadership. The ill-prepared Iraqi army
is spread throughout Iraq with little or no means of communication,
thus making them vulnerable to a breeze carrying sarin gas or some
other nerve agent.
Unfortunately, they wouldn't be alone. Such an attack could affect
tens of thousands of people, depending on the weather and how the
wind is blowing during a release. Most of those killed and badly
hurt by whatever poisons Saddam uses would undoubtedly be the men,
women and children who live in and around Baghdad.
As Saddam well knows, civilians have no protection against chemical
or biological assault. But coalition troops do. Which raises a
chilling possibility: That the Iraqi dictator could well decide,
now that no hope of escape exists for him and his inner circle, to
deploy the ultimate "scorched earth" defense. If he does, God help
the poor people of Iraq.
Originally appeared in The Boston Herald
Iraqi People at Risk if War Goes Chemical: Dexter Ingram of the Heritage Foundation evaluates Saddam Hussein's propensity to use chemical and biological weapons. He adds that American troops may be more prepared to withstand such an attack than Iraqi forces.
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