Questions and answers about the gulf crisis

January 13, 1991

Last week, we asked The Sun's readers to tell us what questions they had about the Persian Gulf crisis. We said we'd go to the experts to try to answer as many as possible. More than 250 of you responded, with thought-provoking and, often, tough queries.

The big question, of course, is whether force will be used if Iraq refuses to withdraw from Kuwait by Tuesday's deadline; the latter now appears likely. Many experts believe the chances for war increased last week when talks between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz failed to make progress toward peace. But the fact remains that no one can predict what will happen after the deadline passes, with some analysts still taking the view that hostilities will be averted.

Here are the answers to some of your questions, as gathered by Sun reporters Paul West, Lyle Denniston, Richard H. P. Sia, Stephen E. Nordlinger and Dan Fesperman in Washington, and Graeme Browning and Foreign Editor Richard O'Mara in Baltimore.

Q: If there is a war in the gulf, would the draft be reinstated? What age groups would be affected? Would women be subject to draft? Could college students get deferments?

A: Men at 18 must register for the draft, and some 14.5 million young men under the age of 25 currently are registered. But the White House and Pentagon oppose reinstituting conscription since the volunteer forces and mobilization of reserves have proved adequate in the current emergency.

Nonetheless, the machinery to start a draft promptly is in place, and some congressmen want to start a draft to broaden the slice of the public asked to fight in the Middle East. If a draft is ordered, those turning 20 at the time it is put into effect would be the first to be called up, or those born in 1971, if it happened this year. The order would be determined by a lottery, based on birth dates.

Women are not currently subject to the draft, and it is unlikely that student deferments would be reinstituted.

Young men would have 10 days to file for conscientious objector status, and experts advise them to begin preparing now, to counter any argument that their claim is opportunistic.

Q: If the Jan. 15 deadline is not met, will a total offensive assault be launched?

A: Officials with access to military planning say the United States will attack in phases. The first wave is likely to be an air attack against Iraq and Iraqi troops in Kuwait. A ground attack would come only in the final phase, to round up Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

Q: What if Hussein started a pullout on the 15th but said it would take months to complete? Would the United States wait?

A: Military experts believe Iraq could withdraw from Kuwait in a matter of days, should it have to. Military officials have said that a mere start of a pullout, with only minimum moves toward withdrawal, would not be enough to prevent U.S. military action. But many analysts think it would be politically difficult for an attack to begin if a withdrawal were under way.

Q: Does the United States have any alternative to using force in the gulf, other than accepting a defeat?

A: The president could give economic sanctions more time to work and continue efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.

Q: What effect are the sanctions having? Why not let them work?

A: Analysts differ on the precise impact of sanctions. Food is increasingly hard to come by in Iraqi markets, but Iraqis aren't starving. CIA Director William Webster says that spare parts shortages and equipment breakdowns would hurt the Iraqi military if sanctions remain in effect for six months to a year. But some estimates predict Iraq could hold out for at least a year or more; and administration officials contend that the pressure of sanctions would not be enough to force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in the foreseeable future.

In the mean time, they say, the fragile economies of Eastern Europe and Latin America will suffer as a result of the higher oil prices and economic uncertainty brought on by the Persian Gulf crisis, thus causing greater instability in those parts of the world. In addition, Kuwait will continue to be plundered as long as Iraq's occupation goes on. The administration is also concerned that it could not hold the fragile anti-Iraq coalition together for the year or more that sanctions might require to have sufficient effect.

Q: Is the United States prepared to use nuclear weapons to break a stalemate? If Iraq uses chemical weapons, would the United States respond with them too?

A: U.S. military officials reportedly have decided not to use nuclear, chemical or biological warfare against Iraq. Two reasons are generally cited: One, U.S. planners have great confidence in the ability of America's conventional forces to defeat Iraq; two, the use of nuclear or chemical armaments would cause grave political problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Q: How many U.S. casualties would force the administration to pull out of gulf?

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