Questions and answers about the gulf crisis

January 14, 1991

Last week, The Sun's readers told us the questions they had about the Persian Gulf crisis. Here are more answers to those questions, gathered by The Sun's reporters in Washington and Baltimore.

Q: What is the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests or this country directly? Is the U.S. government prepared to deal with them? How would the United States respond? What sort of attacks are most likely? Is there any possibility of chemical weapons being used within the United States?

A: The Central Intelligence Agency constantly monitors potential terrorist organizations and individuals abroad but never reveals publicly what it knows or suspects. The State Department has said that terrorist attacks could be expected around the world, and it has advised U.S. citizens in Israel and the occupied territories to leave before tomorrow. The FBI has increased its surveillance of visitors to the United States carrying Iraqi and Kuwaiti passports and of individuals it suspects of ties to terrorism. Other government agencies have increased security at U.S. airports and nuclear plants.

Q: What are the chances of attacks in the Baltimore area? Where? Could Baltimore or Washington be blown up?

A: Part of the FBI effort to monitor potential terrorism is to make an assessment of likely targets. That information is kept very tightly secret. Security at airports and other potential targeted areas in the Baltimore-Washington area has already increased and would be increased further if federal officials concluded that attacks here were a possibility. Isolated incidents of bombings at airports, other strategic sites or public buildings are always a risk when there is an increase in terrorist activity.

Q: If we go to war and win, will consumer prices for oil drop?

A: Should the war end without damaging Middle East oil production facilities and with output resumed in Kuwait and Iraq, crude oil prices should tumble, since there would be a glut on the world market. Eventually, that decline would be passed along to consumers, and pump prices could fall sharply.

Q: What political, legal or contractual relationships do we have with anyone that would cause us to justify our going to war Jan. 15?

A: Under the United Nations Charter's Article 51, member nations -- such as the United States -- are pledged to mutual

defense. Kuwait is a member of the United Nations and is thus entitled to that defense, when other nations are willing to provide it. President Bush has made clear that the United States is willing to use force against Iraq, and the U.N. Security Council has authorized that, after Jan. 15. The United States has no formal or binding obligation to do so.

Q: Why was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday selected as the U.N. deadline?

A: The deadline was the result of a compromise at the United Nations involving the United States and other countries, and apparently the U.S. diplomats did not consider the King holiday at the time.

Q: What would happen if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked Israel?

A: Some military experts doubt that Iraq has attained the precision needed to launch a successful missile strike against Israel, particularly if a U.S. air strike has already knocked out Iraqi missile sites. If an Iraqi attack succeeded, it probably would include warheads with either poison gas or biological weapons. Israel has vowed to strike back.

Q: What is the truth about the adequacy of medical supplies in the gulf? Would U.S. casualties have adequate medical attention?

A: There have been reports of complaints from military doctors and nurses that modern equipment and vital medical supplies are lacking. Military planners have insisted, however, that basic medical care is in place to ensure adequate overall care for U.S. personnel. Also, the Air Force has the capacity to airlift almost 2,000 patients per day to hospitals in Europe.

Q: Why hasn't the United States taken care of Mr. Hussein covertly?

A: Previous efforts by U.S. agencies to eliminate foreign leaders led to major public scandals and to several presidential executive orders forbidding any U.S. agency to assassinate foreign leaders.

Q: If Iraq were defeated, how would the United States deal with a power vacuum there? How would the United States then deal with Iran and Syria? What would their future roles in the area be? What kind of Iraq do we hope to create in the future? What are the scenarios for postwar Iraq?

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