Gulf questions and answers

January 16, 1991

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

Q: Why aren't we developing alternative fuels with the money we're spending in the Persian Gulf?

A: A lack of political will, say environmental experts. The administration proposed an alternative fuel program two years ago -- to require that 1 million new cars a year would use such fuels by 1997 -- but it didn't fight for the idea, and Congress cut most of it out of the final Clean Air Act. The oil industry is continuing work on developing alternative fuels, but they are still very expensive when compared with gasoline.

Q: Why is the United States committed to restoring a monarchy in Kuwait?

A: President Bush has not sought to justify action against Iraq out of any desire to restore a particular kind of government. Whatever the nature of Kuwait's government, Mr. Bush regards it to be legitimate and to have a right to continue without aggression from Iraq.

Q: Has the administration considered the implications of Iran emerging as the strong power in the gulf area?

A: The administration's policy of tilting toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war was designed to prevent this. Many experts believe the United States must be careful not to inflict such severe combat damage on Iraq that Iran winds up as the unchallenged power in the region.

Q: Is it true Dover Air Force Base in Delaware is being prepared to handle dead? Are people there despondent over it?

A: Since 1968, Dover AFB has operated a mortuary that receives the remains of all U.S. military personnel killed in the Middle East, Europe and most of Latin America. It routinely handles 65 to 70 cases every month. Referring to the possible arrival of thousands of soldiers killed in Persian Gulf action, a spokesman said, "Dealing with death can be depressing, but we have an extremely capable, well-trained professional staff."

Q: What defense does the United States have against chemical warfare?

A: U.S. military personnel in the region carry protective clothing and masks to guard against exposure to chemical and biological weapons. Extensive training with chemical weapons gear has been under way. Germany has provided U.S. forces with chemical weapons reconnaissance trucks. The Pentagon also says that given the U.S. ability to unleash a fierce retaliatory attack, "it would be extremely unwise for Saddam Hussein to employ any weapon of mass destruction."

Q: Do the experts expect Iraq to attack Israel, forcing it to retaliate and uniting the Arab world against it and the United States?

A: This threat has been made repeatedly by a variety of top Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein. Most recently, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz reiterated Jan. 9 that if Iraq were attacked, it "absolutely" would attack Israel.

Q: How would Israel fare in a Mideast war?

A: That is unknown, though three wars over the last 35 years have demonstrated that Israel has the strongest force in the region. It is on alert and prepared to launch what officials call a "devastating" retaliation in the event of an attack.

Q: What are U.S. plans for occupation of Iraq and restoration of Kuwait?

A: While it is possible that contingency plans for occupation may exist, President Bush has said that U.S. forces would remain there only as long as necessary to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait and restore the Kuwaiti government to power.

Q: Is it true that U.S. forces won't have adequate supplies for six months?

A: The Pentagon says there's no need to worry about supplies. Officials confidently assert that the entire logistics operation, while strained during the gulf buildup, is not expected to break down, even if war breaks out. The military has issued emergency orders to suppliers since August. Last week, President Bush issued an executive order requiring U.S. manufacturers to give the military top priority for the delivery of goods and services.

Q: How much oil do we get from Kuwait?

A: The United States imported an average of 157,000 barrels a day from Kuwait in 1989, or less than two out of every 100 barrels imported that year. An additional 449,000 barrels a day came from Iraq.

Q: How many fuel air explosive devices does Iraq have, and is it poised to use them?

A: The Pentagon acknowledges that Iraq possesses such weapons -- which involve igniting fuel in the air, thereby causing a big fireball and shock wave -- but says there is no clear evidence that it is capable of mounting them on missiles. U.S. officials will not disclose the size of the Iraqi stockpile, the possibility that FAE bombs could be mounted on Iraqi aircraft or other details, but they say that U.S. contingency plans have been made to deal with all Iraqi military threats.

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