WASHINGTON -- The war to drive Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait will probably be "hideously expensive" in terms of American lives, an ominous new assessment by the U.S. Army has concluded.
If, as Army experts predict, Iraqi forces don't buckle under a massive aerial bombardment, a protracted ground war will "exact a high price on the winners as well as the defeated," said a final draft of the report released Tuesday by the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute.
U.S. ground forces "will be required to confront the Iraqi army and either dig or drive it out of Kuwait," concluded the 120-page report, written by Stephen C. Pelletiere and Lt. Col. Douglas V. Johnson II, Middle East experts assigned to the war college in Carlisle, Pa.
The Iraqi military will fight for Mr. Hussein as long as he "respects their dignity," the report said.
"If they perceive that a military challenge from the United States threatens Iraq's vital interests, they will not hesitate to fight with great tenacity," it said. "They will wrap themselves around Kuwait and force us to pry them loose -- a hideously expensive prospect, in lives as well as in resources."
The report marks the Pentagon's first formal public assessment of the Iraqi military since the occupation of Kuwait Aug. 2. It expands on a report last year by the war college that analyzed the Iraqi military after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Colonel Johnson said he has no doubt that the U.S.-led alliance ** ultimately will prevail, but he declined to estimate how long such a military campaign would last or how many casualties might be incurred.
He said the purpose of the report was to dissuade Pentagon policy-makers from their view that the Iraqi military consisted of "a bunch of camel-riding" barbarians unskilled in modern warfare.
"The mechanized forces -- all of them -- are pretty experienced, TTC and they conducted some pretty substantial operations at the end of the [Iran-Iraq] war," Colonel Johnson said in an interview.
The quality of Iraqi field commanders is uneven, but it would require a "sledgehammer" to defeat the well-led forces, he said.
Contrary to reports that many Iraqi troops are dispirited and that some are defecting, the new study said the Iraqi military has "high institutional self-esteem" and exhibited "remarkable bravery" during the war with Iran.
"The average soldier sees himself as the inheritor of an ancient tradition of war-fighting. . . .," the report said. "Officers are well trained and confident, and as long as Saddam does nothing to impair the dignity of the army, they will back him to the hilt."
The report's authors argued that severing Mr. Hussein's
communications with his troops may play a key role in the outcome of any conflict.
"In any totalitarian system, communication between the leadership and the subordinate echelons is the key to disruption the centralized command structure," it said. "In a strategic sense, this means that if the leader can be isolated, paralysis may set in."
The report also warned that Iraqis often attacked enemy artillery positions with chemical weapons and were "regularly successful" at crippling Iranian firepower.
But at the same time, retired U.S. military officials recalled that much of the Iraqi army didn't distinguish itself during the war with Iran.
"The Iraqis didn't break in front of the Iranians too often, and one of the reasons for that was the military police straggle line that kept them in place -- if they tried to break, they'd end up at the end of a rope," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, now director of the national security program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Where there were a lot of marshes to hide in, the Iraqis bolted and ran -- thousands of them hid out in the marshes."