Iraq given little time to save equipment Analyst says Iraqis have to 'run like hell' WAR IN THE GULF

February 23, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush laid down such stiff terms yesterday for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait that enemy troops would have to "run like hell and leave everything behind" in order to meet them, according to several authorities.

"It would be a disorderly with drawal," said Marvin Feuerwerger, a former Defense Department official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The tight deadlines, in this view, were set as part of a strategy for preventing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from "getting out with a political victory."

It appeared, a Pentagon source said, that Mr. Hussein had been trying to negotiate through Moscow "for the least painful way out." Mr. Bush was showing that he intended to hang tough to the end, with no compromise, this and other sources said.

Under the terms announced at the White House, Iraq must start "large-scale withdrawal" by noon today New York time, must be out of Kuwait City in the first 48 hours and must have its forces entirely pulled out in one week.

In Kuwait and close by in southern Iraq in mid-January, Iraq had an estimated 545,000 troops, 4,200 tanks, 2,800 armored troop carriers and 3,100 artillery pieces, according to the Associated Press. There have been estimates that its troop casualties -- killed and wounded -- total more than 80,000 and that more than one-third of its equipment has been destroyed.

The figures show the immensity of the problem Iraq would face in trying to remove what is left of its forces, including tons on tons of ammunition, over bombed routes with what is left of its military truck fleet.

"Basically, [Mr. Bush] is telling them to walk out" and leave the equipment, Mr. Feuerwerger said.

"We don't think they can meet the deadlines unless they run like hell and leave everything behind," said a specialist at the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service.

Tens of thousands of troops would have to cover an average distance of 100 miles, he said. The reckoning at the research service, he said, was that Iraqi troops alone, without most of their weapons and equipment, might be able to get out in three days, once they started. This assumed that they were still organized and subject to discipline, and "that could be wrong."

Others remarked on the destruction and havoc reported daily to have been wreaked on Iraqi command communications lines, bridges, roads, bunkers, vehicles and supplies -- topped by Mr. Bush's notification yesterday that they had until noon today, about a day to get organized and on their way.

"From a practical point of view, it's not doable," said Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine lieutenant general who directs Harvard's national security studies program.

Baghdad had to have time to make decisions and, on the unlikely chance it would agree to go fast, had to send orders to the troops over uncertain communication lines and convince them that they "can get out of their holes without getting their heads knocked off," he said.

In Mr. Trainor's view, Mr. Bush had "thrown down a marker, knowing that they are not going to accept."

One expert who dissented from this view was ABC-TV consultant Anthony Cordesman, who said such a rapid withdrawal would be "easier than it might seem."

Of troops in southern Kuwait, he said, some would have to leave equipment behind, but the roads north to the border crossed no bridges, while the elite forces along the Iraqi border would have very short distances to travel.

Other sources assumed there was some room in the allied position for flexibility on today's deadline.

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