Airstrikes likely to target monitored sites Presidential compounds, infrastructure also on list

November 14, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- As they sift through the list of potential targets for airstrikes in Iraq, Pentagon officials are aiming to diminish Saddam Hussein's fearsome arsenal and weaken his grip on power without committing the United States to an open-ended military engagement.

The objectives of the mission and the choice of targets under consideration reflect a desire on the part of the military to define goals that are meaningful, but also achievable, defense officials said.

While top defense officials haven't discussed specific targets being considered, they have addressed the issue in broad terms over the past year of intensifying friction with Iraq.

The targets are likely to include the 91 sites that U.N. weapons inspectors have sought to monitor closely with visits and camera surveillance.

Most are so-called dual-use facilities -- pharmaceutical and food plants, pesticide and brake-fluid manufacturers -- that could be used for making chemical and biological weapons.

The list could also include the presidential compounds where weapons inspectors have been denied access, or had their movements restricted.

U.S. officials acknowledge, however, that unless the attackers get lucky, they are not likely to destroy the stocks of substances such as VX gas and botulism toxin that Hussein may already possess.

Hussein has succeeded for years in hiding such materials, which are compact, difficult to detect and easily moved.

In addition, U.S. officials have indicated they will target the infrastructure that contributes to Hussein's ability to maintain control of his country.

This means military command centers, Iraq's half-dozen major secret-police organizations, intelligence centers, the Special Republican Guard and some key conventional military assets, such as air defenses, aircraft and missiles, communications centers and tanks.

To frighten Hussein's inner circle, U.S. forces may strike Tikrit, Hussein's family's home city.

Under the rules negotiated at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein was permitted to build short-range missiles. But now these facilities will probably become targets, lest Hussein use them as the foundation for a program of longer-range missiles.

The Iraqis have operated under the threat of possible military strikes for some time and have had ample opportunity to try to shield potential targets and disperse key elements of his forces.

Yet with intelligence from spy planes and satellites, the United States may have been able to track the location of at least some materiel, analysts say.

Some analysts believe that the most promising targets may be the secret police apparatus, including the Special Secret Service that plays a critical role in keeping Hussein in power.

"We could really cramp his style by hitting this apparatus," said John Pike, who follows intelligence issues for the Federation of American Scientists. "It might be our greatest chance of getting rid of him."

Pentagon officials say that a campaign designed to coerce Hussein into compliance with U.N. mandates would open the door to a prolonged military engagement -- and allow the opponent to influence the outcome.

Making compliance the objective "puts all the initiative, the decisive power, into the hands of your adversary," said a senior defense official. "At the end of the day, he can simply say no and deny you success."

Pub Date: 11/14/98

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