about Epidemiology & the department

Epidemiology academic information

Epidemiology faculty

Epidemilogy resources

sites of interest to Epidemiology professionals

Last Updated

09 Jan 2003

Source: New York Times, July 14, 2002.

U.S. Says Iraq Would Target Troops


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The threat from Iraq's chemical and biological weapons is primarily to U.S. troops and to enemies of President Saddam Hussein inside and near Iraq rather than to civilians in the United States, defense and intelligence officials say.

Iraq is believed to have biological weapons including anthrax spores and botulinum poison, which causes botulism. As for chemical agents, Iraq is thought to possess mustard, tabun, sarin and possibly VX gases, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Those are what U.N. inspectors had found in significant amounts before they left Iraq in 1998 and were not allowed to return.

Saddam's most likely targets would be Israel, any U.S. troops attacking Iraq and any rebel forces inside Iraq, the officials said.

The Iraqi military could strike targets inside the country and in surrounding countries with short-range missiles, artillery or aircraft using bombs or sprayers.

Officials say Saddam's military probably also has squirreled away a few Persian Gulf War-vintage Scud missiles capable of reaching targets 400 miles away. That would pose a danger to Israel and Iraq's other neighbors but not U.S. territory.

Saddam would be likely to consider using the weapons only if the Bush administration were close to removing him from power militarily, officials say. They say any attack that endangered his hold on power, even if it were to cause few deaths, probably would bring massive retaliation.

The United States considers chemical and biological weapons on a par with nuclear weapons.

It is uncertain how much damage an Iraqi counterattack could do, in part because it is unclear what weapons he has developed since 1998, said analyst Anthony Cordesman, who has worked in the departments of Defense, State and Energy.

Experts surmise that Saddam could not stop a U.S. attack by using such weapons. But a chemical or biological attack that caused even a few deaths among American troops in Iraq or civilians in Israel could cause widespread panic.

In the worst case, an attack on Israel could lead that country to consider nuclear retaliation, said Cordesman, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The administration points to Iraq's pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as the principal reason to get rid of Saddam. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visits NATO ally Turkey beginning Sunday to discuss what to do about Iraq. He will be joined by the top U.S. military commander in the region and the No. 3 State Department official.

Cordesman said America's failure to provide specifics on Saddam's activities since 1998 makes allies reluctant to support a U.S. attack.

"Most people outside the U.S. feel we are crying wolf,'' he said.

Iraq asserts it has destroyed its chemical and biological weapons. Talks between the United Nations and Iraq to renew weapons inspections have stalled repeatedly.

At the end of 1998, Iraq told U.N. inspectors it had 550 tons to 650 tons of mustard gas. Experts estimate it has the chemicals to make another 220 tons. Likewise, Iraq declared it had 2,245 gallons of concentrated, weapons-grade anthrax. The United Nations believes current stocks could be as much as four times that.

Iraq also has researched nuclear weapons but is not believed to have the material to build any. Israeli jets attacked and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear research center at Tuwaythah, near Baghdad, in 1981.

Saddam ordered chemical weapons used against Iraqi Kurds and Iranian forces in the 1980s and killed thousands of people.

To make a successful strike with such weapons, the target must have no defenses. U.S. troops have protections against them, defense officials said.

Biological weapons are more of an unknown, Cordesman said. Iraq's were relatively primitive before the Gulf War and the U.N. inspections that followed. But since biological and chemical weapons require only small production capabilities and can be hidden easily, Cordesman said, ``It's almost impossible to track what they may have and may not have done.''

Iraqi weapons laboratories would provide even more important targets for a U.S. strike than his weapons stockpiles, defense and intelligence officials say, because a lot of lethal agents can be produced in a short time.

U.S. officials say Iraq's scientists have survived, and production facilities bombed by the United States in 1998 have been rebuilt. Since Bush stepped up anti-Saddam rhetoric after Sept. 11, Iraq has moved more production capabilities underground.