Officials: Iraq Might Strike First

Published March 14, 2003

| FoxNews.com

Saddam Hussein may be considering pre-emptive strikes on American and British troops, Israeli targets and his own people if he feels war is inevitable, Pentagon officials have told Fox News.

"We have to assume that if he feels he has been backed into a corner, he may believe his only real shot comes from trying something first," one official said Thursday night.

Defense surveillance has revealed movements of Iraqi troops and heavy artillery toward the southern border, from which they could take up positions to shell U.S. troops dug in inside Kuwait, Fox News learned Thursday.

U.S. officials also said they have seen Iraqi surface-to-surface Scud missiles moved into parts of western Iraq that would put them within striking distance of Israel.

The Iraqis may have wired key oil fields in the north and the south of the country with explosives for possible detonation should the coalition launch an attack.

The developments could signal plans for pre-emptive missile attacks on Israel, as well as attacks on U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.

U.S. officials said any and all such eventualities were built into the main allied battle plan, implying that there were prescribed counter-measures in place should Iraq attack first. Officials would not comment on the details of any pre-emptive scenarios.

The United States has been moving about 10 Navy ships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean to the Red Sea, senior U.S. officials said Thursday. The move indicates weakening U.S. confidence that Turkey will grant overflight rights for U.S. planes and missiles.

From the Red Sea the cruisers, destroyers and submarines would be able to launch their Tomahawks — expected to be fired in the opening hours of a war — over Saudi Arabia to targets in Iraq.

The ships are part of the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier battle groups, which have been operating in the eastern Mediterranean for weeks in anticipation of war against Iraq.

No decision has been made to move the carriers themselves from the Mediterranean, but that could be a next step, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Each carrier has about 80 aircraft aboard.

Tomahawks are satellite-guided missiles designed to be used in the opening stages of war to strike high-value, fixed targets such as government buildings in areas where the risk of civilian casualties is relatively high.

The Tomahawks evade radar by skimming land or sea surfaces. Following the Gulf War, they became one of the U.S. weapons of choice to respond to Iraqi breaches of U.N. sanctions.

The issue of Turkish overflight rights for U.S. missiles and planes has been overshadowed by the Bush administration's struggle to win Ankara's approval to base 60,000 or more U.S. troops there to open a northern front against Iraq.

The Turkish parliament failed to pass the U.S. request for basing rights earlier this month. Pentagon officials said Thursday it appeared increasingly unlikely that the Army would position its 4th Infantry Division there as originally planned.

About three dozen cargo ships with the 4th Infantry Division's weaponry, equipment and supplies have been waiting off the Turkish coast for weeks, and the troops are still at their base in Fort Hood, Texas.

During the 1991 Gulf War the Navy positioned carriers and Tomahawk-launching ships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It now has three carriers in the Gulf — the USS Kitty Hawk, the USS Constellation and the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Fox News' Bret Baier and Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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