Dirty Trickster

No matter how much strutting and posturing Saddam Hussein and his advisors do on television, his 350,000 mutiny-minded soldiers are unlikely to mount much serious resistance to the might of the U.S. military once it descends upon them.

But that doesn't mean Saddam won't try a few tricks.

After all, the wily Iraqi had few scruples in 1991. Now that he, personally, is the U.S. military objective, he has little to lose in fighting as hard, and as dirtily, as he can. As the U.S. moves onto a war footing, expect to see the following tactics and strategies from Baghdad:

Buying Time: Saddam's first ploy will likely be to seek to postpone the war as long as possible, calculating that by May the U.S. would be deterred from putting its troops in the desert in the heat of spring or summer 2003. He'll likely succeed at this for a time.

Saddam's record of deferral-through-brinkmanship during the buildup to Desert Fox and the U.N. inspections regime reveals that no one in the world is as good as he is at buying time from the U.N., getting the secretary general to scurry about with his water and pushing wishy-washy European states to tug on American pant legs.

Using Weapons of Mass Destruction: So much for the U.N.'s condemnations and prohibitions such as resolution 687, because Iraq retains, or has built up since kicking out inspectors, a sizable arsenal of mass-killing weapons. Among the ones it could use against U.S. troops or its own population are the chemical agents mustard gas, tabun, sarin, cyclosarin, and VX, as well as the bio agents anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, ricin, and possibly smallpox. He also could detonate a "dirty" bomb containing radioactive material.

Experts believe Saddam either couldn't use the bio and chem weapons he deployed in 1991 or resisted using them because he was deterred by threats the U.S. made to his regime. But he presumably doesn't doubt U.S. intentions to finish him off this time, and will likely be less scrupulous. In other words, he won't hesitate to attack U.S. troops that he can reach, or to turn on his own population with a far-reaching, difficult-to-clean up bio weapon or dirty nuke in a scorched-earth act that he can try to blame on the United States.

American defenses against Iraqi WMD are threefold: First, vaccinations and anti-bio/chem suits; second, betting on the difficulty of actually delivering those weapons; and third, psychological operations: Dissuading Iraqi officers from following Saddam's orders to use those agents by warning them obeying will earn them the same fate as their boss after the war.

Using Unusual Delivery Vehicles Such as UAVs: According to the findings of U.N. inspectors and troops patrolling the no-fly zones, Iraq may have a variety of ways of delivering the bio weapons, including over 150 aerial bombs, 25 or more special bio/chem ballistic-missile warheads and sprayers or drop tanks for fighter aircraft. Iraq has converted small aircraft into unmanned aerial vehicles that can be piloted remotely: These could be flown into groups of U.S. troops or possibly as far as an Israeli, Saudi or Kuwaiti cities.

Iraq has also experimented with mounting crop-dusting equipment onto helicopters, for disseminating killer germs, according to The Washington Post. Iraq could be even better equipped to perform the somewhat less complex task of delivering chemical weapons. (For more information on these weapons, go to The Center for Nonproliferation Studies or to the U.S. Department of State International Information Programs.)

Threatening Neighbors and Minorities: In 1991, Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel. Iraq may retain several Scuds with ranges of 650 km, but that distance is probably insufficient to reach that country or major population centers in Saudi Arabia. With short-range missiles, Saddam can strike nearby Kuwait, potentially reaching U.S. troops there. Despite having fewer long-range Scuds, Saddam could try to strike Israel with an unmanned aerial vehicle or fighter aircraft. The murderous Iraqi president could also turn on his minority Shia and Kurdish populations in the border regions, as he has done before.

Urban Warfare: Whether because U.S. troops need to go into Baghdad to depose the regime, or because Saddam could lure them into urban centers, the U.S. could face an Iraqi army that has blended into the local population. Now, it's unlikely the local population would turn on the U.S. in urban areas, but if it were to, U.S. troops would be outnumbered and imperiled, Somalia-style, and be difficult to extract.

Members of the Iraqi opposition downplay this possibility, however, arguing that the Iraqi population wants nothing more than to be rid of Saddam and will help U.S. soldiers achieve this goal.

Any success by Saddam presupposes loyalty by a substantial proportion of his soldiers. That's not a given for this commander in chief who rules only through fear. Twelve years ago a large proportion of Iraqi soldiers surrendered quickly. After a decade of hardship, there's reason to believe still more will surrender again now. A telling hint: Saddam has had to unify under a central command three of his elite Republican Guard units. If he can't trust the three guys commanding his elite troops, he presumably can't trust the soldiers further down the line.

Even if all the wheels are coming off Saddam's war machine, it's best to assume the worst until proven wrong. After all, as Churchill said, wars wouldn't be fought at all if the other guy didn't believe he had a chance.

Melana Zyla Vickers, a columnist for TechCentralStation.com, is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She is a former editorial-board member of USA Today, Canada's The Globe and Mail and The Asian Wall Street Journal, and a former editor at the Far Eastern Economc Review. She has a master's degree in strategic studies and economics from Johns Hopkins University's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.