Questions and answers on possible military strikes against Iraq:
Q: What kind of military action is the United States planning?
A: While the details of a military plan are secret, U.S. officials have suggested a broad air campaign. The United States has assembled 400 aircraft in the Persian Gulf, more than at any time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There also are three aircraft carriers and 14 other ships.
Q: How would any military action this time be different from the Gulf War?
A: The United States has sent a much smaller force to the gulf, only about one-fourth the aircraft that took part at the peak of fighting in 1991. There is also only a token force of ground troops. Any action would take place in the air, with aircraft and missiles.
Q: What would be gained by striking Iraq?
A: U.S. officials hope that the mere threat of such an attack will force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to allow unrestricted inspections of suspected weapons sites by United Nations teams. Barring that, officials hope an attack would cripple Iraq’s ability to make biological or chemical weapons.
Q: What are the drawbacks?
A: Military officials concede it’s hard to know what’s going on inside Iraqi facilities. Thus, it’s hard to know if a bomb actually succeeds in destroying biological or chemical stocks. It’s possible that bombing could fail to destroy these stocks. Also, Iraqi civilians and U.S. pilots could die.
Q: What would be targeted in the air strikes?
A: Suspected biological and chemical weapons sites, Iraqi air defenses and parts of Iraq’s security forces - like special units of the Republican Guard - that directly support Saddam’s regime.
Q: Can Iraq mount an effective resistance?
A: The Iraqi military was greatly weakened by the 1991 Gulf War and has been further crippled by economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The one threat U.S. military officials fear is a terrorist reprisal, possibly with biological or chemical weapons.
Q: What is the U.S. Congress saying?
A: Many Republican leaders have clamored for the administration to pursue a much more ambitious attack, one that would destabilize Saddam. But these lawmakers haven’t supported sending ground troops to invade Iraq. Many lawmakers don’t like the cycle of Iraqi crises, which occur almost yearly. Legally, Clinton has the authority to attack Iraq because of a resolution passed for the 1991 Gulf War.
Q: What is the likely timetable for any action?
A: The Clinton administration says it still wants a diplomatic solution. Administration officials say that even if Clinton abandons diplomacy, there would be a brief, perhaps two-week, pause before a conflict begins.
Would Saddam back down?