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Wednesday, February 12

How close to war? — Iraq Q&A

By John Yaukey and Jon Frandsen

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell’s appearance before the United Nations on Wednesday is just the latest and most dramatic part of a Bush administration campaign to build global support for a possible war against Iraq. Here are some questions and answers about why war with Iraq appears likely:

Question: If the inspectors haven't found any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq and they are still doing their work, why does it seem as though we’re on the brink of war?

Answer: As far as the United States is concerned, the issue is not inspections but disarmament. While Iraq has cooperated with inspectors by allowing immediate access to any given site, it has not complied with the U.N. demand that it prove it has destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction. For example, there was evidence from previous U.N. inspections, which halted in 1998, that Iraq has material to produce thousands of gallons of anthrax, botulism and other weapons but has not explained what has happened to them. The United States also says it has evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime is still trying to produce such weapons.

Bush explained the role of inspections this way in his State of the Union speech: “The 108 U.N. weapons inspectors were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming.”

Q: What has been Iraq’s response to the United States?

A: Iraq says it has complied fully with U.N. Resolution 1441, which passed Nov. 8. Iraq also accuses the United States of trumping up the charges to justify war so it can take control of its vast oil supplies and establish a permanent foothold in the volatile but strategically important region.

Q: What are U.N. officials and other nations saying?

A: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and countries whose support could be important as war approaches — including France, Russia and China — want to give the inspections more time. They see no reason to rush into a war as long as inspectors are actively searching for weapons and making it difficult for Iraq to use or transfer any that it might have. However, they agree that Iraq needs to be more cooperative to fulfill the demands of resolution No. 1441.

Q: If diplomatic efforts are unsuccessful, why does Bush say the United States should lead a war against Iraq?

A: The United States has made disarming Iraq a top priority in the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Bush says the gravest threat to any country, including the United States, is that a rogue state such as Iraq will pass weapons of mass destruction on to terrorist groups that would be all too willing to use them. Militarily, the United States has the might to overpower Saddam’s army and weapons with relative ease and speed.

Q: If there is a war, will the United States be able to assemble a coalition of allies to disarm Iraq as large as it did for the Persian Gulf War in 1991?

A: At this point, Britain is the most powerful country to publicly join with United States and there is a number of smaller European and Persian Gulf countries that have voiced support. The administration says it has 23 nations onboard to date. It expects more to join as it continues to make the case that it may require war to disarm Saddam. The first President Bush was able to assemble some 40 countries in a “coalition of the willing” to drive Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991.

Q:The U.N. Security Council already has passed one resolution commanding Saddam Hussein to disarm. Is a second resolution necessary to wage war against Iraq?

A: Not as far as the Bush administration is concerned, but some countries and some U.S. lawmakers say it would be dangerous to act without further U.N. action. While such support would be desirable, Bush has made clear the United States is prepared to act without it.

Q: Does Bush need support from Congress?

A: No. He was given the congressional authority he needs in a broad use of force resolution that Congress passed in October.

Q: How far along is the United States in deploying the forces necessary to invade Iraq?

A: The Pentagon wanted to have well over 100,000 troops in the region by February. The total number of regular, guard and reserve forces that might be deployed could range from 200,000 to 250,000 depending on strategy.
Q: When might a war begin?

A: Sooner rather than later. No deadline has been set, but Bush has said he is willing to give diplomatic efforts weeks to work, not months. The timeline is being driven at least in part by climate. The United States wants to get the fighting over with before summer, when combat in chemical weapons suits would take place in miserable desert heat.

Q: If the United States goes to war, how much would it cost?

A: No one knows. There are multiple variables, including how long troops are there and how many countries are willing to share the cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the costs of deploying a force to the Persian Gulf would be between $9 billion and $13 billion. Fighting a war would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion a month, although how long such a war might last cannot be estimated. After hostilities, CBO estimates the costs to return U.S. forces to their home bases would range between $5 billion and $7 billion. The cost of an occupation following combat would vary from about $1 billion to $4 billion a month. CBO has no basis for estimating any costs for reconstruction or for foreign aid that the United States might choose to extend after a conflict ends.

Q: What are the worst- and best-case scenarios if we wage war against Iraq?

A: The best case is for U.S.-led forces to invade and advance so easily and quickly toward Baghdad that Saddam’s government collapses and the remnants of his army surrenders. There are fears that Saddam’s most loyal troops will fall back to Baghdad and fight to the bitter end, forcing allied troops into dangerous street-by-street combat. The worst scenario, however, is that a desperate Saddam unleashes chemical or biological weapons.

But under any of these scenarios the United States is confident the war would be relatively brief because of its overwhelming military advantage.

Q: What happens when the war is over?

A: That is not clear. The United States would certainly have to head an occupation force for months and perhaps years to come to stabilize the region, keep the oil fields open and try to establish an interim government that would eventually hold elections. While the United States would hope to leave quickly, the situation in Afghanistan illustrates how difficult establishing a new and stable government can be. There is deep worry that the longer the United States has a large presence in the area, the less stable other countries in the region will become as Muslim extremists grow in numbers and popularity.