Frank Johnson

Do the Macc Lads have a better grasp of desert warfare than Field Marshal Lord Bramall?

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It has come down, it seems, to two related but separate issues: there is a 'should' issue, and a 'would' issue. Should the Americans attack Iraq? Would they win a quick and relatively bloodless victory if they did - the 'less' in 'bloodless' being concerned with their forces' blood rather than Iraq's....

The 'should' question is a moral question, the 'would' a strategic one. It is the latter which concerns me here. How easily can Saddam's forces be overcome? Would he really lure the Americans and the British into the cities, including Baghdad? If he is confident that they would fight, that would be his tactic. His hope would be that, enticed into street-fighting, the Americans would not fight house-to-house with infantry. If they saw so much as a rifle in a house, they would destroy the house with heavy weapons, inflicting civilian casualties. That is what Saddam, and much of the world, would expect.

Thus Saddam would also ensure that his troops were massed near hospitals and orphanages. The resultant worldwide outcry against America would force President Bush to change his tactics. The American infantry would have to advance more slowly. Their casualties would increase. President Bush would hear another outcry, this time from American voters. His war aim would have to become less ambitious. Saddam might survive. If he did, we may be sure that Mr Bush would not.

We laymen - among whom it is reasonable to include the politicians, including Mr Bush and Mr Blair - do not know for sure the answer to the 'would' question. Our difficulty is the greater because the authorities are divided. That most distinguished military historian Sir Michael Howard, former Regius professor of modern history at Oxford, seems to be against such an attack. Or at least, his writings so far on the present crisis suggest that he is not sure whether such an attack would go well. That is also the publicly stated position of