WASHINGTON -- Stripped of air power, Saddam Hussein has limited military options once a ground war begins, say experts on Iraq and military strategy.
"I don't perceive he has ability to do anything that offers anything more significant than an annoyance," Eric Greenwald, research analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said yesterday.
"There are certain things he can do, attacks that will try to force the allied ground troops to shuffle around," he said, adding that the Iraqi ruler also might use chemical weapons.
"Chemical weapons on the battlefield are not a decisive tool, not a decisive weapon. The idea that [Saddam] might use them is a scary one, but not scary enough to deter a ground attack," Greenwald said.
Michael Mandelbaum, professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said Iraq has less ability now to accomplish even a minor offensive action such as its recent brief takeover of a Saudi Arabian town.
"I think at this point, with all the [allied] troops up at the front lines, it would be more costly and difficult to do," he said.
Mandelbaum and Greenwald say it's highly unlikely that Saddam will be able to muster his air force, given that many of the planes are in Iran and none of his pilots has won an air fight with an allied flier.
"Not a factor," Greenwald said of Iraq's air force.
Iraq's ability to respond to a ground attack turns in part on the nature of that attack. Military experts predict an allied drive into Iraq north and east along its border with Kuwait, accompanied by an amphibious assault. The object would be to cut off Iraqi forces in Kuwait and the Republican Guard troops waiting in reserve nearby in Iraq.
The attack also is expected to breach Iraqi defensive lines in Kuwait at one or more points.
"I think what we're going to try to do is find a weakness and thrust through the lines," said Loren B. Thompson, deputy director of national security studies at Georgetown University.
Thompson said multiple-front attacks likely would sow chaos in Iraqi ranks, which lack aerial and satellite reconnaissance means to gauge allied maneuvers.
Experts say the Iraqis still are capable of massing their forces for an attack, but risk devastating losses if they do so.
"The reason is when they mass their forces, the B-52s go in," Thompson said. "They will just be cut to pieces."
Senior U.S. military officials say the air war has all but eliminated Saddam's ability to mount a counterattack. "If he can't maneuver his forces, he's got to go to a static defense," one senior official said.
"I think we've got him between a rock and a hard spot," said Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal. "They are confused, they are disorganized, and I think it's a direct result of a very tough, effective air campaign."
Allied military leaders say the air war has destroyed more than 1,400 of Iraq's 4,280 tanks, 800 of Iraq's 2,800 armored personnel carriers and 1,200 artillery pieces.
But U.S. officials and private military experts caution that Iraq still has a substantial fighting force. Some experts worry that Saddam will be able to carry out his threat to inflict heavy casualties.
"The Iraqis retain a very major ground capability," said Louis Cantori, adjunct professor at Georgetown's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Saddam is "prepared to accept 100,000 dead Iraqi soldiers in order to kill 10,000 allied soldiers. He thinks that when he's able to do that, he will have achieved a victory."
"I'm convinced very quickly we're going to be at 1,000 to 10,000 dead, most of which will be Americans. And at that point, I think Saddam Hussein's strategy will begin to work," said Cantori, who is also a professor of political science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
While Cantori believes substantial casualties would turn American public opinion against the war and lead to a negotiated settlement, Greenwald and Thompson forecast a quick victory.
"I predicted when the war began [Jan. 17], it would be a six-week war," said Thompson. "And I'm sticking to that."