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Discussion with Michael O'Hanlon

Aired October 31, 2002 - 12:24   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And while some White House officials argue that war is the only solution, voices seeking a diplomatic solution towards the Iraqi problems are growing apparently somewhat stronger.
Michael O'Hanlon is one of those who wants a diplomatic solution, if possible, believing that war may not necessarily be necessary. Is that fair?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: That's fair. Although I also applaud the administration for being tough and threatening force. I think you need to do that and be credible in making that threat to get the diplomatic solution I'd like to see.

BLITZER: I read the State Department's most recent report on global terrorism, as I'm sure you have, and there are pretty compelling evidence in there that Iraq intimately, strongly supports international terrorism.

O'HANLON: There's evidence that Iraq supports anti-Israeli terrorism, which certainly is bad enough, in the sense it cannot be defended. There is nothing defensible about Saddam's Behavior, but his links to Al Qaeda, at most, is perhaps that one Al Qaeda operative passed through Baghdad for medical care last year. There is still some belief that one of the 1993 attackers against the World Trade Center towers may have taken refuge in Iraq. Even that stuff hasn't been substantiated, but that's the extent of what's believed to be the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: They make the point in there that they harbor a lot of terrorists, like retired terrorists Abu Labas (ph) From the Akili Laro (ph) incident, as you remember. Our viewers will remember that. They are getting pensions. They are living and walking around freely in Baghdad.

O'HANLON: But of course many of these connection existed in the 1980s, and it's one or two people here or there. I'm not trying to whitewash Saddam's record in any way.

The question is, what is the threat he poses to us by any future collaboration with terror? If he occasionally allows one terrorists from the 1980s or '90s to pass through, get a bandage put on him in a hospital or live in Baghdad, it's not a material link to terrorism in the sense of contributing to future attacks. That's the issue here for U.S. national security.

BLITZER: I just want to get it clear here so our viewers are not confused, you do not believe the State Department should remove Iraq from the list of countries, the state sponsors of terrorism.

O'HANLON: That's right, but Mr. Bush made a very clear distinction last year between terrorism in general, all of this which is bad, and global terrorism with global reach, which is for us, the great national security concern. Iraq belongs in the first camp, but not the second.

BLITZER: You've doing an extensive amount of studies about casualties, if the U.S. does go to war against Iraq. What can you report right now. If it's a full-scale U.S. war with coalition partners, what kind of U.S. casualties are you anticipating?

O'HANLON: I think it's possible we could lose a couple thousand people, anywhere from, let's say, 1,000 to 5,000 if the fighting is difficult, and that's killed in action. I think it's also possible that Iraq will collapse quickly, and casualties will be no greater than Desert Storm, a couple hundred at most. You can have anywhere in that range. And anyone who wants to sell you a bag of goods who says it's going to be easy or it's going to be hard, I think they're making assumptions about the conflict they can't really prove.

It could be a wide range. It could be much as 10 times more casualties than Desert Storm, or it could be about as easy. One more point on the casualty front, we would have to expect that a lot of Iraqi civilians would die, and that means big political challenges for us throughout the Arab world, in the event of intense urban combat. That means if you're going to fight this thing, you've got to fight it quickly and get it over with and demonstrable improve the lives of the Iraq people after that.

BLITZER: A lot would depend on whether there's extensive urban warfare. For example, in a big city like Baghdad. If the U.S. can avoid that and get the job done, then obviously the casualties would be reduced.

O'HANLON: That's right, but I think you would have to assume urban contact. Now it's fine for people to say maybe Iraq collapses the minute we deploy forces to the region, maybe some Iraqi general realizes he's better off tie trying to coup, as risky as it might be, because the alternative is worse, it's for us to overthrow the whole regime, but that's a hope, that's not a plan, and you've got to be ready for urban combat. It is for Iraq, the most logical thing to plan on, and therefore, we have to plan on it, too.

BLITZER: Do you remember reading all the projection of casualties before the first Gulf War, what they were estimated at being?

O'HANLON: Yes, the casualties in the Gulf War initially were anywhere from a few thousand up to 30,000. In fact, the Pentagon was the worst of any in making its estimates.

BLITZER: And the final number was.

O'HANLON: Four-hundred Americans die in the entire operation, 150 during the actual combat. So in fact, it was about 1/10 of what people feared, in fact, 1/100 of what the Pentagon feared. So in that sense, you have to be awfully nervous about making precise estimates, and that's part of why I sketch out a broad range. But if you look at the invasion of Panama in '89, the experience in Mogadishu in '93, you have to realize urban combat can be messy.

BLITZER: Michael O'Hanlon, I remember reporting at the time, thousands of body bags were being shipped over to the Persian Gulf. And fortunately, of course, they were not necessary. Thanks for your expertise.

O'HANLON: Pleasure.

BLITZER: Good work.


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