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The case for diplomacy: Damage, destruction and doubts

Gulf War
Nightscope video of anti-aircraft fire in Baghdad during the Gulf War
February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:05 p.m. EST (0405 GMT)

From Correspondent Frank Sesno

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An air campaign against Iraq could be nightmarish.

It could cause the death and wounding of innocent civilians.

It could trigger the unleashing of deadly biological and chemical agents.

And, the political fallout could include revenge plots against the United States by terrorists.

New kinds of weapons increase the potential for death and injury:

One new addition to the arsenal can destroy chemical and biological agents by penetrating deep into buildings or bunkers and incinerating anything in its path.

"It explodes with a hot heat, with a flaming heat the objective of which is to burn up the biological weapons. The kind of visual collateral damage that you could get on civilians would be much more horrific," said retired Col. Sam Gardiner of the U.S. Air Force.

Even more horrific are the bombs that send chemical and biological agents into the air instead of going up in flames.

The suffering of Iraqi citizens could cause a backlash against the United States

"Theoretically, hundreds of thousands of people could be affected," said Javed Ali, of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute.

Anthrax -- which can enter the body through the lungs, stomach or a tiny cut in the skin -- usually kills within 36 hours, and the nerve agent VX causes almost immediate death.

"Within a couple of minutes to maybe ten minutes, your body would basically start spasming uncontrollably. You would be foaming at the mouth, loss of all bodily functions... and you wind up dying this horrible death," Ali said.

Some believe that kind of suffering would give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a tool for rallying the Arab world and undermining the Mideast peace process. There are fears of retaliation and even terrorism.

"There will be a backlash against the United States that will weaken governments in the region that are friendly to us and that will pose dangers for Americans," said Michael Hudson of Georgetown University.

Are those alarmist predictions?

Some military and weapons experts firmly believe the doomsday scenarios will not come to pass.

But Michael Moodie of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Institute said one thing is clear: "It's not a neat, self-contained operation."

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