January 1991 (vol. 7, #2)
1601 N. Tucson Blvd. Suite 9, Tucson AZ 85716
c 1991 J Orient
As the January 15 deadline for
Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait approaches, preparations for war
are proceeding on both sides of the line in the sand.
Civil defense instruction on prime-time television preceded a one-day evacuation drill that involved 1.5 million residents of Baghdad suburb. Instruction included nuclear-attack procedures as well as techniques for sealing homes and automobiles against chemical agents (Ariz Daily Star 12/22/90).
Iraqi offensive preparations preceded the deadline by years. Saddam Hussein's chemical arsenal has undergone extensive field testing. During the Iran-Iraq war, hundreds of Iranian soldiers were treated in European hospitals. In 1984, there was toxicologic evidence for the use of mustard, nerve gases, and trichothecenes (mycotoxins or ``yellow rain''). (The last has been disputed.) In 1985 and 1986, there was also evidence of the use of cyanide compounds (Proceedings of the 23rd European Int'l Meeting, Int'l Association of Forensic Toxicologists, Ghent, 1986). About 2000 Iranian villages were allegedly subjected to gas attacks, according to a report from the State University of Ghent (9/10/90, CW90-2/PJ894), but investigations were said to be limited due to political considerations.
Iraqi weapons have been acquired from a variety of sources, largely Soviet but also Western. At least one German company sold Iraq deadly mycotoxins. A drop tank that could be used for releasing chemical agents from aircraft was offered by H&H Metalform GmbH, which was continuing, ten days after the Kuwaiti invasion, to supply Baghdad with steel components suitable for rockets (Wall St J 10/2/90).
Iraq could have obtained cyanides from the Soviet Union. A cyanide leak from a Soviet plant that manufactures chemical weapons recently poisoned water supplies to several cities in Byelorussia and Latvia (Ariz Daily Star 11/10/90). Cyanides were among the agents said to be used by Soviet surrogate troops in Angola (see the Sept 1989 and Jan 1990 issues).
Those who believe that treaties
will be protective need to consider the fact that the Soviets
classify cyanide bombs as ``incendiaries,'' which are not subject
to the Geneva protocol (A. Heyndrickx, personal communication).
US troops are either ready or not quite ready for the deadline, depending on which US official is to be believed. The calculations appear to focus primarily on aircraft and weapons systems, not on defensive equipment.
Air superiority, at least, should be assured, assuming that (1) the Iraqis do not fire fuel air explosives or missiles armed with nerve gas at crowded Alliance airfields and (2) fuel supplies will be adequate. Anticipated daily fuel consumption of 50,000 tonnes is being drawn from refineries in Eastern Saudi Arabia, which are within range of Iraq's ballistic missiles (Briefing Notes, the Mackenzie Institute). Iraqi missiles are either mobile or defended. The refineries are neither, Congress having rejected US antimissile defenses.
Against chemical weapons, the Iraqis have steel personnel shelters with the best ventilation-filtration equipment in the world, and the US Marines have tents. US troops have chemical detection equipment and antidotes for some agents in the Iraqi arsenal. US soldiers are issued three autoinjectors, each containing 2 mg atropine, plus three autoinjectors of oxime 2-PAM chloride (Internal Medicine News 9/15-30/90). According to a standard pharmacology textbook (Goodman and Gilman), ``atropine should be given in heroic doses...2 mg...every 3 to 10 minutes until muscarinic symptoms disappear.'' Up to 1,000 mg/day have been used, with 50 mg the starting dose in ``serious cases'' (State Univ Ghent). The Iranians used 10 to 15 injectors, rather than three.
One of the nerve agents, soman, forms such a tight bond with acetylcholinesterase that these antidotes are ineffective. More powerful antidotes do exist (and are available to Eastern bloc soldiers) but have not been fielded by US forces.
Retarding the development and deployment of improved defenses by the US has not held back research on chemical warfare agents in other nations. Heightened lethality is apparently not the only objective. Third World victims of newer agents have experienced devastating, permanent neurologic crippling (Heyndrickx, Fourth Mission to Angola, 1989).
As the imminent deadline precludes
a ``surge'' to readiness, we may discover who is correct: those
who say the US military is the best protected force in history,
or those who say protective gear is at least 20 years behind the
It is unclear which side of
the line the Soviet Union is on or will be on tomorrow after the
resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze, whose support of American
policy in the Gulf had enraged Soviet military hard-liners (see
The Bottom Line
US troops may soon test the MAD presumption that possession of a certain number of weapons of mass destruction confers immunity to attack.
If thousands of American soldiers come home in body bags, will the press and the public conclude that we should speed up our program to dispose of our chemical deterrent (and maybe our army too)? Or will they ask the right questions: 1. Why don't we have a theater missile defense? 2. Why don't we have the best possible protection against weapons of mass destruction, for our troops on foreign battlefields and for their families at home?