US and Iraq gear up for new conflict: While Washington readies an air strike, Baghdad rearms, writes Christopher Bellamy, Defence Correspondent

THE movements of United States aircraft this week indicate that Washington was preparing an air strike on Iraq. They coincided with evidence that Iraqi military power has been rebuilt to 40 per cent of pre-Gulf war levels, that Iraq has flown 150 military planes since April - more than at any time since before the 1991 war - and that Saddam Hussein has created an elite 'Presidential Guard' force out of the Republican Guard.

On Wednesday night two KC10 tanker aircraft, nine giant C-5 Galaxy transports and nine C-141 Starlifters passed through the Rhein-Main airbase in Germany, reportedly en route for 'the desert'. Unusually large movements have been under way all week.

During the Gulf war KC-10s based at Milan refuelled B-52 bombers over the Mediterranean on their way to Iraq. Now, 18 months later, the formidable new high-speed B1 bomber, having overcome teething troubles, may be available.

The news comes as five Iraqi Army divisions - maybe 50,000 men with 10,000 in the front line - are surrounding the Shia stronghold in the marshlands of the Euphrates. They are launching patrols and artillery attacks supported by fixed-wing aircraft which have been flying openly since April. These include specially adapted Swiss PC-7 training aircraft firing rockets and, in the last few days, Soviet-built Su- 25 Frogfoot ground attack planes. The temporary ceasefire agreement of March 1991 forbade the Iraqis to fly any fixed-wing aircraft, though this was not confirmed in any UN resolution. The only formal prohibition on Iraqi flying applies to all flights - fixed-wing or helicopter - north of the 36th parallel.

In the north, up to half Iraq's 30 remaining or rebuilt divisions could launch an attack against the Kurds with very little warning. And President Saddam has re-established an elite 'Presidential Guard' division - up to 15,000 men out of the larger Republican Guard - in an attempt to improve his personal security.

Iraqi air defences would be expected to put up some opposition to a renewed air offensive. Although the nerves of the centralised air defence system were largely destroyed in the Gulf war, individual missile and gun batteries continue to function - probably as effectively as in the opening stages of the Gulf war. The aim is not to defend all Iraq, just certain targets, and the Iraqis can probably do this with some success. Iraqi aircraft now fly as frequently as they did before the war.

The Iraqis would now have some early warning of an air attack. During the war, they conserved their radars by not turning them on. Some survived unscathed and others have been repaired. Working radars near Iraqi borders will give warning of approaching raids. The Iraqi civilian telephone system has been restored, and analysts believe that part of the military communications system has been rebuilt, although without Russian help.

The Iraqi ground forces are estimated at 350,000, against a pre- Gulf war total of nearly a million. Tanks and artillery total 2,000 each, against pre-war levels of more than 5,000. At the beginning of the Gulf crisis, General Colin Powell, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was reported as saying Iraqi forces should be cut back to 100,000 men and 1,000 tanks. Iraq still has between two and four times these levels.

Israeli sources say 115 Iraqi aircraft which fled to Iran in the Gulf war are still there. With Gulf war combat losses, Iraq has about 300 warplanes.

About half Iraq's army strength - 15 divisions - is dug in along the border of the Kurdish area in north-east Iraq. They are in defensive positions, not along a continuous, fortified line. This belt of 'no man's land' extends from the north-west of Iraq to half way down the border with Iran.

Another five to seven Republican Guard divisions are around Baghdad. About two-thirds of President Saddam's forces are in the northern half of the country, facing the Kurds.

But experts are uncertain of reports that the Iraqis have been trying to drain the southern marshes so they can move in to crush those seeking refuge there with heavy armour. The marshy terrain was reason why the armour-heavy Allies could not pursue the remains of the Republican Guard fleeing the Kuwait theatre of operations.

There have been plans to build a canal in the area for at least 10 years, which might have had an incidental effect on the marshes. President Saddam's government lost control of the marsh area in the early to mid-1980s, when tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of deserters from the Iran- Iraq war sheltered there.

Sources also confirmed the Iraqis remain self-sufficient for ammunition. Ammunition dumps were not targeted specifically during the Gulf war and a 'substantial proportion' still exist.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
Meet Mr Poo: The lumpy, brown anthropomorphised faeces that is the face of Unicef's latest public health campaign in India.
news
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher - September 2014

£100 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for a Teacher of...

English Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: English Teacher RequiredImm...

KS2 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: KS...

B2B Bids and Tenders Pricing Specialist

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?