The commander of the American forces facing Iraq said Thursday that his troops could obliterate Iraq, but cautioned that total destruction of that country might not be "in the interest of the long-term balance of power in this region." "President Bush has stated again and again, our argument is not with the Iraqi people, and that would cause thousands and thousands of innocent casualties," Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf said.
"I do think there are other alternatives to having to drive on to Baghdad and literally dig out the entire Baathist regime and destroy them all in order to have peace and stability in the area."
The general said the decision on any military action rested with Bush and leaders in the Persian Gulf region.
Schwarzkopf, who came to Riyadh in late August to take command of the more than 210,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia and the gulf region, indicated that while he believed a war could erupt "anytime," he did not expect military action soon.
The commander made the following points in an hourlong interview on Thursday:
He has recommended to the Pentagon that American combat units in Saudi Arabia be rotated out of the country every six to eight months.
Iraqi missiles will have only a modest effect on any battle because they are highly inaccurate and the Iraqis have a small number of rocket launchers.
The continued operation of Saudi oil fields and production plants is fairly immune to Iraqi attacks, which, to cause serious damage, would have to be carried out by the Iraqi air force in repeated strikes.
Many Iraqi army generals who performed well in the eight-year war with Iran have been executed by President Saddam Hussein so he would not have to share the limelight with them, creating widespread fear and distrust in the upper echelons of the Iraqi army.
The American four-star general also said Iraqi front-line positions are manned by the worst elements in the Iraqi army, who "know they've been put out here to die, and that is why they have low morale."
Sipping ice-cold water throughout the interview, Schwarzkopf, dressed in fatigues, said he had long studied the character and psychological profile of Hussein, a man the general described as "an island of a man, who has really both isolated and insulated himself from the entire rest of the world."
He said the Iraqi "wants to be the leader of the Arab people no matter what it costs _ and certainly no matter what it costs the people of his own country."
Speaking of the objectives of the 300,000 American-led allied troops concentrated here, Schwarzkopf said the force had the technological advantage and sufficient firepower to obliterate Iraq if so ordered.
He expressed hope that a war can be avoided as Hussein realizes he is facing impossible odds.