WASHINGTON — International sanctions are squeezing Iraq and could lead to a resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis well before next summer, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and other U.S. lawmakers were told Tuesday during a tour of the region.
Sanctions already have cut the flow of spare parts to the Iraqi military and forced Saddam Hussein to curtail combat aircraft operations, according to Egyptian President Hosni Murbarak and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the top U.S. military commander in Saudi Arabia, Dornan said.
"Nobody is making any predictions on how long it will take (Hussein) to crack, but nobody believes it's anywhere near into next summer," Dornan said in a telephone interview from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The assessments come amid expressions of increasing concern within Congress that the Bush Administration is accelerating the timetable for a possible military offensive in the Persian Gulf without giving sanctions sufficient time to pressure Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
In separate briefings with the visiting 19-member delegation from the House Armed Services Committee, both Murbarak and Schwarzkopf suggested that sanctions could end the crisis within a relatively short time by prompting one of several possible responses, Dornan said.
The international embargo could spur Hussein to launch a military strike against the multinational troops in Saudi Arabia, Iraqi military officers could depose their ruler, or Hussein could be forced to withdraw from Kuwait, he said the lawmakers were told.
"They (Mubarak and Schwarzkopf) believe that either (Hussein) will be pulled down, deposed, assassinated, or he'll flail out, or he'll pull out of Kuwait, creating a myth that he has achieved a victory," Dornan said.
During a three-hour briefing at American Central Command headquarters in Riyadh, Schwarzkopf told the lawmakers that neither the spring sandstorms in Saudi Arabia nor the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in May will force the hand of U.S. military commanders.
However, Dornan quoted the general as saying: "With the century's most effective blockade, we don't see how this thing can fail to come to a head sooner than that."
Specifically, Schwarzkopf said that Hussein "is getting dangerously low on spare parts, and his flying has been chopped considerably. . . . He's quite conscious about wearing out his airplanes."
Earlier, during a two-hour meeting with Mubarak in Cairo, the delegation's first stop, the Egyptian president "was very sanguine about the blockade," Dornan said. "He said all the reports they get is that it's really beginning to hurt."
In addition, Schwarzkopf told the delegation that he gives credence to reports that Hussein in recent weeks has executed a number of his top military commanders, including his military chief of staff.
"That would be the equivalent of President Bush executing (Secretary of Defense) Dick Cheney, that's the way Schwarzkopf put it," Dornan said.
The assessments by the Egyptian leader and the American military commander that the Gulf crisis, which began with the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, could end in a matter of months were well received by the members of Congress, Dornan said.
"For me, it has completely calmed any feelings I had that we were rushing toward any combat action without giving this blockade (time) to work. And going down the whole delegation, I believe it's had the same effect on everybody," Dornan said. "They're very, very happy about what they've heard."
The delegation, led by Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Mass.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on investigations, is scheduled to tour military installations and encampments near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, today and Thursday, then depart for briefings in Israel. The lawmakers are to return to Andrews Air Force base near Washington late Friday.
The group includes 14 members of the Armed Services Committee and five members of other key House committees. The only other Californian on the trip is Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Dornan said the group is especially interested in the Israeli perspective. "We want to find out what they think about the blockade working, and also to have them give us a comparative psychological analysis of how erratic Hussein may get as the blockade really begins to work."