There is no guarantee that economic sanctions will force Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait or cause enough domestic unrest to topple his dictatorship, CIA Director William Webster told a House panel Wednesday.
And Webster told the House Armed Services Committee that without any conflict, Iraqi ground troops can nearly maintain their current levels of readiness for as long as nine months, and the air forces can keep up current levels of readiness for three to six months.Webster's testimony came amid growing calls, chiefly from Democrats, to go slowly and see if economic sanctions can do the job without resorting to war.
Webster painted a picture of an Iraqi economy increasingly constricted by the highly effective sanctions, but he said the military side of the economy could hold out longer.
"Saddam apparently believes that he can outlast international resolve to maintain sanctions. We see no indication that Saddam is concerned, at this point, that domestic discontent is growing to levels that may threaten his regime or that problems from the sanctions are causing him to rethink his policy on Kuwait.
"The Iraqi people have experienced considerable deprivation in the past. Given the brutal nature of the Iraqi security services, the population is not likely to oppose Saddam openly," said Webster.
In terms of specifics, Webster said a number of light industries in Iraq been sharply curtailed or have closed entirely, including the country's only tire-manufacturing plant. But refining and power production operations continue. Iraq has been largely cut off from foreign exchange, he said, and it will probably exhaust its reserves by next spring.
Food stocks, he said, are adequate for the next several months, but black market prices are shooting up. He noted that for the second time civilian rations have been cut and rations for military personnel and their families have been raised.
But he said that by spring most Iraqis will face major changes in their diets and, unless there is humanitarian food aid, items like sugar and edible oils will be in short supply. He also said Iraq does not have the capability to become self-sufficient in food by next year.
By spring, he said, it is likely that only energy-related and some military industries will still be fully operating, and "this will almost certainly be the case by next summer."
"Although sanctions are hurting Iraq's civilian economy, they are affecting the Iraqi military only at the margins. Iraq's fairly static defensive posture will reduce wear and tear on military equipment and, as a result, extend the life of its inventory of spare parts and maintenance items," Webster said.