Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade (or Desert Rats) during the last Gulf War and Andrew Gilligan took part in a live webchat at 9am on Thursday 20 March, the day hostilities broke out in Iraq.
Bronze statue of Saddam Hussein
Khatoon Patwa: With the war on Iraq having begun, how long is it expected to be before the first troops reach Baghdad. Also given that one of the aims of the war is to remove Saddam Hussein, what happens if he is not either killed, or forced to leave the country?
General Cordingley: If there was only light opposition on the route to Baghdad, I believe ground forces could get there in 4-5 days. Forces helicoptered in could obviously get there much earlier, but would need ground forces in support within 12 hours. The ground around Baghdad is tricky is so far as there are a number of rivers and waterways that nee dto be crossed and this could slow up an advance. The Americans are determined to capture or kill Saddam Hussein. It will be difficult for him to escape from Baghdad where he appears to be at the moment.
Peter Jackson: Do you think the lack of worldwide public support and more importantly the support of the British people will affect the morale and in turn the effectiveness of our troops in battle? I only say this because if I was fighting a war in Iraq I’d want the complete support of my country behind me
General Cordingley: I've always said that the support of the British nation is essential for the morale of our troops. The debate within the country I'm sure was healthy and I do believe has to all intents and purposes stopped at the right moment. Our newspapers, particularly the tabloids, which will be seen by the soldiers a few days' late will show them now that we're thinking about them all the time and whatever we think about the operation we are right behind them in every respect.
Andrew Potter: Will the armoured vehicles have to use the limited number of roads from Kuwait or have they the ability to cross the local terrain?
General Cordingley: If 1991 experience is anything to go by, the coalition forces' movement will not be constrained by roads. The armoured vehicles have extraordinary cross-country capabilities and engineers will create tracks for the wheeled vehicles. A look at the map will show you that the ground around Baghdad is a problem. There are numerous waterways and rivers to be crossed. The seizure of bridges will be a central and indeed to have the ability to build bridges ourselves and we have the equipment.
Neil Aust: What is the best guess at the size and effectiveness of the Iraqi armed forces? In particular, could there be ground conflict in the open desert and how would our forces fair against the Iraqis who, presumably, are much more used to the conditions.
Andrew Gilligan: We have a fairly exact estimate of the Iraqi forces - 375,000 - however, of these, the vast majority are conscripts. They were easily defeated in 1991 when Iraq was stronger and the Americans less well-armed than now. Most Iraqis live in towns - they are as much strangers to the desert as you or I.
General Cordingley: In the desert the coalition forces hold every single advantage. The British ground forces are used to training in a large area in Canada which is not dissimilar to the ground in southern Iraq.
Peter Jackson: I have total confidence in the ability and professionalism of our armed forces. They are something this country should be extremely proud of. With all the recent scandal over kit problems such as melting boots and misfiring rifles can you assure us that our troops are fully prepared with everything they could need for battle?
Andrew Gilligan: I think they are probably fully prepared with everything they need in this particular battle agains a relatively weak enemy - although the use of weapons of mass destruction is to some extent uncharted territory for everyone. I am more concerned that were they ever to encounter an enemy that was more than a match for them, their undoubted status as the best troops in the world man for man and woman for woman would be undermined by the inadequate equipment with which they are presently supplied.
General Cordingley: Our soldiers will almost always want more and look with envy at the American GIs. What I can assure you is that they have everything they need for this encounter and I would feel confident, as I did last time, that our NBC equipment would cope with the possibility, although unlikely, of chemical or biological attack.
Dan Draper: Is the use of uranium depleted weapons is in fact use of dirty weapons? Following the Gulf War there fas been a large number, thousands, of Iraqi children born with both severe mental and physical deformities. Prior to the Gulf War Iraq had the very best children's health from birth onwards in the Arab States.
Andrew Gilligan: The case against DU is not proven. The ill health of the Iraqi people is very largely due to the malnutrition, lack of proper sanitation, and lack of proper health care brought about by 12 years of sanctions towards this country. DU may account for some of the deaths, but cannot be the major factor. Whatever happens in the war and of course thousands of Iraqis may be killed there, the sanctions regime which has caused so much suffering will be at an end after it.
Emma: How likely do you think it is that the Saddam Hussein who gave the television address after the bombing today was a lookalike?
Andrew Gilligan: The real Saddam has a mole on his left cheek and so did this one
David Farrell: I would like to know if the Major General thinks the interview with the Defence Minister this morning could have potentially put front line troops lives at risk? Do these interviewers have a national repsonsability to restrain themselves? Does Andrew Gilligan feel that his presence in Baghdad actually makes the military's task more difficult as not only does he make himself a potential target for Saddam to use the western press to protect himself, but also if the military need to bomb targets near to their position and there are casualties they give the Iraqi PR machine the chance to exploit the situation?
General Cordingley: I genuinely believe that the quite sophisticated debate that goes on is in our best interests. And I also believe that the vast range of ideas probably confuses us and certainly must confuse Saddam Hussein. I don't belive the Defence Secretary was pushed into saying anything that would have worried me if I had been sitting in the desert waiting to go into the attack. The only thing I would have been concerned about would be a lenghty delay - which plays havoc with the emotions.
Andrew Gilligan: I don't think our lives will be allowed to stand in the way of Allied victory in this war if necessary. The stakes are now too high. I strongly believe we have a duty to report all sides of this issue as of any issue and I believe that our presence helps to make the bombing more discriminate. Avoiding this descrimination, and the minimilisation of civilian casualties is very much in the Allied interest. They will have to rule Iraq after this is done, don't forget.
Richard Watkins: It seems likely to me that Saddam will try to escalate the conflict by striking Israel and drawing in other Middle Eastern nations. What would be the Israeli response to such an attack and how would the US-UK alliance deal with it?
Andrew Gilligan: Striking Israel will almost certainly be Saddam's wish. Whether he has the means to do the means to do so anymore is, however, questionable. We believe he may have up to 20 Scud Missiles which are capable of flying that far. But the Scud is a terribly ineffective weapon. Even during the first Gulf War when he fired several dozen, almost no one was killed. And the Israelies exercised great restraint. Would a man Ariel Sharon do so today particularly if attacked with weapons of mass destruction? We have to hope so - the US has a good deal of leverage over Israel, and will be using it - but ultimately an Israeli nuclear attack on Baghdad is the worst possible scenario we can imagine.
Catherine Muir: Once in Iraq, how much resistance do you think our forces will really face? Will the Iraqi resistance focus their resources on protecting Baghdad (and saddam) and how messy do you think a battle in the city streets will get?
General Cordingley: I've always understood that the Americans will attempt to avoid fighting in Baghdad. Street fighting is very manpower intensive and you lose some of the advantages of sophisticated weapons systems. They will try to targe specific areas and then strike those with sophisticated weapons systems and if necessary follow up troops who can be brought in very quickly.
Andrew Gilligan: I agree.
Mark Crawley: We hear news that things are very quiet in Baghdad in terms of military preparation. Is this because Saddam is afraid of bringing his guard in, in case they attempt a coup or is there a more sinister reason?
Andrew Gilligan: I think it may be. It's simply impossible to know what's going on in Saddam's head. We simply don't know anything about the loyalty or anything else of the Republican Guard - the US claims to have evidence that it is coming over - it could be true, but they would say that, wouldn't they?
Denis Oakley: Countries have rarely targetted the leaders of the enemy. Does the American strike against Saddam personally last night chnge the nature of war? Also, Geoff Hoon said that he knew about the operation before hand. Is it likely that the operation was planned as a contingency to be put into operation if the occasion arose. Thus allowing it to be mounted in a couple of hours rather than the 24 mooted by some commentators.
Andrew Gilligan: It's not unprecedented for the US to target enemy leaders. There was an active campaign of assassination against Fidel Castro in the 1960s and there is evidence that the US has colluded in the past in the deaths of foreign leaders by other hands. The Americans argue that killing Saddam would be the quickest way to bring about regime change and will thus spare the thousands of lives which are now at risk in this war. The difficulty is in the implementaion. Saddam is extraordinarily well-protected - nearly all his visitors are strip searched - he never goes out in public - his whereabouts are simply not known. It is reliably reported that he has meals made for him each night at multiple locations so even his personal staff do not know where he is going to spend the night. That's in normal times, now the precautions will be even greater.
It is difficult to know how this operation was planned. It's not the kind of information you should expect anyone to give out. Given that the weapons were cruise missiles, it seems likely that it took several hours to plan. Cruise missiles have to be pre-programmed and that takes time, loaded with an image of the target - all this would take several hours.
George Berry: After we obtain a change of leadership in Iraq, will the UN be allowed to bring in their inspectors again to enable the public to know if there are any weapons of mass destruction. If there are found to be none, how do we remove the egg from our faces?
General Cordingley: My understanding is that specialist weapons inspectors will be brought back in: it is a very specific job and there are not that many available so many will be UN inspectors. I've always felt that there will be stockpiles but not in significant numbers. And I also suspect they'll also be very difficult to find.
Michael: The Americans were more than happy to share with anyone who'd listen that they'd begin action with 'shock and awe' ... was this deliberate mis-information to try to make Saddam feel safe and cosy before attempting to blow him up?
General Cordingley: The Americans have always stated that Baghdad is a problem and specific targets need to be attacked from time to time in a hope that the regime will crumble from within. All we see here is an opportunity to take out a specific target. I would be surprised if there isn't a major air campaign shortly.
Tim Barbrook: Do we always do every possible thing to limit civilian casualties, or is it more important to bomb first, while the target's available and count the cost later?
General Cordingley: Everything possible will be done to limit civilian casualties, however, one's got to recognise that Saddam's regime will certainly place civilians around vulnerable targets and will take great pleasure in showing the world what the coalition forces have achieved. When ground forces are advancing, again everything possible will be done to limit both civilian and military casualities but sometimes it is dangerous to advance without using a considerable amount of force. The trick for commanders in this war will be to work out as quickly as possible when troops are trying to surrender and stop firing.