Schmidt speaks about war in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Col. John Schmidt, a retired Marine with extensive tactical knowledge of Iraq, spoke to the Troy Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon about the looming war.

Calling the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, &uot;an enduring evil empire,&uot; Schmidt said that the United States needed to go to war in order to oust the dictator. He predicted an official commencement of war by the middle of the month.

&uot;Saddam Hussein is a bully on the block and it's time to make the neighborhood safer,&uot; Schmidt said.

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Schmidt, who is Vice President for Student Affairs at Troy State University, served in Vietnam, Bosnia and Haiti and was also an assistant to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Persian Gulf war.

Schmidt linked the quest to topple the Iraqi government to a larger global involvement by the United States to combat what he called &uot;Islamic fundamentalism.&uot; He traced a chronology of violence from the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, through the bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, citing a chronic failure on the part of the United States to respond with military action.

Predicting an air campaign in Iraq would last &uot;from between a few days and three weeks,&uot; Schmidt assured the Rotarians that the conflict would be even quicker and less painful than the first incarnation of the Gulf War. He cited improvements in American military technology and access to bases in Kuwait as reasons for being able to predict American success.

Some national military strategists have forecast a victory over Iraq less than a week after the military begins formal aggression, but others harbor memories of weary years in Vietnam and forecast urban fighting around Baghdad that could drag on for months.

Schmidt said the fighting could be resolved quickly but conceded that the endgame of the war would provide some difficult challenges to American nation-builders.

&uot;What you destroy, you're going to have to build back,&uot; he said.

Schmidt said the numerous factions within Iraq competing to rule the country's vast oil fields would create a difficult dilemma for American policy makers after Saddam is removed from the picture.

Jay Garner, a retired general, has been appointed by President Bush to be the new viceroy of Iraq once Saddam Hussein is deposed. Amid criticism that the United States has failed to follow through to ensure the well-being of the people of Afghanistan, American officials are making an effort to promote a positive image of Iraqi post-war reconstruction.

Schmidt said Alabama is the state with the third largest number of forces devoted to the war effort. With nearly 300,000 troops stationed in the Gulf, those soldiers are anxious to put their training to the test, Schmidt said.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson