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U.S. tests powerful non-nuclear bomb, warns time is short

WASHINGTON—Diplomats parsed the nuances of a proposed U.N. resolution Tuesday as the White House warned that time grows short and the Pentagon sent a more intimidating message to Iraq: It tested the world's most powerful non-nuclear bomb.

In another development, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left open the possibility that the United States might invade Iraq without British forces, if Prime Minister Tony Blair cannot overcome anti-war pressure from most of his public and much of his own Labor Party.

"There are workarounds," Rumsfeld said. Later, he backtracked, emphasizing that he still believes that Britain will make "a significant military contribution" if war is required.

The huge 21,000-pound bomb, called a Massive Ordnance Air Burst (MOAB), created a shock wave Tuesday afternoon that rattled doors and windows miles away and raised a tall cloud of debris over the test site at Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida.

"It shook things pretty good," said Kandi Gross, a cashier who was ringing up customers in a golf pro shop more than 10 miles away. Other local residents said it wasn't as loud as they had feared.

It was the first test of the weapon, which could be dropped on Iraq to deliver a blow as devastating psychologically as physically. U.S. military officials and civilian analysts said the timing of the test was not coincidental.

"It has a lot of shock and awe to it," said Harlan Ullman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Shock and awe" is the term Pentagon officials employ to describe the reaction they expect if they unleash a massive bombing campaign against Iraq.

Asked about the new bomb, Rumsfeld said: "This is not small." Then he grinned.

Dropped from a C-130 transport plane and guided by satellite, the MOAB—also known as the Mother of All Bombs—is considered a "bunker buster" because of its ability to destroy command bunkers and underground tunnels.

Asked about its possible use in Iraq, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "Obviously, anything we have in the arsenal, anything that's in almost any stage of development, could be used."

The MOAB replaces the 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutter" bomb—used in Vietnam, the first Gulf War and Afghanistan—as the world's most powerful non-nuclear explosive.

Also for the first time Tuesday, the Pentagon said officially how many American and coalition troops are in the region of potential combat: at least 225,000.

Myers reported the figure during a press briefing where he also showed video of an Iraqi radar installation in southern Iraq being blown up by a precision-guided bomb.

Together with the MOAB test and a claim by Rumsfeld that the United States is in direct contact with dissident elements of the Iraqi army, the presentation appeared to be part of a stepped-up campaign of psychological warfare.

In another military development, officials of the United States and United Nations temporarily grounded U-2 surveillance flights after Iraqi fighter jets challenged two of the planes flying U.N. reconnaissance missions over Iraq.

U.S. officials downplayed the significance of the incident, saying it apparently derived from a misunderstanding between the Iraqi government and the United Nations over whether there was to be one flight over Iraq or two. They said the flights were expected to resume.

Meanwhile, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, met in Jordan with officials of that nation. American troops are in Jordan, operating Patriot defensive missile systems and reportedly launching surveillance missions inside Iraq in search of Scud missiles.

At the United Nations, U.S. and British officials—still struggling to secure at least a symbolic victory on the world diplomatic stage—attempted to craft a resolution that would attract a majority of votes on the 15-member Security Council to authorize war on Iraq.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new version of a draft resolution might open another 10-day window for Iraq to prove it has disarmed itself of all chemical and biological weapons.

The updated resolution also could require answers to "unanswered questions" about Iraq's suspected stocks of VX nerve agent and anthrax.

It is unlikely, however, that the new proposal will remove language that France and Russia find objectionable. Both nations have pledged to veto any resolution that allows the automatic use of force upon any Iraqi failure to comply fully, and Washington insists upon such terms.

A vote appears likely Thursday or Friday; White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration will insist on a vote this week.

Even if the measure ultimately is vetoed, a majority council vote for it would give a measure of U.N. political cover to the Bush administration and especially to Blair, who is confronting growing anti-war dissent at home. However, Blair so far remains resolute in insisting that Saddam Hussein must disarm or be disarmed by force.

Fleischer suggested some degree of U.S. diplomatic flexibility, but not much. He characterized as "a non-starter" a suggestion that a proposed March 17 deadline for Iraqi disarmament be extended to April 17.

"There's room for a little more diplomacy, but not a lot of time to do it," Fleischer said.

But no sign emerged Tuesday of more votes for the U.S.-British position, which so far has won the backing of only two other council members, Spain and Bulgaria.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali signaled strongly that his Muslim nation—a council member—will not back war.

In his first nationally televised address since taking office late last year, Jamali said it would be "very difficult for Pakistan to support a war against Iraq" and that "more time should be given for peace."

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said his nation, another heavily courted swing vote, favored giving Saddam one last chance to meet a series of disarmament benchmarks.

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(Knight Ridder correspondents Michael Dorgan, Jessica Guynn, Kevin G. Hall, Phil Long and Nancy Youssef contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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