By
NBC News correspondent
updated 3/19/2003 9:55:11 AM ET 2003-03-19T14:55:11

On Iraq’s northern front, there’s a surprising weapon that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could exploit. We’ve heard a lot about the dangers of burning oil wells and the hardships U.S. troops face in the desert, but there are reports from northern Iraq that floods caused by sabotaged dams might be even more dangerous.

The dams in Iraq are being watched closely by American agents and satellites in these days before war, say United States intelligence analysts.

An usually heavy rainy season has left reservoirs brimming, worrying war planners who believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might use water as a weapon.

Experts say the destruction of just a few of Iraq’s dams would be more powerful than chemical weapons in slowing the advance of U.S. troops.

“He could use it as a very important nuisance factor by flooding these river systems, which we are going to have to cross,” says Gen. Montgomery Meigs, an NBC News analyst. “And the real danger here is not so much the troops, it’s to the people who live there.”

MASSIVE WALL OF WATER

The dam in Qadisiyah, near Baghdad, holds billions of gallons of water and, if blown, would create a skyscraper wall of water crushing and killing for dozens of miles, analysts say.

Below Baghdad, between the Tigres and the Euphrates rivers, the destruction of just two or three of dams might force U.S. forces to change their invasion routes from Kuwait.

Then there is oil as a potential weapon. The torching of Iraq’s thousands of wells, which produce 2 million barrels of crude a day, could blacken the skies.

OIL-SOAKED CLOUDS

That happened in Kuwait during the Gulf War when Saddam’s troops set 730 oil wells on fire. Back then, oil-soaked clouds hampered bombers. But today, new technology using GPS satellites can guide bombers through such muck.

“We know there is no perfect war and wars will bring destruction,” says Nasreen Sideek, a Kurdish government official who is deeply worried about what will be left if Saddam acts.

“The most dangerous part would be destroying the energy and water installations.” he says. “That would be the most important things we need to react to immediately.”

Reacting before the blasting of the dams and oil fields is the mission of U.S. special commando units. Hundreds of American and British commandos are already hidden within striking distance of potential targets, awaiting orders to spoil Saddam’s plans, in an effort to make it a short war.

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