ARLINGTON, Va. — Popular speculation that a quick start to war in Iraq is critical in order to prevent U.S. troops from succumbing to broiling summer temperatures is wrong, a prominent military analyst said Thursday.

Iraq’s desert does get miserably hot beginning in April, Anthony Cordesman, a former senior Pentagon official who now works for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told an audience during a CSIS-sponsored session on military scenarios and economic costs of attacking Iraq.

But Saddam Hussein’s troops are not in the desert; they are in central Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and two enormous lakes have a cooling effect, he said.

What little time U.S. troops are likely to spend in the desert of Iraq is time in transit, as they move from staging areas in Kuwait toward Baghdad.

“Probably after the first day, [U.S. troops] won’t be in the desert, they’ll be in [areas around] the Tigris and Euphrates” rivers, Cordesman said.

U.S. troops may also find themselves in Iraq’s northern highlands, where thanks to U.S. and British enforcement of the no-fly zone, Iraqi Kurds have developed an independent government. There are concerns that Turkey may send troops into northern Iraq to prevent the Kurds from declaring independence, a move that the Kurds have pledged to fight.

But the weather in the north of Iraq is quite bearable in the spring, Cordesman said.

“In fact, this is the best time for ‘tourists,’ and will be through April,” Cordesman said.

In the end, “weather can make things more difficult, but it will not stop” U.S. military operations in Iraq, no matter when they commence, he said.

Cordesman’s analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom among Washington’s war pundits, who have speculated that the rapid approach of summer is one reason the administration has been pressing for the United Nations Security Council to swiftly authorize an attack on Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, the threat of chemical or biological attacks will force many U.S. ground troops to spend time in cumbersome protective gear, further adding to the heat burden.

But a more careful look at Iraq’s climate, coupled with a look at Saddam Hussein’s recent troop movements, shows that Cordesman’s assessment may be more accurate.

Much of Iraq, especially in the west and southwest, is desert — but that area is also mostly empty.

More than 68 percent of Iraqis live in urban areas, particularly in central Iraq, according to the Library of Congress.

And central Iraq is where Saddam has chosen to mass his forces ever since the Desert Storm — well away from the northern and southern no-fly zones.

Intelligence analysts have said, and Cordesman agreed, that Saddam has neither the capability nor the will to defend either the south or the north of his country.

Instead, the analysts say, he will focus on central Iraq, specifically Baghdad and Tikrit, his ancestral home, which is also located in the banks of the Tigris.

In recent weeks, virtually all of Saddam’s best troops have been garrisoned within 60 miles of Baghdad, with a lesser number of troops dispatched to Tikrit.

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