WASHINGTON March 20 —
Saddam Hussein urges his people to "draw your sword" against U.S.
invaders, but it is a battle he knows he cannot win.
Under siege from half-million-dollar cruise missiles and
computer-precise weapons of the world's mightiest military, the
Iraqi leader can only delay the inevitable. A simultaneous American
sweep in Afghanistan for al-Qaida suspects on Thursday helped drive
home the reality of U.S. might.
Although the new Persian Gulf war is in its earliest stages, it
is beginning much more gradually than had been widely expected. The
slow start reflects carries an enormous psychological component as
U.S. officials continued to extend appeals to Iraqi soldiers to lay
down their arms and even suggested Saddam could still seek
In the opening hours, the Iraqi military appeared unable to
muster a coordinated response to the air strikes on a suspected
Saddam hide-out at daybreak, the bombardment of selected Baghdad
government buildings later Thursday and the movement of U.S. troops
into southern Iraq.
Early actions packed some potent messages.
For example, the decision to first strike leadership targets
signaled that the military objective was to remove Saddam and his
key lieutenants not to threaten the civilian population nor Muslim
institutions. It also showed the Iraqi leadership that the American
military could be unpredictable not beholden to one-dimensional
strategy of unrelenting air power.
"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict,"
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.
Early strikes were an attempt to cut off Saddam and his senior
military commanders from their troops in the field. U.S.
intelligence picked up early signs the Iraqi leadership, in fact,
might be out of communication with field commanders.
With its slow-start war, the Bush administration was seeking to
both convince Iraqi military units that resistance would prove
futile and to try address rising international opposition to Bush's
decision to go to war without U.N. backing.
"We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and
restore control of that country to its own people," Bush said in his
address to the nation Wednesday night.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, told reporters, "We continue
to hope that Saddam Hussein will leave Iraq. We continue to hope
that Iraqi generals will not follow orders. It is not too late for
them to do that."
In Afghanistan, U.S. attack helicopters and about 1,000 U.S.
troops stormed villages in the south Thursday in raids aimed at
tracking down remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Pentagon
called the timing coincidental, but it helped to underscore White
House contentions that Bush had not lost sight of the broader war on
Faced with overwhelming U.S. power and an imminent massive
assault on his country, Saddam did not have many real options.
He could try to do as much damage as possible on his way out,
perhaps using chemical and biological weapons against advancing U.S.
troops and Israel, setting afire oil fields and blowing up dams.
He could try to bring fighting to the streets of Baghdad in hopes
that high civilian casualties would further inflame world opposition
and pressure the United States to halt.
Either strategy way would almost certainly be a losing one for
him, military analysts suggested.
"I think he's in some ways probably delusional and thinks that
his inner circle of Republican Guard forces will be able to protect
him, and that they'll be able to wait this out," said Jay Farrar, a
military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International
Studies and a former Marine colonel.
"The ultimate goal for him is survival. He can delay some things,
but I don't think in the end he can delay much," Farrar said.
In the 12 years since the first Persian Gulf War, the
sophistication and precision of U.S. weaponry has grown by leaps and
bounds, while Saddam's army once the world's fourth largest has been
in decline, said Clark Murdock, the Air Force's deputy director for
planning from 1995 to 2000.
"The Republican Guard units are well equipped with essentially
Soviet-era capabilities," Murdock said.
Iraqi state-run television on Thursday aired a tape purporting to
show Saddam addressing his people after the first U.S. airstrikes.
"Draw your sword and be not afraid," Saddam urged.
But few were betting on Saddam's swordsmen against the world's
sole remaining super power.
EDITOR'S NOTE Tom Raum has covered national and international
affairs for The Associated Press since 1973
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