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March 22, 2003
 
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Tougher Tasks Ahead in Seizing Baghdad
Tougher Tasks Lie Ahead for Allies _ Taking on Republican Guard, Seizing Baghdad

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON March 22

The war against Iraq, off to a smooth and potent start, could become more difficult and deadly in the coming days. The tasks ahead may require fighting the battle-ready Republican Guard troops, avoiding chemical attacks, seizing the streets of Baghdad and tracking down Saddam Hussein.

"There will be surprises," Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S.-led forces, said Saturday. "We have not yet seen them."

One new complication is how to secure northern Iraq. The U.S. military on Saturday abandoned plans to use Turkish bases to move ground forces across the border with Iraq. The United States needs troops in the north not only to fight Iraqi forces, but also to avert possible conflicts between Kurds and neighboring Turkey.

U.S. officials are currently relying on special operations forces in the north, but may have to send additional conventional forces into the area.

President Bush renewed his warning that the war "could be longer and more difficult" than some think. Franks, in his first news conference since the war's start Wednesday, spoke of the "potential for days and for weeks ahead" of fighting.

In particular, the six fighting divisions of the elite Republican Guard appear ready for combat and are mostly dug in around Baghdad.

At least one top deputy of Saddam is believed alive and commanding some Iraqi military and security efforts, a senior U.S. official said. That deputy, known as "Chemical Ali," led the chemical weapons attack against rebellious Kurds in the 1980s that killed thousands of civilians.

That raises the fear that U.S. troops could face chemical or biological attacks. The troops have yet to find weapons of mass destruction, which the White House contended Saddam was concealing and President Bush said was a prime rationale for war.

Saddam himself has proved elusive.

Franks said he did not know if the Iraqi president were alive or dead, after a massive U.S. bombing strike at dawn in Baghdad Thursday that was intended for him and his sons. More footage of Saddam appeared on Iraqi television Saturday, but it was unclear when it had been taken.

If Saddam or either son is alive and in control, that could mean greater resistance by the better-trained and more loyal Republican Guards as U.S. troops draw near the capital.

U.S. war planners long have worried these soldiers will try to mount street-to-street fighting inside sprawling Baghdad, leading to both greater U.S. casualties and more deaths among Iraqi civilian men, women and children. Baghdad has about 5 million people.

Such urban fighting though scattered already has occurred in the southern seaport of Umm Qasr, now mostly under U.S. control. And the possibility of similar warfare in the key southern city of Basra led U.S. and British officials to announce Saturday they will not storm the city, but instead try to gain an Iraqi surrender through defections.

That might not be an option in Baghdad if the Republican Guards choose to fight.

The deaths of Iraqi civilians would give Saddam's government a powerful propaganda tool, hurting America's political aims in the war. Toward that end, Iraq's foreign minister sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan complaining that Americans were bombing homes, schools, mosques and churches in Baghdad, according to Iraqi television. U.S. officials have said they are being as careful as possible to avoid civilian casualties.

Even the fast and successful pace of the attack so far might cause a problem: The challenge of keeping spread-out troops supplied and moving quickly.

Traffic along one supply route near Nasiriyah in the south was at times so heavy Saturday that the huge military flatbeds and Humvees were brought to a standstill. That could be deadly if Iraqi forces were somehow able to open fire.

EDITOR'S NOTE Sally Buzbee has covered foreign affairs and national security issues for The Associated Press.


photo credit and caption:
A police officer walks through an orphanage that was hit by US-led bombing outside Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday March 22, 2003. The place was empty at the time of the attack. (AP Photo/Ali Haider)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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