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Analysis: How the United States plans to conquer Baghdad
By Ze'ev Schiff

The first stage of the Iraqi war is drawing to a close as coalition forces surround Baghdad. The second stage is the toughest and most complicated and will probably not start at once. The decision on how to take the fight into urban territory is one of the most difficult imaginable from a military, political and moral point of view, and it could lead to many casualties, combatant and non-combatant.

Parallel to laying siege to Baghdad, which is the second phase of the campaign, the Americans must decide how to deal with the remainder of the Republican Guard still deployed outside the Iraqi capital. So far, two of the Guard's divisions have been decimated, with their tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers. The question is, how will the morale of the Guard's other divisions and the other remnants of the Iraqi army stand up to more battering.

Is there anything that can prevent a battle inside Baghdad, a city with a population of several million? One possibility is if the coalition manages to strike at Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, a move that could end the war altogether.

Another possibility is the emergence of Iraqi officers willing to negotiate with the coalition behind Saddam Hussein's back so as to reach an accommodation and take over the reins of power. Saddam is obviously aware of this possibility and will do everything in his power to prevent it. He will enjoy the backing of his close loyalists, especially those from his home town of Tikrit, on whom he bestowed key positions in his administration and in the Iraqi military.

Any attempt to overthrow Saddam will be bloody and any clique of officers entertaining thoughts of a coup d'etat will need to count on the backing of experienced military units. On this account, the Iraqi opposition, in all its forms, will be called to reckoning. Does it really have the connections it promised for the crucial moment and help prevent the destruction of Baghdad.

Every army knows that urban warfare is the most difficult. The defender holds the advantage over the attacker who is exposed as he advances. The rule is that if you can avoid large scale urban battles, do so. In Grozny, the Russian army found it had no other way of penetrating the city. The result was the total devastation of the Chechen capital, with a terrible loss of civilian lives. The IDF has also fought some of its toughest battles on urban terrain.

The British and Americans will do everything they can to avoid a bloody battle for Baghdad, but in the death throes of his regime, Saddam will not hesitate to take on the coalition in his capital.

Thus, one can expect the American commanders to wage intense psychological warfare ahead of the battle for Baghdad. They will try to prevent Saddam's cronies from airing television and radio broadcasts or holding news conferences. During the siege, they will have to decide what supplies to let through for the civilian population. Letting through essential supplies will mean that they will also seep through to the Iraqi fighting forces in the city, although in any event, one can assume that if Saddam is hiding in one of his Baghdad bunkers he has stocked up with food, water and medicines for a long stay.

Saddam and his supporters talk of turning Baghdad into the new Stalingrad. That's not what the Americans want of course, but neither do they want to do what another Arab dictator, Hafez Assad, did in 1981, when he pointed his artillery directly onto the city of Hamma and killed at least 10,000 - and according to some estimates 20,000 of his citizens because they dared rise up against him.

Neither does the solution lie in emulating the Russian assault on Berlin at the end of World War II when the attacking force pounded the German capital with two million shells, killing tens of thousands of residents just to reach Hitler's bunker. Much depends now not only on the military might and technology of the Americans, but on their operational and political creativity.

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