Experts: Saddam seeks to prolong war
by Dafna Linzer AP
(March 28) - Militias fighting in Iraqi towns, guerrillas attacking U.S. military convoys, the Republican Guard moving south to greet approaching coalition forces.
Saddam Hussein's war strategy may look chaotic from the outside, but military experts believe it's a carefully crafted plan meant to drag out the fighting and prolong a humanitarian crisis that would prompt the international community to push for a political solution.
''That's his only hope for survival,'' said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
So far, Saddam's tactics seem to be having an impact.
Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the senior ground commander in the conflict, said Thursday that a longer-than-expected war now seems likely, in part because of the surprisingly tough resistance by forces loyal to Saddam.
Fighting in the southern Iraqi cities of Nasiriyah and Basra has provided two striking examples of Iraq's determination.
U.S. Marines traded fire with Iraqi forces Friday in Nasiriyah, site of some of the fiercest fighting in the war. Coalition ground forces called in Cobra support helicopters in the battle, which drew almost continuous small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
In Basra, Iraq's second largest city, Iraqi forces said to be members of the paramilitary Fedayeen prevented British troops from taking the city and fired on about 1,000 civilians trying to flee.
British forces have encircled the city for days, but have been reluctant to enter for fear of becoming trapped in urban warfare.
In such a situation, the defenders almost always have the advantage and many believe that is why Iraq appears to be waiting for coalition forces to get to Baghdad.
Nash said that strategy would also ''give Saddam a decision point of whether he wants to revert to chemical warfare.''
''When the troops are gathering close together, they become a lucrative target. It's much harder to successfully strike at soldiers spread across the desert,'' he said.
Iraq's defense minister said the real fight will be in the Iraqi capital - home to 5 million people.
''The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave,'' Sultan Hashim Ahmed said. ''We feel that this war must be prolonged so the enemy pays a high price.''
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, however, suggested American troops might lay siege to the capital rather than invade, in hopes its citizens will rise up against the government.
The United States had hoped for uprisings in several small, Iraqi towns heavily populated by Shiite Muslims, who are culturally and religiously tied to Iran, not Saddam.
When some of those communities rose up during the 1991 Gulf War, they were left later to deal with an even angrier Iraqi dictator who remained in charge when the fighting was over. The bad experience likely kept home this time many would-be supporters of the U.S. effort.
Uprisings would certainly help U.S. troops avoid an urban-warfare scenario, where they could end up fighting in unfamiliar territory surrounded by a hostile population.
''American doctrine is not geared to urban fighting,'' said William Hopkinson, an analyst with the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies in London. ''Urban fighting is very messy and fairly primitive.''
But for Iraq, it could counteract the disadvantages of its aging military hardware, diminish the value of the coalition's advanced weaponry and keep fighters close to supplies and support.
''If you are not terribly sophisticated in your equipment, bringing your opposition down to the same level and making them fight room to room with hand grenades and rifle ... is a step in the right direction,'' Hopkinson said.
He said fighting in the open would be suicidal for Iraqi tank brigades that lack the coalition's sophisticated intelligence and equipment, such as optics and night vision.
''Some of those (tanks) destroyed in the last week are T-55s, which are really half a century old in design, not up to modern warfare,'' he said. ''They couldn't have a general tank battle out in the desert and hope to survive.''
U.S. convoys, including supply vehicles and those carrying offensive forces, have been slowed since the beginning of the war by Fedayeen and other irregular troops.
The Republican Guard, however, is based in and around the capital, and there are indications that the well-trained force could be armed with chemical weapons.
Ahmed, the Iraqi defense minister, suggested the country's defenses were organized to protect the capital.
''At the end, the enemy will have to enter the city. What's important is that the enemy should pay a dear price to reach Baghdad,'' he said.
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