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The London Free Press March 22, 2003

'Shock and awe'

The U.S.-led coalition takes aim at Iraqi morale with a hail of smart weapons and quick land moves.

By Robert Russo

WASHINGTON -- It's referred to as the "shock and awe" concept: a hellish storm of precision-guided munitions simultaneously slamming into targets across Iraq to psychologically crack Saddam Hussein's troops and sap them of their will to fight.

If they should turn their guns on the Iraqi dictator while fleeing, all the better, Pentagon war planners say.

While this scenario for the first 48 hours of this phase of the war in Iraq sounds terrifying, it is also born of fear.

Without a quick end to conflict, U.S. and British troops could get bogged down in bloody urban warfare in Baghdad and leave a desperate Saddam little choice but to "use or lose" weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. and British soldiers are well equipped and trained to deal with chemical weapons.

Civilians would be the main victims of weapons of mass destruction or a siege of Baghdad, defence analysts contend.

Not so, said General Richard Myers, chairperson of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff.

The U.S. strategy is apparently to kill or isolate Iraqi leaders and cut them off from contact with their forces.

Myers has suggested if Saddam and other leaders are bottled up in Baghdad, there would be no urgency in rooting them out because he'd already have lost control.

"The ultimate objective is not Saddam Hussein," Myers said. "If the leadership was isolated and not effective in governing . . . that would be victory."

With Iraqi commanders cut off, civilians would be drawn out of the capital with the promise of food, leaving the core of Saddam's defences: the Special Republican Guard, the special security organization and a presidential protection unit called Himayat al-Rais.

The fight to oust Saddam will be different than 1991's Persian Gulf War, which saw five weeks of bombing followed by a few days of ground battles. This time, the air and ground battle are simultaneous.

There are other new twists: America may field such weapons as the 9,500-kilogram Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb or "E-bombs" designed to destroy electrical circuitry.

And watch for wide use of "smart" weapons like the JDAM Joint Direct Attack Munition, a guidance kit that turns conventional "dumb" bombs into satellite-guided precision weapons.

But even precision-guided munitions can go wrong. Civilians likely will be hurt and killed.

Though coalition ground forces didn't cross into Iraq until Thursday -- two days after the first missiles hit Baghdad -- in many ways, the war had started long before.

Special forces have been in northern Iraq for weeks, working with anti-Saddam Kurdish fighters.

And "psy-ops" or psychological operations have been underway for months.

The Pentagon, for example, for the first time let cameras record tests of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. The message to Iraqi soldiers was clear: resist and be obliterated.

And psy-ops units are undoubtedly behind "leaked" reports on network TV suggesting the Pentagon is in touch with Iraqi commanders prepared to turn on Saddam.

Leaflets have been dropped on Iraqi soldiers, urging them to surrender or defect.

One leaflet depicts a dead, disfigured Iraqi soldier, with the words: "Do not risk your life and the lives of your comrades."

On the other side, there is a picture of a young Iraqi student in school. "Leave now and go home," the leaflet urges. "Watch your children learn, grow and prosper."

The hope is there will be limited resistance from demoralized, isolated units.

Saddam has defence options, said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Iraq already has a two-layer defence of the greater Baghdad area and probably a defence in depth consisting of a much wider ring of forces that will retreat inward toward Baghdad."

Regular army conscripts will make up the outer ring -- and take the brunt of casualties, Cordesman said.

The Republican Guard may try to hold key strong points. Bridges and viaducts will be blown up and oil-filled trenches ignited.

Ground troops will face earthen barriers, while surface-to-air missiles and guns will try to engage coalition helicopters.

But Saddam's best hope of survival may be retreat into densely populated Baghdad.

"He will make it much harder for invading forces to use armour, air, and helicopter mobility, and he can make much more use of paramilitary and popular forces," Cordesman said.

U.S. and British special forces and air assault units could follow up on earlier missile attacks with night raids into Baghdad to "decapitate" Iraqi defenders by killing or capturing their leaders.

The 101st Airborne Division has spent weeks rehearsing street-fighting in Louisiana.

But Patrick Garrett, an analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, said that has not prepared troops for fighting in Baghdad.

"In the war games, they've been having 30 to 70 per cent casualty rates, and they (will) be dealing with a force that's immeasurably stronger." All rights reserved.


Copyright 2003, The London Free Press.