The Iraq Conflict: Small-Scale Resistance Makes Good TV, but the Push to Baghdad Is What Counts ; MILITARY ANALYSIS

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THE FOURTH day of the new Gulf war was a frustrating one for the United States and its ally, Britain. Most of the Allied casualties so far have been caused by accidents or "friendly fire", most notably the loss of an RAF plane returning to Kuwait to a US Patriot missile.

But yesterday Allied casualties to enemy fire started mounting, including 50 US troops hit in battles on the Euphrates. The Allied leaderships never promised an easy victory, but maybe they did not do enough to dispel the expectations that there would be one.

Small Iraqi - or, at any rate, opposition - forces put up sometimes dogged resistance which, in spite of their overwhelming firepower superiority the British and US troops appeared slow to overcome.

Yesterday, British and US troops were reported to be just 100 miles from Baghdad (a city with a million more people than Rome). Four days into the war, the Allied strategy is becoming clear. In spite of small- scale resistance, which has inevitably attracted media coverage, the over- arching intent is to by-pass resistance, to seal off places where there is Iraqi resistance, such as the port of Basra, and head up the two big rivers - the Tigris and Euphrates - for Baghdad.

The Allied strategy here mirrors that more erratically pursued by Nazi Germany in its attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. Head for Moscow, head for the oil fields of the Caucasus. But do not take Leningrad (modern St Petersburg) by storm. Just besiege it. Baghdad is Moscow and Basra, like Leningrad, is the second city.

Ministry of Defence sources indicated yesterday that Allied troops would reach Baghdad by Tuesday. Given current rates of advance, that still seems feasible. But the US 3rd Infantry division (Mechanised) at the spearhead of the Allied advance in the west looks set to come up against up to six Iraqi Republican Guard divisions. In past wars, that would be a potentially disastrous encounter. However, we can be reasonably sure that large Iraqi formations massing to attack the advancing British and US troops will be spotted in plenty of time and destroyed from the air. The US air superiority permits quite different force balances on the ground.

Allied planners are probably anxious to see the Republican Guard engaged. Ironically, massed Iraqi formations will, in some ways, be easier to deal with than small groups of determined Iraqi infantry. That is what has held up the US and British troops around Umm Qasr and Basra. Allied commanders do not want casualties, and the loss of numerous British lives, already, to accidents and "blue on blues" - "friendly fire" - is a bitter blow. …